By Ali Abdulle
We are approaching the end game in northern Somalia. The clashes in a remote village proved to be the last straw and a final show down is eminent between the two opposing armies, but whatever happens in the battlefield one thing is abundantly clear, things will never be the same again. The so called northern conundrum can no longer be postponed and a final solution must be found and fast.
The looming firefight will cause enormous hardship for all concerned and its effect will be felt far and wide. The two immediate opponents face by far the most serious risks.
For Puntland the dangers of the war could be incalculable for its capital, Garowe, is too close to the theatre of war. Indeed, Somaliland’s recently appointed minister for internal affairs, a veteran guerrilla leader, publicly stated that they will not target women and children in Garowe – a statement probably intended to be a gesture of goodwill but served only to exacerbate Puntland’s insecurities and the vulnerability of their capital.
The main risks for Somaliland on the other hand is to be embroiled in a local trench warfare with a regional authority and local forces rather than negotiating in earnest with Somalia proper for a final status solution. There are even suggestions that the main reason for the assault on Tukaraq checkpoint was not because of its strategic importance but to coincide with the visit of the federal president who was in town when the attack happened. If the conflict drags on there is also no doubt that time and resources will be diverted to the war effort rather than address some of the more pressing issues including acute youth unemployment, runaway inflation and a massive devaluation of the local currency.
But the most serious risk for Somaliland and its new and emboldened policy is the federal government dismissing the whole crisis as nothing more than a little local difficulty and deciding not to get involved in any shape or form other than the occasional appeal for calm, stressing the need for the warring parties to show restraint and resolve their differences through peaceful means.
The elephant in the room
The region known as SSC which stand for Sool, Sanaag and Cayn regions is at the heart of the problem in northern Somalia. These regions were part of what was once British Somaliland Protectorate hence Somaliland’s claim that it’s part of their country. But the community there did not take part in the various guerrilla movements that eventually toppled the defunct military regime led by General Barre precisely because of the tribal configuration of its people vis-à-vis the rest of the northern regions.
They took part in the formation of Puntland state in 1998 but have since became disillusioned as Puntland failed to halt Somaliland’s unrelenting advance. The numerous attempts to go it alone and set up an autonomous self-administration have not so far produced the desired effect although they are still active and waiting for the right moment to achieve their objectives.
The end game
Somalia despite the problem posed by Islamist insurgency in the south is making steady progress and reasserting its authority, taking control of its airspace, restructuring the national armed forces and building its marine services that is expected at some point in the future to police the whole of its territorial waters. Furthermore, the international monetary institutions are considering the rescheduling of Somali debts which could open up access to grants and loans to help the country embark on a massive programme of national reconstruction.
That means the current federal government has a lot on its plate and cannot be side-tracked by engaging Somaliland in merry-go-round of fruitless talks where no one is ready to shift their position even by an inch. Somaliland is insisting and made it manifestly clear that all they are interested in is an amicable divorce between the two Somali entities formerly ruled by the Italian and the Britain that joined forces in 1960 to form the first ever Somali state. Mogadishu on the other hand is not even ready to enter into any form of negotiations where the national unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity can be called into question.
There is no indication whatsoever that Hargeisa is ready to accept any dilution of its main demand of secession from the rest of the country. Indeed, there is no hint that they have a plan B if secession becomes unachievable but if there is one and it’s a big if, they seem to have successfully kept it close to their chest.
It would therefore be a bitter irony if the Tukaraq attack which precipitated the current crisis achieves the exact opposite what it was meant to. That is an operation aimed at attracting attention to their cause helps only to reduce it to nothing more than a quarrel with a local administration thus allowing the federal state to franchise it, if you like the whole northern puzzle as it were further down to its lower entities and therefore take it off the national agenda.
For Puntland on the other hand the immediate aim is to secure the safety of its capital and push the attacking forces back to where they are no longer a threat to the seat of their administration. But the fact that hostile forces can get so close is a wakeup call for Garowe and they must now find a way of minimising this menace once and for all.
Having categorically failed to check the forward march of Somaliland troops and in the process lost the trust of the people of the SSC regions what more can they do now is the big question? More importantly can they think outside the box and come up with bold and new initiatives.
Could it therefore be that Puntland has now just one arrow left in its quiver and that is to vigorously campaign for the aspiration of the people in SSC regions to realise their dream of having a system of local governance. Puntland can use its clout within the Somali federal state and the considerable influence it can muster with individual member states.
It is worth remembering that Puntland’s support was instrumental in helping the establishment of Jubbaland now one of the most successful member states of the Somali federal structure. A functioning northern unionist state where the people there are unwaveringly committed to the unity and territorial integrity of the country with its legitimacy enshrined in constitution and borders safeguarded by statute is perhaps the only way to guarantee its own survival and in the process put right their past mistakes and failures.
That leaves SSC region and its political and traditional leaders following events very closely and weighing their options. Opinions are not surprisingly divided when matters of such enormity are in the balance with significant stakeholders advocating for a closer links with Somaliland for whatever its worth. Others on the other hand see a golden opportunity in the current tensions and believe it provides the best possible chance to further their cause and get backing for their own administration on equal footing with other similar communities in the land.
Either way the stakes couldn’t be higher. The final chapter of Somalia’s long-lasting troubles is being written and it will no doubt be difficult and a dangerous episode.
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