Prof Ali Khalif Galayr, Former Prime Minister of Somalia
The conflict that arose in the Somaliland-Puntland disputed regions of Sool, Sanaag, and Eyn (Cayn) led the Dhulbahante clan to establish its own mini-state, Khatumo, independent from Somaliland and part of the federal government of Somalia.
Former prime minister of Somalia and retired Professor Ali Khalif Galeyr, a member of the Dhulbahante clan, is elder and advocate for Khatumo state. Somalia Report’s Muhyadin Ahmed Roble met with Prof. Galeyr in Nairobi to interview him about Khatumo's plans was well as its conflict with Somaliland.
You have been largely absent from the Somali political stage since 2001. What made you return?
I have been taking part in a number of meetings since that time, including during the Ethiopian intervention, but primarily I have participated from locations outside Somalia, usually over the telephone. I have traveled to Somalia only twice since 2001, once to Mogadishu during the Islamic Union's period, and once to the north of the country. Somali Politics is not a profession; events determine whether one participates or not. For me, it is the events that made me come back.
What was your role during Ethiopia’s occupation in Somalia?
My role was primarily participation in a number of peaceful demonstrations against the Ethiopian occupation. These took place in Washington, London, and Minneapolis. I was also engaged in writing petitions and giving media interviews.
So, what has changed, if anything, since the occupation?
There is a new face of Ethiopia intervention, mostly in southwest and central regions. I believe they are in the Gedo, Bay, and Bakool regions and even in Hiiraan and may be moving towards Galmudug but I think it is different kind of intervention. What they are doing now has the blessings of IGAD, the African Union and the United Nations, so it is different sort of involvement in terms of intervention. I hope it will be also different in terms of mandate and the exit scenarios of not only the Ethiopians but also the Kenyans who are also in the country, mostly in the Juba Valley. Initially, they went in to pursue their own self-interests and to counter what have been perceived as a threat from al-Shabaab but I heard now that Kenyan forces are very much under the command of AMISOM.
Some critics believe that Ethiopia still plays a role in Somali politics. Is that true?
Ethiopia is a neighbor and probably the most important player in regional politics. Kenya is becoming more engaged diplomatically and politically but as I said earlier, maintaining troops in the Juba Valley and are formally part of AMISOM. Ethiopia’s history with Somalia has been very troubled, dating back hundreds of years. But more recently, I think there has been a change in the way the two countries relate to each other. Yes, Somalis will still see foreign troops in Somalia negatively and not in the long time interest of the Somali people. But there is a change in the perception of this issues and Ethiopia it is more of now Ethiopia being more actually engaging the whole range of activities. They have a significant presence in Somaliland, Puntland and definitely in Mogadishu. That presence is an example of Ethiopia leveraging their regional influence but I think it is not outright antagonism, as many have suggested. Also, Ethiopia has legitimate concerns about its own border security, particularly with regard to the presence of guerilla groups there.
Also, Ethiopia is a legitimate part of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the African Union and the United Nations, which are all trying to bring about peace in Somalia. So, understand the difference between the previous Ethiopia intervention and current one in Somalia one has to look closely whether the different initiatives and engagements of this foreign troops it all add up and lead to effective and beneficial engagement. While they do need to be watch closely, Ethiopia appears not to be here solely to pursue its own agenda, but rather as part of the overall effort to stabilize Somalia and to bring about and maintain peace.
Since the formation of Khatumo, there has been armed violence with Somaliland in SSC regions; is there any process of engaging talks between Khatumo and Somaliland?
There are a number of people who tried to talk to Somaliland and us, some of them governments and as I said earlier, the Ethiopian government has really tried very hard to bring us together. Ethiopia invited Somaliland President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud to come Addis Ababa and to sit down with us, and see if we can sort out things. Unfortunately, the president declined the invitation, and his justification was that he was planning to attend London meeting last February, and only after he attends that meeting will he have position on whether to sit down with Khatuma or not.
I heard other governments, European and North America, who also attempt to convince him in talks. There are also Somalis, some of them from that part of Somalia (Somaliland), others from other parts of the country who have genuinely try to use their own networks and talk to the president but to this day he has not accepted the invitation either for meditation or for direct talks with Khatumo.
So, in your view, what has made Somaliland refuse to engage talks with Khatumo?
I think there are two main issues. The first one is public opinion in Somaliland because the people for the last twenty some years have been bombarded with the idea that we are going to be a separate state, that we are very close to being recognized, but there is still the old sentiment that we remain part of Somalia. So, I think there is fear or at least apprehension on the part of the administration or members of the administration are that public opinion is against our state being granted autonomy. I don’t share that sentiment, of course, but I think that there is a place for leadership and that is Somaliland and the whole of Somalia are in serious historic moment - one that will require leadership. I find Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud, president of Somaliland, to be a highly intelligent, experienced fellow and I think there is a desperate need for somebody like him to take the lead and to make sure to address the real roots of conflicts among clans in Somaliland as well as misunderstanding among Somaliland and Somalia.
The second issue is that it seems to me that the moment is just not right at the moment. There are no serious partners in Mogadishu and therefore I think that is outright miscalculation to believe the time is right for talks. There is no way under the presence circumstances, including the occupation of Las Anod, the very large number of troops which are lined up close to Buhoodle, that I don’t think that the Khatumo state will go back to fault if there were such fault before. I think it is the expectation or at least the idea that President Mohamoud will be able to win over some traditional elders or other important personalities in Khatumo state, which, in my opinion, is highly, highly unlikely. The traditional elders, of whom there are thirteen, and the members of the administration of Khatumo have the full confidence of the Sool, Sanaag and Eyn people, and I don’t think one of them would dare betray this united front of the people of our state.
If public opinion is against the Khatumo state, what can Somaliland politicians do?
Somaliland leadership has a very strong influence in terms of molding public opinion and I think public opinion in Somaliland, especially among the Isaq clan, has been evolving. I feel public opinion, on the one hand, puts pressure on leaders to make sure that their stated positions are maintained, but at same time the leaders have the responsibility to try and change public opinion at critical times such as this.
After twenty-one years or so no government has recognized Somaliland, nor do I think this will happen simply because the Isaq clan is a small ethnic group in broader Somali picture. I don’t think public opinion in Africa or in the neighboring areas are supportive of secession, which is why Somaliland has not been recognized. I doubt very much it will be recognized unless there was unanimity among the five ethnic groups or clans in Somaliland, which is not currently the situation. Four of the other major clans of Somaliland are opposed, either openly or covertly, against secession. There are individuals from the Esse, the Gudbibiirse, the Warsengeli, and the Dhulbahante who hold administrative positions but that do not accurately represent the public opinion in Borama or in Seyla, or Las Anod, buhoodle, Eyrgabo or Las Qoray.
So, the idea of secession is held by only one of five ethnic groups, which seriously undermines the idea of secession. Yes, they deserve the claim. They did not have a fair share in terms of political positions, development, nor the exploitation of natural resources being utilized in Somaliland. Nonetheless, I don’t think the neighboring countries or the whole of Africa, nor the UN or IGAD will approve secession, which why is I don’t think Somaliland is going to be recognized. The Somaliland administration is also weakening their own positions tremendously by being aggressive and trying by force to claim that Sool, Sanaag and Eyn is their territory, which groups like the UN do not view as a productive method of gaining support for secession and recognition.
Somaliland had experienced military atrocities from Siad Barre’s government in the past. Isn’t that enough justification to stand independently?
It was a brutal administration. I was part of that administration until 1982. I saw what was happening and I imagined what was just appearing in the horizon and that why I parted company with that administration. Yes, people of Somaliland have every right to complain about the atrocities that took place. My view is even before those things happened, in late 1980’s; they were people from Somaliland who were part of that very administration until the last days. They were prime ministers, they were ministers in cabinets, they were senior military officers, police force, civil servants, diplomatic core, etc. Therefore, the idea that the people of Somaliland were targeted as one large ethnic group, however, is largely incorrect and inaccurate and it is perhaps not the best idea to raise those claims as being justification for the secession of the entire Somaliland region. The important thing today is: what Somaliland is doing right now to the people of Sool, Sanaag and Eyn.
What is being done in Las Anod?
In Las Anod, school children who demonstrated and threw stones against the Isaq or Somaliland whatever you know them were laid down, shot, and killed.There are also a large number of young primary school students who are in Somaliland jails. This is not secret and something everyone knows. It is something Somaliland itself knows. They were simply killed and arrested because of their demonstration against the military occupation, because they say we don’t want that Isaq or Somaliland troops to occupy Law Anod against our will or to forcibly occupy the water wells of Hagoogane, Karshaale, Miigaagle and Soo Joogte. These wells are the lifeline of Somali nomads, a pastoral people who has been using these wells traditionally for hundreds of years. Today, Somaliland forces now are occupying those wells.
So, Somaliland is exactly doing what they are accusing that Siad Barre has done to them, and in fact are using the same tactics of the Siad Barre regime against the poor and unarmed people of Sool, Sanaad and Eyn, and in some cases they are even going beyond that. I heard and read statements made by the current foreign minister of Somaliland in which he says Somaliland is one, its borders are known, and if the people of Sool, Sanaag and Eyn don’t want be part of that, they can leave. I mean that is incredible statement to make; that is exactly taking a leaf from that horrific book authored by Milosevic of Yugoslavia, the Serbian leader who believed the only ways Yugoslavia could be held together is to engage in what has been called ethnic cleansing, and that is exactly what the young foreign minister of Somaliland is suggesting.
The people of Khatumo state have been part of Somaliland a long time, so why do you want to break away now?
We were part of supposedly former British Somaliland. The five ethnic groups that are the population of Somaliland, three or four of them signed friendship agreements with the British before they colonized the area. Khatumo or the people of Sool, Sanaag and Eyn never signed an agreement with British. On the contrary, they fought the British for over twenty years to resist the colonization. Yes, from the 1920s to 1960s during that thirty, forty years we were part of what was called British Somaliland. What we shared with the people you are saying now we were part of that was only colonial administration. There was a colonial governor and that is what constituted British Somaliland.
Traditionally, we were one people before and during the colonization and even now. We share grazing and wells and we also intermarry. We are people who have that historic cultural and social and political relationship traditionally. The difference arises when you try to replace the colonial administration with an administration that is Isaq-based. I don’t belong to them and they don’t belong to us. We can only come together voluntarily of sharing things. Unfortunately, Somalia everything is based on 4.5. It is based on ethnic relations, and no ethnic group can force the others to be part of their imagination. Somaliland or Isaq clan cannot overwhelm the people of Sool, Sanaag and Eyn even if they win couple of battles. This would cause long term pain for both sides, and both sides would lose.
There is win-win vision, however, and that is for both sides to sit down together. They are not moving out of neighborhood nor are we. It is in our common interest to come together and talk and agree on what will be of mutual benefits. But if they think they can force us to accept their dominance and through force, I don’t think that is something acceptable and we have every right to defend ourselves. This would be a justified war for us, though our strong preference is that neither side would fight the other. We don’t want to fight. We have been saying this publically and privately and will continue saying it but there is a limit to how far we can restrain our people.
From that point of view, does the federalism system seem to create division among Somalis, clans and central and regional government?
Yes and no. In the absence of central authority, whoever comes out and say, “I am autonomous and I have my own administrative and political arrangements in place,” they can have their flag, they can have their national anthem so long as that there is no sufficient reason to doubt their aim of getting its own flag and national anthem. Somaliland clearly says, “I am not part of Somalia." Puntland is the only one that leverages its position. The leadership of Puntland, started from Abdullahi Yusuf, the founder of Puntland, came to the meeting in Embakasi in Kenya, and Abdullahi gave his speeches of candidacy for the presidency of Somalia. Fine, he has every right to run for president but the problem was that everybody knew his true position was, "either I become president of Somalia or we will just walk out." I think Mr. Farole, the current president of Puntland, has that in his mind also - "either I will get what I want (from all appearances he wants to be next president of Somalia), or I will walk out."
But to come back to your question, if there are administrations like Himan and Heeb, Galmudug, Khatumo and others that emerging and are moving forward administratively, I believe that to be positive because those little administrations may produce credible local leadership which can then take part in reconstituting the reemergence of Somalia. So, it is positive, therefore, because if someone wants to say something about Himan and Heeb, there is local leadership there who are already in place. So, it makes the reemergence of Somalia that much easier. There are going to be political difficulties, but that is what politics is all about. There are different ambitions, different tactics, and strategic considerations that local leadership will be coming up with. I prefer that then imposing something in Mogadishu and saying here is the national government, without the requested support of different districts and regions.
The draft constitution reads that only two or more regions could form semi-autonomous states, but we see the emerging of mini-state phenomena whereby each clan-district became a base for mini-state. What are the positive aspects of such clan-based mini-states, if any?
The draft constitution, which has not been ratified, states that the federating units are going to be two or more regions of the old 18 regions of the last years of Barre regime in 1990s. So either two or more of those will constitute a federal unit. That is what is in the draft constitution. We shouldn’t jump the gun. I mean we have to wait for its endorsement. If we have many administrations, I really don’t see them in negative terms. I think they can contribute to the bringing everybody back home, back to the national framework.
In Galmudug, the old Mudug, there may be three or four administrations; in Hiiraan there may be three or four different little administrations. These are all attempts to get out of the mess due the lack of a central authority. I imagine, on the one hand, there is political ambition whether personal or one the part of an entire ethnic group to constitute and curve out their own little administration, but the same time it is out of frustration when things don’t happen in Mogadishu and we are getting beyond what can be tolerated. I mean people are just fed up with the chaos and the lack of movement or motion out of the center, the capital. So, the efforts, I think, are worthwhile if people go to their districts and regions and think through and spend time in conversing support in forming their little regional administrations. That is really positive.
If you read the draft federal constitution, what did you find out?
I read and I am familiar with a lot of papers that were represented before and even reactions to some of the drafts and competing ideas of some of the articles. I think the draft federal constitution is fine but it is technical document. What was needed and still needed is: are the Somali people aware of this, on board in terms of what the draft constitution provides. However, it is a draft, which one can see good aspects and good articles particularly in the attempts of dealing with the issues of human rights, civil liberties, and the issues of building democratic institutions. But what is missing and is very troubling is that some of these issues still require a great deal of discussion and debate. These are very controversial, decisive issues and you can’t just have a technical solution to some of these issues, it has to have the backing of the people.
We were talking earlier about federal setup and in fact the current interim transition government is a federal system and constitution talks about a federal system, there are differential orientation to what this is about. I meant there is more support for federation in a place like Baidoa or Garowe than there is in Mogadishu itself or I imagine Balad Weyne or Kismayo. And that issue should have been brought to the attention of those drafting of constitution: how do we address these critical issues? How do we make sure that we are consulting amongst government officials and with the people and are taking into the account of the serious differences among regions or among ethnic groups? Only when you come to a measure of the understanding and compromising, can you then draft a constitution or address some of these crucial points that will make or break the reemergence of Somalia.
As I stated, I don’t think there has been that sufficient political discussion and political discourse. It appears, in terms of ratifying the constitution that we are still relying on technical mechanisms. Some of the regions in Somalia or some of ethnic groups have more established traditional leaderships or authorities, others don’t. So, it will be a mixed bag. I mean when you talk traditional elders, yes for some areas you will find it is heritage the traditional leaders, it goes back many, many years and there will be no any contestation as to who are the traditional leaders of these places. Since the Siad Barre administration, it should be noted, there has been creation of new Caqils, new traditional leaders. There has been inflationary trend in the creation of those and most politicians - especially those who will try to fix the game - will say we have our own traditional elders also, and properly will announce brand new ones for the occasion. This is very serious and it will be will be very challenging. The idea now is to divide them up to the usual 4.5, so what you do with some of the constituent parts that don’t have traditional elders. That is one aspect.
The other more serious aspect is the 825 who are going to be constituted by 4.5 clans of Somalia. I understand perfectly well the notion of the constituent assembly. Before you even have a referendum for the whole country to come up with an arrangement, which can substitute for the general referendum but the 825 and the time they are going to be given, is very short. Even how you are selecting members of the constituent is more important issue than their number. This is deciding the destiny of the whole of the country and its people and to take Somalia out of ongoing multiple conflicts. I don’t think sufficient times have been allotted for this 825 to deliberate and to discuss.
I think the third concern is the perception is that Somali input in this whole exercise is not up to power; it is not to the level that no Somalis will be comfortable with. We need desperately international input, we need desperately for people of good will who even in some cases putting their own lives at risk to have an input on this. But how do you come up with what the average Somali will feel comfortable and will be supportive of? The Minister of Constitution, Hon. Abdirahman Hosh, and the Hon. Abdillahi Goodah Barre the other day convened a meeting in Nairobi and they gave good presentation of how they are taking to the account the opposition or reservation of the Somali people groups and ethnic groups. I welcomed that and congratulated them for convening that meeting the other day. But I don’t that is sufficient; I think we need more of that. I understand perfectly well Mogadishu is not very secure, though it is becoming relatively more peaceful, but you can curry support through local media and there are traditional Somali ways of even bringing the 16 districts of Mogadishu together for discussions or for having public meetings beyond Mogadishu in other regions and districts. Therefore, what I am suggesting is that a simple referendum is not sufficient, what is important is coming up with ways to present this draft document to the public for their input and approval.