Ethnic clashes hit Somaliland ahead of this year’s elections

Saturday January 07 2023

Supporters hold banners of candidates during past campaigns in Somaliland. PHOTO | AFP


Kenyan Member of Parliament has been accused of inciting the violence to stop Somaliland from being recognised as an independent entity

Somaliland leader Muse Bihi had been planning for elections later this year when violence erupted in Sool, the region shared with Puntland. Those clashes, along ethnic lines, could hurt any sympathies the world may have on Somaliland’s ambitions to be independent of Somalia.

Read: Kenyan MP blamed for inciting clashes in Somaliland

The clashes aren’t new, however. Only that this time, Bihi, a former pilot in the Somalia Air Force, is blaming some foreign politicians, including Kenyan legislator Farah Maalim, for instigating the fighting.

Mr Maalim is Kenya’s MP for Dadaab constituency, a region that hosts the highest number of Somali refugees in a camp. Bihi claims he incited ethnic tensions.

“Mr Maalim was the man who was always advancing the legitimacy of the case of Somaliland. Hence, I don’t want to dwell on the story of people who made a habit to practise different shades of politics,” Mr Bihi told a meeting of politicians in Somaliland this week, trying to calm the tensions.


“But what no one expected from him today was to say that he would put enmity between Somaliland and clans he named. His only aim was to cause a clan warfare in Somaliland. Farah Maalim said the borders set by the British cannot be valid. I say to him, that you are a Kenyan. You share fate and identity with the multiethnic and multilingual people of Kenya. I cannot, therefore, comprehend what was the objective of your remarks.”

Mr Maalim, a former Deputy Speaker in the Kenyan National Assembly, wasn’t the only politician at whom an accusing finger was pointed. But he told The EastAfrican he had broken no law in criticising the violence.

“I pointed out the serious human-rights violations there. The (Somaliland security forces) are killing people and I condemned it the same way I can condemned if violence happens in another country,” Mr Maalim told The EastAfrican.

“There are no borders to such condemnation of violations. It is the international norm. But they are trying to create chaos and these are the kind of things that we as a country should not entertain. In fact, there is no legal sovereign entity under International Law called Somaliland that is able to have a direct line of communication with Kenya.”

His sentiments came after Mr Bihi asked Kenya to control “its man.”

The violence in Somaliland has a history. Two weeks ago, a local politician, Abdifatah Abdullahi Abdi alias Hadrawi, was killed in Las Anod town, the capital of Sool region, some 463km east of Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, and 1,027km northwest of the Somalia capital, Mogadishu.

The killing of Hadrawi, who was the chairman of Wadani, one of the two opposition political parties in Somaliland, triggered debate about influential people being assassinated there over the past decade. By Somaliland’s own count, 40 assassinations have been reported in Sool in the past 12 years. It says 24 of them were government officials.

The Somaliland administration says 23 people have been convicted of some of those murders.

On December 28, 2022, a group of people gathered at the town centre to voice out their concerns, blaming the administration in Sool of doing nothing to ensure the murderers face justice.

“We do not want Somaliland rule here,” shouted some of the demonstrators as the protests turned violent when the police tried to disperse the crowds.

Read: Somaliland police kill protesters

Somaliland declared independence from Somalia on May 18, 1991, four months after the collapse of the regime in Somalia led by the late dictator General Mohamed Siad Barre.

There is, however, no agreement in Sool — the area that borders Puntland state — on whether to secede or remain in the Union. The idea of Somaliland was formed by then rebel group the Somali National Movement (SNM) that fought the Siad Barre regime. It was led by Isak clansmen.

Indeed, the majority of the non-Isak clansmen, namely Dhulbahante, Warsangeli, Gadabursi and Issa, believe that they have nothing to do with the separatist movement of the Somaliland administration. This leaves the Isak, who dominate most of urban areas such as the port town of Berbera and the capital Hargeisa, truly loyal to the Somaliland independence initiative.

The promoters of Somaliland independence have been trying to build the image that the clans and regions who were united under the British Somaliland Protectorate until independence from UK on June 16, 1960 should also be loyal to the declared Somaliland State.

By the third day of the protests in Las Anod town, police were confronted by more defiance as crowds waved Somalia flags and shouted more anti-separatist slogans. More deadly force followed and at least one person was killed and several others wounded.

Somaliland’s Information Ministry had been issuing bulletins, urging the demonstrators to refrain from taking to the streets, or showing an anti-Somaliland stance.

Read: Somaliland says violent protests were 'foreign induced'

While touring in Borama town, the capital of Awdal region in western Somaliland, the former chairman and a candidate of Somaliland presidency for Wadani Party Abdurahman Mohamed Abdullahi Irro condemned the violent reaction by Somaliland security forces, terming it barbaric.

But he insisted that Las Anod firmly belonged to Somaliland.

The British and American embassies in Mogadishu expressed their concerns regarding the violence brewing in Las Anod. UK ambassador Kate Foster urged all sides to de-escalate it.

“We are concerned by recent events in Las Anod resulting in deaths and injury of civilians. We urge all sides to de-escalate, avoid further casualties and resolve the matter peacefully,” the UK diplomat stated.

Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud also asked the sides in Las Anod to exercise restraint while the Speaker of Somalia’s Lower House of Parliament Adan Mohamed Nur Madobe announced a parliamentary sub-committee to investigate and report on the deadly developments in Sool region, especially in Las Anod.

Las Anod town is situated in a region claimed by both Somaliland and Puntland. But there has been some arrangement to co-manage the town.

The violence, however, took political meaning in Puntland.

Deni’s silence

Ahmed Elmi Osman Caraash, Puntland’s vice-president, who hails from Las Anod — due to power sharing in Puntland — was clearly angered by Puntland President Said Abdullahi Deni’s silence about the killing of civilians, whom he said were brutalised because “they want Puntland and a united federal Somalia.”

Mr Deni responded by accusing Somaliland of carrying out a “brutal assault on innocent people,” labelling the Somaliland forces an occupying power.

President Bihi held a press conference in Hargeisa on January 3 and warned Puntland, the Federal Government of Somalia and individuals from Kenya of worsening the situation. He wants everybody to consider the Las Anod situation as an internal issue of Somaliland.

“Somaliland has enough resources to resolve the issue (of Las Anod). We deeply regret the actions, which were sudden and unexpected,” the president said.

The protests have started fizzling out, but a more dangerous development has begun. Militias calling themselves loyal to SSC (Sool, Sanaag and Cayn) have taken up arms and started challenging the Somaliland forces in Las Anod.

The SSC, which was formed in 2007 to represent the three regions of Sool, Sanaag and Cayn as the Dhulbahante and Warsangeli clans’ traditional territory in northern Somalia, advocate a united Somalia.

Despite the administration of Somaliland cutting internet services in Las Anod on New Year’s Day, reports from the town indicated that the SSC armed militia continue attacking the Somaliland forces, even as late as clashes Wednesday night.

Hamud Masheye, a former Somalia state minister for Foreign Affairs, warned: “The situation will worsen if violence spread elsewhere in the three SSC regions.”

Additional reporting by Aggrey Mutambo