Somaliland: Ready to Build a Nation- Prof Samatar


Prof Samatar kisses the ground on arrival home recently

This report was compiled from the lectures of Professor Ahmed I. Samatar in Somaliland universities during his visit to Somaliland from June 2 through July 2013. He received a rock star welcome and his ideas struck a chord with the public.

By Jaafar M Sh Jama

Somalilandsun – Professor Ahmed Ismail Samatar toured various regions of Somaliland in June-July of 2013 to gather public opinion, provide an assessment of what he saw, and determine how Somaliland could be an inclusive place for all “Somalis” living there. His trip to Somaliland took place after an unsuccessful attempt to run for president of Somalia in 2012. He was unsuccessful because the president was chosen by members of parliament representing Somali tribal groups in the absence of nation wide elections. A national election for the presidency was not held because of population displacement, security concerns and tension among regional factions. Professor Samatar did not receive enough votes from members of parliament to win the presidency because his party was against bribing members of parliament in order to win their votes. Any effort to purchase the presidency was contrary to his party’s plan to usher in a new government free from corruption and tribal nepotism. At the time of his unsuccessful bid for the presidency, members of parliament sold their votes to candidates with the largest amount of money. They were eager to fill their pockets, acquire seats in government for their tribes, and forge personally beneficial alliances with other tribes. The wheeling and dealing was given greater importance than working together in an attempt to mend and heal a country that is in complete disarray.

Against the formidable odds of corruption, nepotism and tribalism, Mr. Samatar made his best effort to win the presidency. He addressed parliament about the horrific state of affairs, and outlined ways to rescue Somalia. Members of parliament were impressed with his speech and with his concrete plans to restore Somalia. He received lengthy, non-stop applause and a standing ovation. Sadly, that same parliament at the end of the day surrendered to the “call of tribalism” rather than to the salvaging of Somalia. Professor Samatar realized that the two arch rivals and feuding tribes (Darod and Hawiye) had taken over a monopoly of the Somali state, leaving no room for anyone else. Ironically, this was welcome news for Somaliland—a separate state, run largely by Isaks, that has been trying to secede from Somalia for some time. They made every effort to make sure that Samatar would not be elected president of Somalia. He ardently fought against secession as it would lead to the break-up of the Somali state into smaller, feuding, tribal states.

After failing to win the election, Samatar shifted his political focus to northern Somalia [Somaliland] to see if he could strengthen a fragile state with symptoms very similar to those in Southern Somalia. He was hoping that the political leadership and tribes in Somaliland would be more mature, cohesive, and committed to sharing the common identity of “Somaliland.” As part of his assessment he interacted with university students, civic organizations and traditional tribal elders. He taught them lessons about statehood, leadership, education and development in an effort to instill good citizenship and avoid the trivial tribal matters so common to them all. The professor said that he would make earnest assessments of Somaliland before casting judgment.

Somaliland did not issue any formal statement about what they want out of Samatar, but opened a dialogue that he has wanted to have with Somaliland since 1991. He has been consistently telling Somaliland that secession is not the right course of action. After he lost the election in the South he learned that the South is not serious about a political dialogue or sharing power with the north. He also learned that the upper echelons in the South are confined to Hawiye and Darod tribes. Somaliland wants to capitalize on this fact, and to use the professor’s academic credentials and influence to acquire recognition for Somaliland by hiding its own flaws. What Samatar wants out of Somaliland is fair and equitable power sharing among the people of Somaliland regardless of tribe. He aptly said to officials of Somaliland that “Government is not a place where tribal interests are conducted but rather a place to serve all citizens.” This represents a reality check for Somaliland as it, too, is dominated by one family. That family is reluctant and hesitant to give independent positions of authority to anyone outside of their kinsmen. If Somaliland officials do give positions of leadership to those outside the family, they also make sure that some of their kinsmen are always present “behind the curtain.”

Hargeisa and Admas Universities: (Hargeisa)

Ahmed Ismail Samatar, a Somali scholar and former Somali presidential candidate returned to Somaliland after receiving a formal invitation from Ahmed Mohamud (Siilaanyo). The government of Somaliland appointed a welcoming committee comprised of ministers, elders and chiefs led by Abdillahi Jama Osman (Geel Jire). When Samatar got off the plane he briefly shook hands and hugged officials, friends, and relatives; and kissed the tarmac of Berbera airport to demonstrate his love for his homeland after an absence of fifteen years.

After a brief stay, Samatar was taken on a small regional plane from Berbera to Hargeisa, where a large crowd of people had gathered at the airport. Tribal elders and chiefs lined up to get a glimpse of the professor. People held up his picture and waved fresh leaves cut from local trees as they stood on walls, cars, and other objects while waving joyfully to welcome the visitor. A soccer team even came to the airport and lined up to shake the professor’s hand. Posters with his full name and picture were posted along both sides of the road carrying the message, “Welcome to your land.” As he walked out of the airport he briefly spoke to the media. He said, “I came to Somaliland to listen, to understand, and to see the accomplishments and ambitions of the people of Somaliland.” He announced that what he came for was much bigger than personal interest. He reminded the crowds that he was well informed about what was happening in Somaliland but wanted to meet its people in person. He went on to assert that he was on a fact finding mission to assess conditions in the country; and to share his views and experiences with the people of Somaliland.

Samatar was taken to Hargeisa University where he gave a lesson on leadership. Before beginning his lecture he reminded students and others present for the lecture that he would defend and support everything that the people of Somaliland had accomplished to date. Samatar reminded the audience that leadership requires compromise, understanding and patience. Capacity building is a never-ending process that requires fairness and justice, especially in difficult times. The professor confirmed that good leadership is based on vision and competence. Great leadership helps society expand like an elastic band—reaching its full limits without breaking. He reminded Somalis that tribalism is not a criterion for either a nation or its leader. Citizens should choose a leader who has the vision to show them what lies ahead and warns them about potential pitfalls. Samatar noted that Abdillahi Suldan (Timma’ade) was a visionary poet who foresaw the abysmal conditions in which Somali society currently finds itself.

Samatar also stressed that good vision must be accompanied by good moral character and mutual respect. Good moral character prohibits violation of the rights of individuals or any group or groups of people within a nation. Samatar gave the analogy of a guitar whose strings have become loose over time. A guitar with such strings will not generate the same beautiful sound that it would be able to produce if the strings were tightened. In regard to the issue of fair and open discussion, Samatar noted that “if we share this country (Somaliland) we must have broad legitimate discussions about its future.” A great leader should be able to galvanize the national vision so that society will remember, and remain committed to that vision generation after generation.

Samatar also touched on the issue of development, reminding students that it is an ongoing process that requires perpetual maintenance and up-keep. Without these, society falls apart when people abandon the work and choose rather to sit around and have a good time. Both mind and matter require constant maintenance and development. Everything will eventually cease to exist without proper upkeep and careful maintenance.

Timma’ade University: (Gabiley and Dilla):

Samatar’s message gathered steam and momentum as he headed to Gabiley, the place of his birth. It is a town established by his grandfathers on the eve of World War Two. He was the first student to be enrolled in school at a time when Somalis where skeptical of enrolling their children in a school established by British colonial authorities for fear of being proselytized. His father—in defiance of community opinion—confirmed that his son would be the first to go the school. Sixty-one years later this very school became the University of Timmacadde, which is currently in its infancy.

As Samatar entered his home town, crowds in cars and on horseback waved and cheered. People hung flowers on his head and beat drums in celebration. The professor stood on a car waving both hands at the people. Abib Nur Diriye, Minister of Information for Somaliland and a member of the welcoming committee said, “I have never witnessed this kind of public joy and gathering.” Samatar alluded to what happened to Gabiley during the civil war, reminding the public of the uniqueness of the city. He noted that this city, unlike many other places in the country, is a mixture of different Somali clans who live, inter-marry and work together for the common good of the people. The city has long been known for competing in education and sports tournaments. He reminded the spectators that he was proud to see that the city had named the university after Abdillahi Suldan (Timmacadde), a Somali poet who so forcefully condemned tribalism. He also forecasted that Somalis would eventually succumb to self-affliction unless they maintained and defended justice and fairness. He reminded the people they must strive to live by his words; and donated books of his poetry to the university library for students to really dig into and understand the substance of his poetry.

Samatar went to Dilla the following morning on his way to Borama. He arrived in Dilla where thousands of people—the size of the crowd unheard of up to this time—stormed the streets. Both young and old were overjoyed to see him. The cars in his delegation were not even able to pass through the audience. Samatar addressed the audience briefly about the purpose of his trip and thanked them for their welcome. From here and all along the way to Borama he was submerged within a sea of people, mostly young men. As he entered Borama the entire city came out to see him. Many of them had never seen him before, but had heard of him through debates and discussions in the media. As his car inched its way through the crowd he spoke in the public arena—telling the throngs that he could not thank them enough for the undeserved public support. He assured the people it was something that he would remember until he died. He reminded the audience that the “People of the west [in-reference to western Somaliland] need to help build a united and cohesive Somaliland.” That is much easier said than done as the leadership of the ruling tribe in Somaliland flagrantly displays single family ownership and control of resources. Furthermore, a vast portion of the eastern part of Somaliland is under the control of the Khatumo state—a largely Dhulbahanta territory whose goal is to be part of a regional autonomous state in compliance with the new Somali federal constitution, but separate from the rest of Somaliland.

ADMAS University:

Samatar was invited to ADMAS University College in Hargeisa where he lectured on development and education. He told students that education begins with the individual expanding his/her knowledge, including expansion of the intellect and personal enlightenment. As part of the enlightenment one must begin to ask critical questions that require carefully considered answers. There are many questions for society in general, but each generation has a few central questions to answer. Individuals must help define and delineate what the central questions are for each society. He told students that the critical questions must be clearly and succinctly articulated rather than rambling about vague issues. Most Somalis have not yet learned how to formulate and articulate critical questions.

Samatar stressed that knowledge begins with a good question. “If there is no question there is no point in knowing or exploring anything.” The question must shed light on a dark spot, explain the unknown or help untangle complex issues or dilemmas. Knowledge based on thoughtful intellectual investigation helps provide new understanding. In other words, knowledge is comprised of learning how to ask good questions; how to explore and investigate the questions and issues posed; and how to produce tangible answers or resolutions to the questions or dilemmas being investigated.

Methods of exploration include statistical and historical research; and detailed interviews with knowledgeable sources. People who are able to produce new, empirical knowledge (geniuses) are extremely rare and limited. Most academicians either refine or add to existing knowledge. All people learn, generate new ideas, and increase the total sum of knowledge by building on what others have already explored, investigated, and shared with the world.

Samatar said that the acquisition of knowledge requires at least three steps. The first step is to critique what already exists and point out what is good about it. The purpose of the critique is to improve, enhance or perfect something that you love. The second step is to discover what is missing from existing knowledge—liabilities and limitations. The third step is to identify and articulate how to improve what already exists—how to remove or overcome its liabilities and limitations.

Good education must lead to ideas that help individuals take care of themselves, their families, and the country in which they live. If they are starving, their education is inadequate. The biggest role of education is to improve civic life—everything that is shared by all members of the community. A community that does not have intellectual capital can not move forward. Societies with the greatest collective intellectual capital are the societies that progress at the greatest pace. Members of societies that have no intellectual capital are bound to have backward lives and be afflicted with numerous problems.

The great Danish philosopher Kirkagard said, “You can only understand life backwards but the only way in which a person can live is forward.” Societies without intellectual capital do not understand history–and what limited history they do have is inaccurate and can be easily challenged. Intellectual capital within a culture is used to examine existing cultural values and insights, and if necessary or beneficial, to produce new values. Instead of saying, “We use to be like that” the question to ask is, “What shall we become?”

Intellectual capital also helps a society or nation learn how to build its economy. Samatar stressed that Somaliland should not just be a consumer society. Somaliland must have a system of local production that takes advantage of locally available resources. Buying what others produce and sell is not a good way to build a country or its economy. Commerce and trade should focus on products that can be proudly stamped with “made in Somaliland.” Building the economy requires knowledge of science. The reason why countries in the developing world are not building their economies is that they do not have sufficient scientific knowledge. They can not compete with countries where science is given a high priority.

Developed nations that have eradicated poverty and developed employment for their citizens generation after generation have done three important things. There is a cycle of poverty and hardship in countries that have failed to do these things. The first thing is to conceptualize new ideas. Nations that conceptualize new ideas and create new products control the world. The rest of the world borrows the concepts that have been generated by forward thinking nations. These nations fund and fully support research centers and centers of learning where new concepts are generated and developed.

The second key to economic success is to selectively borrow and skillfully build on the concepts and good ideas already developed by others. Samatar cited the example of Japan. He recalled that as a young boy growing up in Somalia, Japanese products were so fragile that Somalis would call them “Qosol ku jab.” That was a way of saying that the quality was so poor and the products so fragile that if you laughed out loud they would fall apart. Today, however, Japan has reached a stage where the quality and standard of its products are superior and sought after.

The third key to economic success is the development of networks and connections. Even if a country has neither creative concepts nor competence, it can bring people together and establish trade connections by building good ports, airports and other facilities—in essence, becoming a “broker” of services. Singapore is an example of such a country. It is a central point between the east and the west—and has wisely created a hub through which vast quantities of commodities flow from all over the world. As a result of this trade connection Singaporeans have the highest living standard and the richest per capita income in the region. For Somaliland to be economically successful as a nation it must implement these methods of development that have been proven to be effective.

Samatar’s lecture concluded with a reminder that development is a never-ending task. Development is not building something and then abandoning what was built. Nothing can be used or enjoyed over time without maintenance and upkeep. Structures that are abandoned quickly decay. Professor Samatar referred to the second law of thermo dynamics, which states that in order to survive, any organ that produces energy (entropy—energy going out) must create counter entropy (return of energy). Created structures are not capable of maintaining themselves. The professor used the road connecting Kalabaydh and Borama which he traversed on his way to Borama as an example. He said the road was full of pot holes and some areas washed away by rain. The driver was constantly avoiding them by driving through adjacent farms. He asserted that Somalis are not good at maintaining roads and homes; or more importantly, at taking care of the environment and the ecology. He noted that during his trip to Zeila he witnessed soil erosion, desertification and looming environmental catastrophes. Without an effective environmental protection policy the land and the country’s fragile ecological systems will be destroyed.

Development requires a collective effort to continuously improve the economy, maintain effective governance and preserve cultural integrity. Samatar reminded his audience that development is not appointing one’s kinsman to an office to hang out in the morning and disappear in the afternoon for kat chewing (narcotic plant). Development of the economy is based on job creation, democracy, constitutionally guaranteed rights, and civic guidelines to which all citizens are subject. This type of development is sustainable and will benefit every generation.

Samatar confirmed that young people have told him that previous generations have left them nothing to build on. His response countered that allegation. He asserted that many things have been left for them, even though a lot has been destroyed. He reminded his audience that young people have the time, energy and the intellect to build the country and should not be relying on older people to do the “heavy lifting.” He urged the government of Somaliland and the country’s business community to resolve the massive unemployment problem (eighty percent unemployment) by creating jobs for youth; and by establishing infrastructure and developing the technology required to harness whatever resources are available in the country.

Ammoud University and Eelo Universities (Borama)

Professor Samatar visited and lectured at Amoud University—an older educational institution that has been converted to a University. This is where he went to intermediate school as a young boy. Here the professor lectured a hall filled with promising young men and women about statehood, democracy and development. He told them that the state is the focal point where shared governance (collective power) is established by a group of people who bring all power elements of the country together. In the prelude to his lecture, the professor said that both God and animals are independent of politics, but human beings need political structures to govern themselves. The professor asserted that the state encompasses civil society, with all its leadership and administrative organs. The state manifests itself through physical, economic and cultural power supported by effective law enforcement. In the broader sense, caring for the economy includes taking care of society and its cultural values; as well as the religion(s), art, literature, and language(s) of the country. Depending on how a state uses its power, the lives of its citizens can either be greatly improved or greatly harmed.

Before he pointed out what type of state Somaliland is, Samatar gave the audience a description of the various forms and phases in the development of a state. He said some states are fully developed. Fully developed states have already developed all organs of the state; they have in place and operational all necessary means to take care of their societies, including the military, the police, all components of economic infrastructure, and an effective educational system.

The second form of state the professor described is the partially developed state. Countries in this category are rising up to build political and economic power; and striving to improve the supply and quantity of daily necessities. Such states are attempting to catch up with the developed world.

The third type of state is called less developed. It has some resources such as oil or other minerals that outsiders are able to exploit. Less developed states use their share of the proceeds of foreign exploitation of internal resources to purchase food and other commodities to feed their populations.

The last form of state is the predator state. It has little or no natural resources, survives by consuming goods and services produced outside of the state; and ends up devouring its own people. The state itself can be said to “die,” as in the case of Somalia. Ultimately all states are either well developed, in the process of developing, declining or dying. The professor’s appraisal of Somaliland is that it is in the developmental stage. In regard to state building, Somaliland was categorized by Professor Samatar as a state in the developing stage.

Good states are recognized by three things. Firstly, legitimate states have an inclusive citizenry. Their citizens share a common destiny, and are guided by a fair and just constitution. There is no room for tribal or clan favoritism. Secondly, the leadership of a good state has vision. Leaders are able to look ahead and determine what issues need immediate attention, and what needs to be avoided. The leadership knows how to gets thing done. Finally, the leadership of a good state is competent and cooperative. The leaders understand each other and come together to accomplish the common good. They work hard to eradicate poverty and improve the lives of their citizens in every conceivable way. They steer clear of inflicting harm or causing internal division.


For the first time in Somaliland’s history, Samatar provided the people of Somaliland with lessons in, and examples of good and bad governance in their native tongue. He was both eloquent and a gifted orator. His lectures were vivid and practical in providing guidance and insight into what each citizen needs to do in order to insure good governance. He helped the people of Somaliland understand what they need to do to get the job done. He warned emphatically about that horrible tribal system that has plagued development of the Somali people. He emphasized that without fairness, sharing of common interests and full civic engagement, state building is not possible. Sadly, even before Samatar left Somaliland the very leaders who invited him to assess the situation within the country slipped back into their old habits of shuffling and reshuffling government ministerial officials along tribal lines. They failed to recognize that the very top leader—the individual responsible for all the reshuffling—is the one who needs to be removed. As is all too common in Somalia, the leader is always right and the people below him are wrong. Furthermore, the public in general has an ambivalent relationship with tribalism. They, too, need to understand that you can not have good leadership if you continue to put as many of your tribal members as you can into all the important government positions—regardless of qualifications for the job. The state—instead of hiring civil servants based on the criteria of vision and competence set by Samatar—becomes a place to appoint tribe and sub-tribe members who are willing to pick up arms against the state. In effect, the state is bullied into rewarding trouble-makers with government positions—and peace-makers wind up with nothing.

Samatar’s message struck a cord with the general public, who seemed to accept that it would be possible to create a sense of common identity for the people of Somaliland. That common identity would encompass the five primary tribes plus others that reside in Somaliland. This could be a galvanizing point if there is a genuine consensus within Somaliland. Samatar reminded his followers that “we in Somaliland must find a way to unify and strengthen our people in order to build a better Somaliland.” The further Somaliland drifts away from internal harmony and genuinely equitable representation the less likely it can remain intact as one independent state outside of Somalia. Samatar wants to see a Somaliland that is cohesive and strong enough to negotiate with Southern Somalia. If this does not happen, Somaliland’s unhappy tribes will ditch Somaliland—either by allying with the deeply divided Southern Somalia; or by declaring their own tribal mini-state. Going to the South doesn’t mean things will be better. It is simply a way for disgruntled tribes to stand up to Somaliland (a case in point is Khatumo State).

Samatar has an enormous following in Awdal region. Ultimately how he utilizes his popular support to accomplish the political ambitions of the region is what counts. So far he has decided to work with Somaliland to reinforce and strengthen the country. Samatar needs to realize that whatever steps he takes as a political leader in Somaliland he must stay within the goals and ambitions of the people of Awdal. For now the people of Awdal and Samatar are largely on the same page as far as unifying Somaliland—as long as it leaders continue to govern with genuine “civic” involvement rather than with tribe or sub-tribe favoritism. He has expressed these views to the ruling administration of Somaliland. In the absence of a truly unifying party in Somaliland he has to establish a political party that can articulate and demonstrate all the qualities of good leadership. Joining existing political parties in Somaliland is not an acceptable option for him as the parties are tribal-based, and have a history of nepotism in the upper echelons. Key positions of power, authority and decision making are all held by exclusive tribes and sub-tribes. He was not able to persuade the tribes in the south to set aside long-standing rivalry. Feuds over the allocation of resources and key positions in government along tribal lines continue to exist in Somaliland. Somaliland would be much wiser to make a better choice. If Somaliland doesn’t make the choice to build the country collectively then each tribal fiefdom will be left to go its own away.

Samatar must realize that he must be a strong leader and Somaliland must be a committed partner in order to accomplish what he has proposed for the country. He has to set aside his personal goal of being offered a position in the government. In the past Somaliland has silenced political figures who challenged its leadership by offering them government positions. In his negotiating efforts with Somaliland Samatar must not settle for simply the realization of personal ambitions. He must uphold the ideas, reforms, and leadership with competence and vision that he would like to see implemented. With Somaliland he can play either the tribal card or the unifying card—and that is dependent at least partially on whether or not there is a real and genuine partner in Hargeisa. It is clear that Somaliland has to make the choice—whether to continue building a state exclusively run by one tribe; or a state run collaboratively by a collection of all tribes. Everyone is waiting to see how Samatar navigates the swamp of tribal interests and the pursuit of the ideal state with a common destiny. It is hoped that he will choose to establish a Somaliland that is run by a legitimate, competent, inclusive group of people representing all tribes. Up until now, Somaliland has clung stubbornly to tribal interests with no serious political program transcending tribal interests. To date it has provided neither equality nor equal opportunity for its citizenry.

Jaafar Jama