Somalia: IRIN interview with Somali National Movement (SNM)
HARGEYSA, 18 May (IRIN) -=AD The self-declared state of Somaliland, northwestern Somalia, is gearing up for a referendum on the constitution =AD- including an article on independence =AD- at the end of May. Unilateral independence was declared on 18 May 1991 by the northern-based Somali National Movement (SNM) after it had fought a successful insurgency against former President Muhammad Siyad Barre, whose government collapsed in January 1991. Hundreds of thousands of Somalilanders were displaced across the borders at the height of the 1988-1991 civil war when the government bombed Hargeysa, now the capital of Somaliland, and other towns. After declaring independence, the SNM agreed to demobilise and support a civilian government. It threw its weight behind the former prime minister of Somalia, Muhammad Ibrahim Egal, resulting in his election as Somaliland's president in 1993. Subsequently, however, the SNM became one of Egal's critics - despite the fact that stability and resources had been brought to the territory under his leadership - for failing to secure international recognition. IRIN spoke to Abdirahman Awale and Muhammad Hashi of the SNM leadership. Below are extracts from the interview.
QUESTION: How would you describe the Somali National Movement now? Is it still a political player?
ANSWER: [Awale] Yes, it's a very important political player, and is working for Somaliland to be stable and to be led by a proper government. We need a government that can develop democracy, social justice and equality. SNM has always supported the independence of Somaliland. That was the goal...
Q: Elections are expected to be announced after the referendum. Will SNM form its own political party?
A: [Awale] We plan to have our own political party and have an alliance with all progressive forces in the country, especially the clans. The aim is to make some sort of a national coalition. We want to take a step up and develop a national coalition which represents all Somalilanders.
Q: Credit was given to the SNM, as an armed group, in 1993 for supporting an elected administration, and demobilising =AD- for taking a back seat, in other words. How do you see your role now?
A: [Awale] Yes, it's true, SNM supported Egal -=AD well, SNM wasn't supporting Egal himself, it was supporting a kind of government that would be established in Somaliland. It was a move to support the people of Somaliland, and to back the intentions SNM had for the future of Somaliland... Egal was head of the government which SNM supported during the demobilisation period. After that, Egal, with bad intentions, began fighting with the SNM, because he saw SNM was uncompromised regarding Somaliland's independence. He was aware that it may block his way back to Somalia unification. So, he brought people [into government] who shared his opinion, and got rid of SNM members.
Q: So you feel Egal is pro-unification, even though he says otherwise?
A: [Awale] Yes. When he says he is for independence, it is for local consumption only. He tells the people here one thing, but in his speeches elsewhere he has clearly declared that Somalia will unite one day. He says we will talk to the southerners when they make their home clean and negotiate with them... He says one thing to the public, and a different thing to the international community. The SNM was fighting for a better life and a better govenrment, but unfortunately...[the] three institutions inscribed by the constitution - the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary - Egal overrules them all. It's the government of one man... The SNM sees grave signs of dictatorship in his deeds and administration, and we are against that.
Q: But looking at Hargeysa now, it is booming. Many people have returned to their homes from abroad, there is peace, and the press is very outspoken - even if there is no international recognition. Doesn't that constitute a success?
A: [Awale] Partly it's a success. But from the point of view of the public, it's the private sector that is booming =AD- telecommunications, big hotels, commerce, many commercial activities. Yes, the private sector has developed, but the public sector is very stagnant... There is misappropriation of public funds. The stability and peace you see is brought by the people, not the government... But if it continues like this, with no creation of jobs, bad administration, no social justice, I doubt stability will continue.
[Hashi] As far as recognition is concerned, people will recognise a government when it is effective and has got the intention of being recognised. Egal lacks both these criteria... He hasn't established an effective administration. The military and the police have no ranks, which means they are temporary. He printed passports, which he says are temporary ones...
Q: How do people see the coming referendum on the constitution?
A: [Hashi]... A referendum requires a lot of preparation =AD- people have to be registered, the election regulations have to be fulfilled, an electoral committee has to be formed, the areas and constituents and number of boxes have to be decided, the constitution itself has to be printed in sufficient number. The holding of the referendum and national elections are being crammed into a year, because Egal's term of office ends in February 2002. The referendum was postponed several times. Egal will ask for an extension of the period, I believe.
Q: What about the SNM - hasn't it been weakened lately by internal splits?
A: [Hashi] No, I don't think so. Of course in every society some people will follow their personal interests, so those who have joined the government are following their personal interests rather than what SNM has fought for. These people might even form their own political parties...
Q: Do you think new political parties will bring new tensions?
A: [Hashi] Of course, yes, because they have to speak about what is going on in the country. It's an additional pressure, always. Whether they are accepted or not, and whether or not there is an election remains to be seen. But pressure is mounting; it is increasing by the day. People are fed up with the way things are going on now. People are forming their own political parties even now. Even if the government doesn't come up with registration and regulations, people will form their own institutions, which will be a political pressure on the regime. We already act as pressure groups, we meet, we issue joint communiques.
Q: What, to you, is the significance of the new authority in Mogadishu?
A: [Hashi] In fact... the Djibouti conference [which in 2000 resulted in the formation of the Transitional National Government in Mogadishu] didn't give due respect to the existing administrations - to either the Somaliland government or to Puntland [in northeastern Somalia]. Somalilanders feel the Arta [Djibouti] conference is another way of inviting [back] the Siyad Barre regime... We need to convince the international community that our secession is based on atrocities that took place, and they have to consider that... [but] the UN drags its feet, the OAU [Organisation of African Unity] is silent, the Arab League is ignoring it. Even when the genocide was taking place, the international community was silent, the UN was silent. Some, like the Arab governments and the Western powers were assisting Siyad Barre,=AD because Siyad Barre had come back to the fold from the Soviet side. So many things have happened, and are still taking place... Why is the international community closing it's eyes to what happened here?... But we really don't care. We are in our land and we will never, never be back to that unity [with southern Somalia].
Unity was formed, anyway, for the general, greater Somalia =AD- it was the concept of uniting Somalia... We united with [southern Somalia] not through compulsion, but of our own accord. But for 30 years we suffered atrocities, so we established our own state again - Somaliland. Now we are showing the international community the reason why we chose secession, we want to convince them.
Q: But the reason for secession is based on the atrocities, or are there other reasons?
A: [Hashi] The main reason is the suffering of the people under the Somalia regime, whether civilian or military. There has been a complete looting of property, there has been the genocide...
But also, the international community, particularly the superpowers, refused the formation of greater Somalia. [Aspirations for a 'Greater Somalia' refer to post-colonial Somali territorial claims to parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti]... The idea of greater Somalia was buried in the 1977-78 war [between Somalia and Ethiopia]. Siyad Barre retreated from the claim of Somali Ogaden in Ethiopia, and he retreated from claiming the Somali part of Kenya. Djibouti went its own way. So the whole purpose of Somaliland joining with [southern] Somalia was the search for greater Somalia. That has gone.
Nairobi, 18 May 2001
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