Saturday, August 18, 2018
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Is the Conflict over Sool one over the Soul of Somalia?

By Faisal Roble

The Conflict over Tukaraq

Many observers of the conflict in Sool (Sool is where Tukaraq is located) seem to simplify it. One such a person is Abdi Samatar of the University of Minnesota.  In a recent interview with the VOA Somali program, he blamed the conflict on the lack of “iimaan,” or lack of “faith” by the leaders in Puntland and Somaliland.

President Gas (left) and President Bihi

In politics, though, “iimaan” or “faith,” is value-neutral. So is love or any other metaphysical feelings.  People of the same “faith” often killed each other for political objectives. In his stern refusal to explain political conflicts in historical terms, the German philosopher, Ludwig Feuerbach, succumbed to explaining conflicts over class struggle to vagaries of “love” being restored among brothers.  He called for loving one another so that conflict will end.  As much as that thesis proved to be a wishful thinking, Feuerbach was since then belittled in the intelligentsia circles of Europe.

Abdi Samatar’s explanation of the conflict over Sool to merely be the absence of “iimaan” among the belligerents is a typical Feuerbachian approach to a very complex political question.  The underlying cause for the conflict is the question of whether Somaliland remains to be or not to be part of Somalia. The squabble over this existential issue is protracted, and conflict in Tukaraq is one of its many expressions.

The good professor’s solution to the conflict over Tukaraq – restoring “iimaan” – often a call one expects from a religious cleric, reminded me of the call made in 1992 by the black motorist beaten by four notorious Los Angeles Police Department officers.

That incident was the cause of a massive civil unrest in Los Angeles, resulting in the death of over 96 people over one day’s civil unrest. The beating of Rodney King in 1992 was the immediate cause of a latent political and social injustice against Black Americans, particularly injustices perpetrated by the police establishment against peaceful Black civilians.

As part of the appeal for calm, the city’s leaders asked a “born-again” Rodney King to appeal to the city’s residents, thus his famous, but naïve appeal of “Can! Can, We all get along!” Despite such a moralistic appeal, the conflict between the Police Department in Los Angeles and the Black community at large continued unabated. Political questions defy appeal to our moral values.

In the same vain, the conflict over Sool, Sanaag and Cayn is a more serious conflict to be resolved by the likes of moralistic slogans of “Can! Can! We all get along!” Neither is it one to be resolved by instilling good “iiman” in the hearts of presidents Gaas and Bihi. The contentious question is whether Somaliland wants to be or not to be part of the nation state of Somalia. The rest is temporal smokes masking serious challenges facing the reconstitution of the collapsed state of the second republic of Somalia.

Until the invasion of Tukaraq, president Gaas avoided an open conflict with the leaders of Somaliland.  On May 25, 2015 (three years ago today), I met president Gaas in Rome, Italy, and had a long discussion with him about his presidency.  One of the issues I asked him was if he had any plans for “liberating” Sool.  This an issue that was prominently featured in his campaign for the presidency of Puntland.

President Gaas was candid in his answer at the time and literally informed me that he has no stomach for an open conflict with Somaliland. He had many other fronts to fight.  As matter of fact, he was willing and has observed an unpopular detent as long as Somaliland also maintained the same.  He did not mind Somaliland to stay in Las Anod and was willing to live with that status quo as long as an open conflict could be avoided.  He told me that his soldiers rather die while fighting the terrorists in the Galgala Mountains.

Partly Gaas was also restrained because of an ostensible and endemic division among the elites from Sool, Sanaag and Cayn.  Although he did not openly express this point, I could read between the lines about his bewilderment and his reservations to speak on the fluidity of this group’s loyalty – either to Somaliland or Puntland. By his second year in office, he toned down his campaign rhetoric and completely put the “liberation” of Las Anod on a long term life support.  Even many in his circles would have entertained a less impacting way to walk back on the question of Sool, Sanaag and Cayn remaining part of Puntland.

That détente, which served as the factor to avert an open conflict in Sool, was undermined by Somaliland’s troops to move and capture Tukaraq in an unceremonious and provocative way. This move in the opinion of many pushed Garowe against the wall and served as the ultimate provocation.  Some even postulated that Garowe is not at this point fighting for Sool but for the preservation of Puntland since Tukaraq is only 75 kilo meters from the Puntland’s capital city.

With or without president Gaas, therefore, many of the traditional elders, politicians and opinion makers in Garowe would have gone to this conflict, due to these two factors: (1) The move to Tukaraq by Somaliland troops, and (2) Puntland leaders, politicians and elders who had independently organized for war with or without president Gaas.  A third related factor is the pressure exerted on Gaas by politicians in Garowe who hail from Sool.  Reliable news told me that Tukaraq was a lucrative custom where the elites from Sool who are in Puntland refused to lose; they gave president Gaas an ultimatum to either fight for it or else.

President Bihi, on the other hand, came to office with a radical agenda; somehow he felt impatient with the détente and the current status quo; he wanted to fulfill his campaign promise of going as far as Yoca (?), the official colonial border between Italian Somaliland and British Somaliland Protectorate. Presidents Bihi and Gaas are total opposites.  Whereas Gaas pumped up his campaign rhetoric but charted an opposite course once he moved into the office, Bihi is adamant to deliver especially when it comes to “securing” what he calls the “colonial” borders of the old British Protectorate of Somaliland.  Meanwhile both strategies are destroying their respective users.

It appears as if president Bihi had listened too much to the bravado of the likes of Faisal Ali Warabe, the ultra-rightwing UCID chairman.  He also depended too much on his military instinct as opposed to the art of politics where mediation resolves conflicts more than military means.   He started an unwinnable war in Tukaraq while a new fire is ablaze in his own backyard – in Togdheer regions.

I agree with Abdi Samatar that president Bihi, as a rooky politician, took an impetuous decision to go to Tukaraq; he miscalculated that he could easily reach the colonial border and consequently realize the goal of permanently changing the “reality on the ground.”

In the end, though, no matter under what circumstance the war over Tukaraq started, both sides need to be blamed and must be held responsible for the death and destruction meted against innocent civilians in the area.

Fighting for Sool or for the Soul of Somalia

Wars have generally underlying and immediate causes. The immediate cause over war in Tukaraq could be explained in terms of contemporary politics, current affairs, and, if you will, bad leaders on both sides.  That is the narrow angle from which Abdi Samatar [miss] explained this conflict. The underlying cause for the eruption of Tukaraq conflict in an ungodly time, however, masks the fight for the soul of Somalia. Fighting over Sool is arguably a euphemism for the fight over the Soul of Somalia.

The present is always predicted somewhere.  Following the fall Las Anod fall into the hands of Somaliland in 2007, I wrote the following:  “The conflict over Las Anod must serve us as a cautionary note.  As Hargeisa attempts to alter the “reality on the grounds,” clan conflicts resulting in large-scale humanitarian crisis are unavoidable.”

Somaliland’s search for recognition for its unilateral secession is often likened to the successful case of Eritrea.  However, the two cases are entirely different. In the case of Eritrea, on September 15, 1994, a jointly administered referendum was held to conclude a thirty-year-old war to vote on whether to secede from the rest of Ethiopia, or stay in a federally reorganized Ethiopia.  The yes vote for independence through the 1994 plebiscite affirmed and legitimized the secession of Eritrea both in the eyes of the sitting Ethiopian government and in the rest of the world community.  The war in Eretria was brought to a closure because of (1) the Eritreans won the war; and (2) they accepted a plebiscite sponsored by the mother country and observed by international organizations.

Without such a negotiated settlement, the case of the Eritrean secession could have stalled, and the hands of the AU and UN in particular to apply Resolutions (1541) (XV) and (2649) (XXV) of the General Assembly may have been tied up to do anything but maintain the status quo.

“Somaliland, on the other hand, has so far been walking in futility on a fragile, thin-razor robe that could easily be broken by the slightest conflict, especially if triggered by changing the status quo” (Faisal Roble, 2007).  That is exactly how the conflict of Tukaraq is manifesting itself.

The surprising fall of Las Anod (a city that resisted secession in favor of unity) in to Hargeisa with ease on October 15, 2007 was viewed at the time as an effort to complete the reconstruction of a new “reality on the ground” by Somaliland. Dispatching emissaries to the Gulf Countries immediately following its successful seizure of Las Anod to explain to the outside world “the reality on the ground” was all the more telling of a new strategy towards seeking recognition.

However, the goal to clinch in recognition either alluded Hargeisa or completely stalled in the last 25 years.  In an article I wrote in 2007, I argued that an international legal expert hired by Somaliland advised that Somaliland needs to change “reality on the ground.”  That advice led to the capture of Las Anod by Somaliland troops in 2006.  A heavy-accented Scandinavian “scholar,” urged and wetted the appetite of leaders of Somaliland to be “nasty” and shed off their “good guy’s” image in the region that is if Hargeisa wants to be recognized. He urged them to start wars so that the world will give them due attention.

Whether president Bihi listened to this charlatan advice or not, it appears that his new administration has dusted off the campaign for recognition, thus, waging his impetuous war over Tukaraq.  He internalized the advice that Somaliland must finally seal the deal for good and put the rubber stamp on an irreversible narrative about secession.

In that context, the fight for the barren place called Tukaraq masks the larger conflict over the very soul of Somalia – to be or not to be one country united!  Somaliland calls for two countries.

President Bihi wants to complete that campaign of changing “reality on the ground” by going as far as the colonial borders. If president Bihi can reach that goal, he will win the war and reshape the soul of Somalia.  But if he loses, Somalia will reimagine and rethink the relationship between Somaliland, Puntland and the residents of Sool, Sanaag and Cayn at large.

Moreover, the aftermath of Tukaraq conflict may also put a new light on the plight of the residents of Sool, Sanaag and Cayn.  So far, the focus of analysis over the fight for this region has been on the disarticulated dispensation of politics in Garowe and Hargeisa, often excluding the spirit of the folks who own the region.  The political inclusiveness of the residents of this region has always been in the hand of unscrupulous elites who reside either in Hargeisa or Garowe. The war over Tukaraq may ultimately unmask this very social injustice question and present a fresh alternative to resolving this question of Sool, Sanaag, and Cayn.

To avert a larger conflict in this area, I will revisit Markus Hohne soberly caution of staying the course on maintaining the status quo, since “further endeavors to set up a fully effective state (be it Somaliland or Puntland) recognized under international law may produce a large-scale armed conflict.”


  • Call on both Hargeisa and Garowe to move their troops back to their pre-conflict positions immediately, and let Tukaraq come to normalcy;
  • The world community and international organizations shall use their good offices to help stop the conflict. They should put positive pressure on all sides to the conflict; 
  • Start a meaningful dialogue among non-governmental social organizations on enhancing peace, coexistence and the infusion of development projects in this neglected region of Sool, Sanaag, and Cayn. International groups should start a new course of action to help out these regions with or without Hargeisa and Garowe. 
  • Reevaluate the status of Sool, Sanaag, and Cayn within the Draft Somali Constitution and find a more meaningful way to represent the political aspirations of the residents of this region. This region is one of the most strategic regions in restoring peace to Somalia since it is located in the belly of the country.

Faisal Roble

Faisal Roble, a writer, political analyst and a former Editor-in-Chief of WardheerNews, is mainly interested in the Horn of Africa region. He is currently the Principal Planner for the City of Los Angeles in charge of Master Planning, Economic Development and Project Implementation Division.

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