Somaliland: Open Letter His Excellency President Ahmed Mohamed Mahmoud Silanyo


Dear Mr. President

Somalilandsun – Please excuse the unannounced nature of my correspondence. I am writing to you on the advice of the Foreign Minister of Somaliland, Mr. Mohammed Abdullah Omar whom I recently contacted and explained the details of a long running issue that my family has suffered at the hands of the Somaliland National Army.

During one of your recent official visits to these shores of Britain I was hoping that the Foreign Minister would be able to arrange a brief, informal meeting with you but unfortunately this did not transpire due to your considerable but understandable time constraints.

You may or may not be aware that a number of senior officers in the Somaliland military and police force have illegally occupied the property of my late father, Yuusuf Jaama DHUXUL, in Hargeisa directly opposite what is now the University of Hargeisa, since the inception of Somaliland in 1991. You may ask why there would be a need to wash one’s dirty linen in public and the dispassionate observer may consider this a fair question.

But as this situation has remained as intractable a problem for my family as have long standing disputes over Somaliland’s international recognition, we feel we are left with no other option but to pursue this course of action and bring this issue to the forefront of the agenda.

We also believe this case to be a litmus test of Somaliland’s claims of good governance,the rule of law and commitment to justice particularly given the fact that the whole raison d’etre of Somaliland was to be freed from the shackles of military dictatorship. How this case is dealt with by your current administration will not only reflect modern day attitudes in Somaliland towards such injustices, but will also provide a benchmark against which one can gauge oft-repeated claims of Somaliland’s achievements.

Mr President, you recently stated in articles published in the Guardian newspaper on 07/05/13 that Somaliland is an “oasis of good governance, peace and stability in the Horn of Africa”. In a separate article entitled “The Safe Haven Next Door” published in the Journal of Foreign Policy on 27/04/13 you also quoted US defense officials as describing Somaliland as “an entity that works”. You further state that “Somaliland is a fully functioning sovereign entity”. I would like to examine these claims in the light of this extraordinary case, particularly due to the fact that during the early 1990′s when internecine conflict was rife in throughout the horn of Africa (with Somaliland being no exception), my father refused to engage those who forcibly confiscated his property by evicting them through bloodshed and violence. but elected to have this case heard in a court of law.

Of course, one could be forgiven for confusing this action by the military as not being entirely dissimilar to that of Siad Barre’s army officers who of course did exactly the same to my father on assuming power in 1969 when he was subsequently jailed for refusing to join the military dictatorship.

But the desire of my father to exhaust all legal means and subsequent refusal to resort to use force, when viewed in the context of underlying socio-political conditions of the aftermath of the collapse of Siad Barre’s regime (where the rule of law was effectively non-existent) is perhaps in hindsight particularly striking. He was ridiculed as a pacifist at the time for his stance but of course realised that what was regained through bloodshed then could not conceivably be conducive to our peace of mind today. Whether rightly or wrongly (depending on your point of view) he decided that the best course of action would be to regain his property through the law courts, especially as Somaliland always trumpeted its claim as a beacon of stability where disputes could always be peacefully and amicably.

By producing document after document, mortgage deeds dated as far back as 1969 and sworn testimonies, the high court ruled in 1994 that the property did indeed belong to my father and had been misappropriated by remnants of the SNM whose sole claim on the land was that it was government property recovered from Siad Barre’s army stationed in Hargeisa.

The irony of the nascent Somaliland military illegally occupying my father’s property in an identical manner to that of Siad’s army was obviously lost on these men, given their outlandish claims.

Bizarrely, in a letter dated January 1994, these officers compared the civil case launched against them by my father to the struggle of the SNM against Siad Barre during the late 1980s, stating that he was an “enemy of the state” whose “naked opportunism” needed to be dealt with. Nearly two decades later, the brazen tone of this letter never ceases to amaze me. Perhaps in their warped reasoning, the very notion that anyone would have the audacity to challenge them was by extension challenging the memory of the SNM and rendered them persona non grata in the mould of Siad himself.

But it is now 2013, and our property is still occupied by the army and police. More alarmingly, despite dozens of court orders, letters from the interior ministry, and even an executive decree (which I’m attaching for your reference) dated June 2010 from the previous President of Somaliland, Daahir Riyaale Kaahin, ordering that the property be returned to its rightful owners, these officers have attempted to clandestinely build on the land, attempted tried to sell it to unsuspecting would be buyers and have even been privately renting it. Let’s not forget that these officers proclaimed in the most eloquent terms that this was government property they nobly claimed was being defended from “enemies of the state”.

That such an injustice could happen in Somaliland is one thing. But that it could be committed by the very guardians of Somaliland’s National Charter whose remit is to protect the rights of its citizens is quite another. It almost seems that we are being made to pay for refusing to embark on the destructive course of violence (which of course can only beget one thing) and choosing recourse to the law in the mistaken belief or perhaps misplaced hope that the law would be respected. I hope and pray that in time this path will prove to have been the correct one

However, in what can only be described as the irony of ironies for the man on the street in Hargeisa, Mogadishu as a city has proven to be more equitable to my father’s memory than Hargeisa has. We always hear of how Somalia is ravaged by chaos and lawlessness. Lo and behold, our property there was recently returned to us in the most unforeseen of circumstances.

To our astonishment, the squatters approached us and requested that they be pardoned for occupying our property illegally and peacefully left. I stress that no coercion was used, nor was this case heard in a court of law. No intervention or mediation took place. Well, actually the only intervention that played a part was the goodwill of the impoverished squatters who presumably wrestled with their consciences, trying to square the need to escape poverty and homelessness with the inexcusable act of wrongly occupying a deceased person’s land.

Needless to say, this episode has led to our respective families being on good terms where one might imagine there to have been enmity. Unlike the top brass in the Somaliland National Army, these impoverished people had no uniforms or badges of officialdom to hide behind but despite their lack of means they have proven themselves to be more courageous than the aforementioned officials beyond any shadow of a doubt.

Of course I’m not claiming for a moment that people are more or less genetically or culturally predisposed to a sense of fairness and equity from one region to another. But I think it’s fair to say that never in my father’s wildest dreams could he have imagined that his children and grandchildren would be more fairly treated in Mogadishu than Hargeisa. I sometimes wonder what he would have made of it all.

As President, responsibility for what happens in the country on your watch ultimately rests with you. Moreover, as a self respecting Somalilander that has struggled against all forms of injustice for the entirety of your political life, I’m sure that such a case would not sit well with you.

Indubitably, you do not need me to tell you what injustice and tyranny lead to, as modern history of the region and events more recently across the Arab world would of course attest to. By extension, your assertion that Somaliland is a “fully functioning sovereign entity” that “works”, for us rings particularly hollow. If there is no rule of law, it therefore stands to reason that one of two potential scenarios ensue: either corruption and a lack of will to enforce the rule of law act as impediments to the execution of justice. Or there is effectively no entity ultimately capable of running the affairs of the state that is also able to oversee the implementation of its court judgments. It’s not for me to say which of the two scenarios is more plausible but I’m sure you will agree that both give cause for alarm.

Let me be clear that I am in no way attempting to lionise my father in the eyes of the reader as a saint. The placing of one’s own on a pedestal is perhaps as nauseating and distasteful as the belittling of others. But he was by no means a criminal and did not deserve to be treated by Somaliland in such a manner. If such cases are allowed to fester and people in positions of authority (whether political or otherwise) choose to turn a blind eye, then widespread injustices invariably lead to a people’s ruin until fair minded people are courageous enough to make a stand.

Mr President, I’m sure that when you first entered public service as a young man, cases similar to these would have emboldened you to speak your mind irrespective of the potential consequences. Perhaps they would have provided the lifeblood of your political mission and I’m under no illusions that there were very real, personal risks to life and limb back then.

But all these years later, as an elder statesman with considerably more political clout now than you had in your youth, by no means are these challenges diminishing comparative to your capacity to tackle them head on.

If anything, the opposite is probably true.

Viewed from a perspective of realpolitik, this case is effectively challenging you as President to bring to justice the major power brokers in Somaliland, at least in the short term setting the executive and the military on a collision course that could have far reaching ramifications in a region of the world where people are understandably keen not to rock the boat.

That would be quite a challenge for any leader. However, I’m sure you would rather that future generations are able to look back and be proud that they had leaders who were brave rather than bowed in the face of potential watershed cases in their nation’s history. Do you consider that to be a challenge? Or perhaps more enticingly, an opportunity? Dunida ku waari maysid, war ha kaa haro, I’m sure I once heard you say.

In normal circumstances, the Head of State would be frowned upon for intervening in matters pertaining to the judiciary and legislature where a clear separation of powers should exist. But when court rulings against individuals at the highest levels of the military and police force remained ignored for two decades, then it would be fair to say that such matters require the Head of State’s personal attention. Justice is all we seek in this matter, not the taking of sides or preferential treatment. I pray that this case is dealt with swiftly and peacefully before people conclude that the justice that has for so long eluded us must be sought elsewhere.

Yours sincerely

C/Rashiid Yusuf Dhuxul