South Sudan Can Still Learn from Somaliland


NABAD IYO CAANO KU WARA, A Somaliland adage meaning “Peace and Milk” which roughly translates to with Peace fallows Prosperity.

somaliland and South Sudan Flags

By: Geleh Ali Gulaid

Somalilandsun – South Sudan can still learn from Somaliland, I stress STILL because prior to South Sudan gaining independence I cautioned against the haphazard manner in which South Sudan was choosing to become a nation while neglecting to address the ethnic grievances, tribal and political tensions that were inherent in the social and political landscape of South Sudan for far too long, and with which such antagonism and mistrust could be the impetus that propels South Sudan to a full fletched conflict . I forewarned that secession for South Sudan would not be a panacea to all of its political feuds and ethnic hostilities, oil money would not be substitute for peace and the solutions devised by foreigners would not suffice nor stand in for homegrown solutions. Only an all-inclusive homegrown reconciliation efforts can amicably mitigate these inter-conflicts from the solutions inherent within the customs and traditions of the Southern Sudanese people.

As foreign ministers from neighboring countries have converged in Juba to quell the ethnic strife before it descends to a civil-war, with already hundreds dead and thousands more at UN compounds, Here is my Op-ed written at dawn of worlds’ youngest nation of South Sudan.

South Sudan Can learn from Somaliland

On July 9, 2011 the jubilations in Juba lived up to the fanfare with which the continents 54th nation and the United Nations 193rd member was inaugurated in, and fittingly so given the lopsided referendum votes that had underpinned the aspirations of the people of Southern Sudan. Less precise however, is how the apparent ethnic, political, and tribal cleavages in Southern Sudan will be curtailed before this undercurrent besets this young nation already under the strain of outside influence and the meddling of neighboring regional-powers. The Government of South Sudan has not been helpful in amicably finding solutions that would cease the internal-conflicts among their indigent populace which does not augur well for the world’s newest country, and this lackluster action have been aided by the U.S. who remained silent and unconcerned, and a western media that had keenly remained transfixed on Darfur only. Finding a lasting peace must take precedence for the government and people of South Sudan as they can no longer avoid the tensions simmering under the very volatile surface of their country’s foundation. And now with the secession of South Sudan concluded with, the seeds of peace to which Africa’s next 54th nation is to spur from can only be sown by the People of Southern Sudan, and this is where the experience of Somaliland can prove invaluable to the government of Southern Sudan in reconciling and forging a true consensus to sustain and bond a cohesive nation out of frail southern coalition where mistrust and animosity runs high.

No other people deserve this opportunity more than the people of southern Sudan to attain statehood after peacefully expressing their will and finally determining their own destiny once and for all. For nearly a half century the people of Southern Sudan have been plagued and known nothing but war and all of the social ailments that accompany it. South Sudan has been in a category all to its own, as part of Africa’s largest country and home to the continents longest lasting civil war, nothing else compares or comes close to the mayhem and massacres that the people of South Sudan have bared witness to or have been acquainted with. Their lives ravaged and rendered destitute by unending wars that ceased intermittently for short durations only to resume again with even greater fervor. The CPA agreement signed in Kenya 2005 halted the recent conflict that had ensued for the last 22 years and more importantly bequeathed the people of southern Sudan the chance to finally vote on their referendum.

Somaliland Flag (C) flies high in Juba South Sudan

The CPA agreement has been important to aspirations of the people of South Sudan, however it is now more crucial than ever that the people of South Sudan commence an all-inclusive reconciliation process among their people, especially now that the common enemy that held the their coalition together has now but all dissipated. It is time to address the animosities and mistrust between the people of South Sudan in order to forgive and move forward with the building of their country. As secession will not be a panacea to all of the inherent problems of tribal-political feuds and ethnic hostilities, oil money will not be substitute for peace and the solutions devised by foreigners will not suffice nor stand in for homegrown solutions.

Foreigners like the United States who was not aligned with the interest of the People of Sudan beyond secession, albeit their sole efforts of financially and politically backing the CPA agreement made the country of Southern Sudan possible today. Southern Sudan was indeed the beneficiary of unilateralism political maneuvering of a bellicose Bush Administration on the heels of the 9/11 tragedy vindictively driven to punish Sudan government for harboring the Al-Qaeda leader late 90’s, a cause further championed by the powerful evangelical constituents of the Republican Party coming to aid of Christians in the Southern Sudan and oil companies trying to neutralize the Chinese influence in addition to current reports that the Pentagon is negotiating to establish the African Command base (AFRICOM) in Juba.

The security and welfare of people of South Sudan post-independence was of no major concern to the U.S. as they could have called for or initiated an all-inclusive reconciliation among the communities of South Sudan so that the lasting peace to sustain the young nation could have been garnered. But sadly obtaining secession for Southern Sudan retained priority for the United States which chose to overlook and even suppress reports of the inter-conflicts and bloodshed among the Southern Sudan in fear that such public acknowledgement could hamper or derail Southern Sudan from seceding, choosing not to consider how if the continuation of large loss of lives and bloodshed went unabated it could resurface once Southern Sudan becomes a nation and inevitable affect the viability and cohesion of it.

The American political clout and influence were leveraged to alter any opposing views at the United Nations and subdued the erstwhile stance of the African union on the unified Sudan, further facts on the ground were even skewed to generate greater support by propping up the conflict as between Arab Muslims of the north and Christian Southerners, while conveniently neglecting to mention that the Christians are minority in the south, and unlike other parts of Africa, where religious strife and hostilities are rampant, Sudan had fared much better and shown greater religious tolerance. Lastly the bold action of enticing Al-Bashire to not interfere with S. Sudan’s referendum by hinting to drop the warrant issued for his arrest by the international criminal court over allegation for crime against humanity in Darfur as well as removing Sudan of the terror sponsored list. But such shortsightedness of American propensity has not been the only problem, other African countries had fallen short of their moral responsibilities as well, such as the Kenyan debacle whose secret shipments of weapons and tanks were exposed after the ship was hijacked by Somali pirates, and which the Obama administration subsequently threatened with sanctions as political window-dressing to quell the international uproar of Kenya sending more weapons to a place already inundated with them.

The mere fact that Kenya was entrusted signatory to the CPA agreement that it hosted should have compelled it to be a more proactive in safeguarding the tenants of the CPA, unfortunately the Kenyan plunder rather typifies the ethical dilemmas facing many African countries who in fear of losing in favor with new Southern Sudan Government would rather not offend them even if it their actions endangers them. There is also Uganda, where President Museveni had been close ally to the longtime leader of South Sudan Garang, and the helicopter that he perished in was owned by the Ugandan government. President Museveni paid dearly for his close associations with former leader of South Sudan, Sudan government in Khartoum armed and assisted Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), that has been at war with Museveni’s Government.

The fidelity of these regional-power countries who by the default of S. Sudan’s sheer land mass share boarders with it, such as Kenya, Uganda, The Central African Republic, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been to their own interest. Although these Countries have been instrumental in one way or another in aiding the South Sudan’s long arm struggle against North Sudan, they are now vying for a piece of the lucrative new nation. Blinded by these ulterior motives some countries have resorted to using ethnic connections as a way to court officials of Southern Sudanese Government, not considering how the meddling along of ethnic lines for mere political or economic gains for any country could prove catastrophic for all, especially given the numerous culturally intertwined ethnic communities that many of these neighboring countries share with South Sudan. No matter how strong or robust some these countries maybe, we can all recall the ethnic tensions that flared after Kenya’s last election which highlighted just how frail it really is. And there is Eritrea, which the Monitoring Group mandated by the Security Council found their complicity in arming South Sudan rebels.

Economic interest and expediency rather than principle has trumped and Kenya which had been the last home of SPLM outside of Sudan, has position itself to providing pipeline from south Sudan through to its Lamu port of the Indian Ocean, an economic opportunity for Kenya and a service to the landlocked Southern Sudan which is in a dire need of it. furthermore Skilled and educated Kenyans have benefited from the lack of skilled work force of the South Sudan that are needed to establish government institutions and to run them, and financially the Kenyan commercial bank dominates the banking in Southern Sudan. Not to be out done, Ethiopia which was the previous home of SPLA prior to their move to Kenya have been reported to have secured an agreement to sell hydroelectric power to South Sudan and bank of Ethiopia is already operational there.

The possibility of South Sudan disintegrating cannot be easily dismissed, the social breakdown that has allowed the tumultuous communal-warfare to persist thus far, could be the impetus that propels the lingering antagonisms and mistrust to a full fletched conflict. For God sakes in August of this year alone over 600 people have been killed over the battles between the Lou-Nuer and Murle factions in South Sudan, deaths that do not include the nearly 1,000 killed on the previous month from these same tribes, a steady addition to the lives that have been claimed by the unending tribal and militia violence as the United Nations contends. The apprehensibility of these indiscriminate acts have been happening on a constant and continual basis were signified by a report compiled by Oxfam where it stated “In one attack in a village in Jonglei state in August 2009, some 161 people were killed, most of them women and children”. Sadly these murders largely went unnoticed by the international media, although for instance that same year in 2009 alone there had been more deaths as result of Southern Sudanese inter-violence than in anywhere of Sudan including Darfur.

This dire situation is only made worse by many of the South’s tribal militias who were once allies of the North and used as proxy forces by Khartoum during the long wars, these individuals raped, murdered and blundered with the North’s blessings. The government of Sudan in the north conveniently instigated the ethnic feuds and tribal differences among the Southern Sudanese people and supplied those in-line with them with modern arms to commit havoc with impunity. Some of the more profound heinous undertakings committed by militia supported by the national government of Sudan in Khartoum were the Nuer militia that perpetrated the Bor massacre, where they slaughter women and children of the Dinka tribe, as well as the Nuer –Anyanya atrocities by the Murle. These heinous acts explains the tensions and mistrust in the new official army of the Southern Sudan, Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), where The South Sudan Defense Forces (SSDF) and Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA), who were once feuding enemies have all converged on, and bad blood from the war era remains higher than ever.

The divisions among the numerous tribes of South Sudan was heightened in the 2010 presidential elections, when several prominent Party leaders like Bona Malwal of The South Sudan Democratic Forum (SSDF), Lam Akol Ajawin of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-Democratic (SPLM-DC) and Joseph Malwal of the United Democratic Salvation Front (UDSF) had all rejected and refuted the results that crowned Salva Kiir as the president. Fortunately South Sudan overcame those quarrels that stemmed from the result disputes, sadly however there other leaders such as Peter Gadet a former SPLA commander who heads the new rebel group SSLA and George Athor a previous deputy chief of staff of the southern forces who have all picked up arms and are at war with the new government. They are only some of the ones at war with government but many have accused the current structure of government in Juba as a corrupt and undemocratic. South Sudan has been a semi-autonomous government (Goss) that had directly been responsible for the affairs of the 10 states that make up South Sudan and since 2005 the South has received 50% of oil revenue, and has part-taken and had input in the overall affairs of the national government under the government of national unity (GONU). This is all important because it was the people of Southern Sudan, who brought down their autonomous government in 1976 over allegation of corruption and favoritism, a resentment shared of the current government.

Not all the blood in South Sudan has been shed over political disputes only; the conflicts over resources have been just as bad and as gruesome. The southern ethnic groups have continued to fight over water and grazing land. Southern Sudanese has had the unfortunate luck of being home to one of the fiercest cattle raiding, and the plundering of small farms which all contribute to the extent of destitute of local, who do not grow any corps at all in fear of attracting unwanted attention of being raided and looted by the bandits. Large numbers of these bandits are comprised of Sudanese youth who have known nothing but war and have not been disarmed or incorporated to the join the government forces. These youths in communities with the overabundance of light-weapons, and amidst warring armed civilians all equally pose threat to the viability of Southern Sudan.

At this pivotal point for all the mentioned reasons the people and the government of South Sudan can benefit from accrued wisdom of the people of Somaliland. Peace needs to be the intrinsic ingredient to the foundation of South Sudan which will help alleviate its impediments especially given the amount of blood that has been shed among the tribes which their age old animosity is predicated around. The clock is ticking and time could be running out on a sincere reconciliation efforts intended on crafting lasting peace among the communities of South Sudan, instead of holding another conference with a political dimension more concerned with the legitimizing the new government by mainly appeasing the opposing militia leaders with government posts than addressing grievances and uniting the people of Southern Sudan. The difficulties and the animosities inherent in the social and political landscape of South Sudan will not just disappear, but rather the ethnic grievances, tribal and political tensions that culminated over wide period of time need a sincere homegrown efforts to mitigate these inter-conflicts on the horizon, which can only be solved amicably from the solutions inherent within the customs and traditions of the Southern Sudanese people.

The people of Somaliland had already paid dearly before they came out in the droves to vote overwhelmingly on their referendum in 2001, sealing their affirmation for independence with over 97% of the votes, an independence they reclaimed a decade earlier in 1991 after union with Somalia was dissolved, shortly after returning home from the harsh conditions of refugee camps where they sought refuge from their own government that indiscriminately massacred well over 60,000 civilians.

The peace that exists in Somaliland can be attributed to the liberators of Somaliland, the Somali National Movement (SNM) who made forgiveness and reconciliation their priority, instead of manifesting the bitterness, anger that had fostered over the decade they braved the bushes and wilderness in addition to the immeasurable losses gallantly suffered in the war to liberate their people and land by defeating the Brutal dictator armed with one of the best equipped and trained armies on the continent. Paramount to peace the Somali National Movement (SNM) brokered was their inclusion of the elders and traditional leaders from onset in finding traditional remedies rather than the negotiations being outsourced or becoming susceptible to manipulation by outsiders with top-down foreign solutions.

The first conference convened by the Somali National Movement (SNM) was not based on politics or the legitimizing of their rule, but on the brotherly reconciliation of all the major tribes in Somaliland. In the initial conference held in Berbera locally called “Walaalaynta Beelaha Waqooyi”, which turned out to be a momentous accomplishment that initiated healing understanding and more importantly helped restore trust among the Somaliland’s tribes, and ended up being the needed stepping stone to further dialogues such as the Grand conference in Burao.

The successful progress in Somaliland’s reconciliations were largely due to its home-grown legal system called Xeer, which all inhabitants are accustomed to and is hinged on traditional mechanisms for finding solution to quarrels and conflicts. Xeer is an all-encompassing time-tested traditional legal framework that is by default democratic with a bottom-up-approach where grievances are aired under a simple tree. Somaliland’s stability was possible because of the elders spearheading the negotiations as well as the involvement and ownership taken of the reconciliations process by the stakeholders-larger society as a whole.

Addition to the indigenous legal system Somaliland’s current status was only feasible because of the resilience and resolve of the Somaliland women, who have always been the backbone of Somaliland society and played a decisive role in garnering the peace that has made everything possible. They toiled in face of arduous circumstances as the link and go in between the feuding factions, they hosted and looked after visiting elders and delegates of the conferences, on top of preparing meals and decorating the conference venues.

With the initial conferences held by SNM managing to obtain a mutual end to hostilities between all the major Clans in Somaliland among the Isaaq, Dir, Dhulbahante and Warsangali, no one had anticipated the fallout and internal strife within the iconic Somali National Movement (SNM) that liberated Somaliland, once the unifying goal of liberating their land was accomplished. A situation made worse by the post-war atmosphere of unmentionable destruction and ruin with a million of displaced Somaliland citizens in the midst of battle-hardened armed tribal militiamen (Daayday) roaming the streets looting and plundering, and even as Peace seemed moribund in those vexing years, the elders never relented nor yielded to ubiquity of violence, but instead were proactive in calling for the Boorame conference that lasted for nearly 6 months even though it did not avert the inter- conflicts that consumed the major cities in Somaliland. Those conflicts in the mid-1990s eroded the joy, unity and the euphoric triumph of the Somali National Movement (SNM) and instead created shock and agony among the people of Somaliland that they will remember for long time to come.

Somaliland’s current status as a peace of oasis accumulated from the consensus and compromise forged by the citizens of Somaliland and the peace it has is constantly a work in progress that is tedious and unending. Nurturing peace in the postwar environment riddled with despair and destruction, burdened with displaced citizens and clan based militias was no small feat for the people of Somaliland, but their nexus of wise liberator’s, fair-minded elders, the toil of everyday women with the assistance of the business people and contributions of diaspora made it possible. Hard-won peace and harmony obtained internally by the trusting and relying on the home-grown legal traditional framework of customary laws of the people and the marginalizing and excluding foreigners from interfering. Somaliland is only an example of the many other African countries that utilized traditional mechanism to serve justice and find peace, countries like South Africa’s truth and reconciliation commission post-apartheid era, and Rwanda in dealing with the aftermath of the genocide where nearly a million Tutsis where hacked to death. South Sudan can find ample examples in varying degrees that they can look to or even emulate, but only their own homegrown indigenous methods will be conducive to their socio-cultural topography.

The salvation of South Sudan depends on its people to find solution to their own problems, solution that can come from the immensely rich and value laden heritage of the Southern Sudanese people, which is ample with cultural solutions and traditional remedies. The bond that will sustain and solidify the harmony of the South Sudanese people can only immerge from the wisdom and the breadth knowledge of the community leaders and traditional elders. The future stability of Southern Sudan is contingent on its people to collectively find their own solutions to problems facing them while being cognizant of the many problems that the secession will not be a panacea to, and for southern Sudan to prosper and fully benefit from the resources endowed with it, its homegrown grassroots efforts must truly address the decades of grievances and perceived betrayals within the Southern Sudanese people first.

Oil-money, international influence will not have any bearing and will not be able to mitigate the impending inter-conflicts on the horizon, as those can only be solved amicably from the solutions inherent within the customs and traditions of the Southern Sudanese people. The formation of South Sudan as a nation can’t be based on the shared grievances against Khartoum. The people of South Sudan must be impelled to solve their own problems especially given the prying eyes of neighboring countries driven by self-interest, and the American assistance that stopped at secession. All the economic and social disparities will not be resolved overnight in South Sudan and the dangers of political and tribal cleavages will neither disappear.

Becoming a new nation might have been the easier part for Southern Sudan, with Khartoum being held at bay, the hard part however will be the forging and the sustaining a cohesive nation out of frail southern coalition that is already feuding. South Sudan has been forewarned and hopefully they will heed the ominous warnings as internal-conflicts only erode the social trust which leads to segmented societies while a peaceful nation is a prelude to a prosperous one. Only the brotherly reconciliation will enable the cohesion and consensus that can sustain the harmony and unity of this young nation with the bright future.

With that I conclude with the wise words uttered by Thabo Mbeki, the Chairperson of the African Union High Implementation Panel on Sudan, who stated “Within Southern Sudan, the days and months following the historic exercise of the right of self-determination will be a time for healing, for reconciliation and for building a new, inclusive and democratic Southern Sudan”.

No other people on earth wish and hope for the success and longevity of the people of South Sudan than the people of Somaliland. A message personally carried and conveyed to the people of South Sudan by the President of Somaliland on that joyous day on July 9, 2011 in Juba.

Geleh Ali GuleidNABAD IYO CAANO KU WARA, A Somaliland adage meaning “Peace and Milk” which roughly translates to with Peace fallows Prosperity.

Geleh Ali Gulaid

Hargeisa, Somaliland