Anchoring on My Uncles’ Fairy Tales

Fadhi-ku-dirir (fighting while sitting) is a term used to describe political arguments between Somalilanders which employ rumours and supremacist clan-based fairy tales. Belligerent in nature, fadhi-ku-dirir is merely for entertainment and for the sake of argument itself. From a young age, I was told, don’t take your uncle’s fairy tales seriously.

However, no one has told that to Claire Elders in her latest article in the reputable International Affairs journal. In this blog, I will explain how such a scientific paper does not even meet the standards of a news article let alone peer-reviewed journals. It is an insult not to Somaliland but to science and research methods. If Claire or the publisher did not take corrective actions, it will damage the reputation of the International Affairs journal.

By recycling her elite based criticism in Somalia and some outdated research from the 90s, the author highlighted the undeniable relative oligarchy and peaceocracy in Somaliland. Reading the first paragraphs, I was happy and satisfied that at last someone is criticizing our politics without looking through the lends of clans. Unfortunately, that joy did not last as the author has jumped into the mud of tribal rhetorics which revealed major flaws in the author’s understanding of Somaliland’s civil wars history. A misunderstanding that in part explains the author’s over-exaggeration of oligarchy in Somaliland.

Misunderstanding of Somaliland’s Civil War

The author starts her alternative narrative by saying the Garhajis clan outnumbers other clans. Anyone who works with Somaliland people knows that every major clan claims to be the most populous. There is no census that has ever been conducted to answer that. Even the British Somaliland’s records were based on guesstimates based on the dia group numbers which did not take into account the fact clans pay dia differently. The author could have said instead: “the perceived domination of Garhajis clan by its leaders has led to so and so”. Even then, this narration is dead on arrival. The Somaliland clan structure makes it impossible for any clan to oppress and target another even the least `populous` clan. Except for the Gabooye, every other clan enjoys a relative local majority within its traditional territory. In this country, no clan can oppress another and so it does not really matter who is more populous than who unless in a Fadhi-ku-dirir session which I am not interested in.

The author then built on top of this fairy tale by linking ‘domination of Garhajis’ to some inherited colonial-era privileges. In every turn of this fairy tale, there is an amount of anchoring, bias and absolutism. Didn’t the British hand over Somaliland after independence to a non-Garhajis prime minister? Didn’t the author herself and others describe the union with Somalia as long and leading to loss of power to all Somalilanders? What privileges existed and then survived all that time and events? A double fallacy.

Back to the civil war. It was not about Garhajis domination. It was about any clan’s domination. If the first president of Somaliland was from any other clan, the same events would have occurred. Coming from a liberation war, any SNM leader governing Somaliland on the first day would think that through the loyalty of his clan, he can make changes without any consensus or help from the elders. That is the lesson from Somaliland civil wars, delegating the power of negotiation to the Guurti to build the nation. Also, the other lesson is to not use our clan as a source of executive power. Later, Egal managed to successfully create the identity of Somaliland institutions when he turned against his own clan members from the SNM by replacing them with Garhajis clan members. Speaking about oligarchy, this refutes the whole premise of the paper at least during that period. Egal’s civic nationalism has led to an alliance of leaders that were fighting against each other in the civil war. Compare that to the American oligarchy with Clintons and the Bushs!

Dahir Riyaale and the Guurti Sacrifice

This takes me to talk about a major event in Somaliland history where for the first time a non-elite Khat trader from the Samaroon clan becomes a president. The author is prematurely dismissive of this event calling it “accidental”. There are several counterarguments here: President Dahir Riyaale was re-elected, he is the longest-serving president in the past 2 decades and he maintained the alliance with Garhajis elites. This is enough to dismiss the alleged oligarchy during that period as well. However, here is the main counter-argument: it was not accidental. As per Somaliland’s constitution, if a president is unelected (Egal) and he dies, the next person in power is the head of the parliament which was at that time: Sh Ibrahim Sh Madar. The Guurti of Somaliland however (the alleged oligarchy elite) has chosen Riyaale instead. Sheikh Ibrahim proposed that he would voluntarily forsake the position for Riyaale to become the president in the interest of the country which stunned the then Speaker Qaybe and deputy speaker Jirde. Qaybe has on several occasions later expressed his admiration for the Sheikh's wise decision and statesmanship. The Guurti saw this would help in Somaliland for all (Somaliland la wada leeyahay) through actions and not slogans.

Siilaanyo and the new parties

In 2012, president Siilaanyo amended the electoral law. This allowed new parties to participate in national elections once every 10 years. The author mentions that new party participation was frozen since 2002, which is simply not true. Claire should have taken an interview with me as I was a Qaran supporter in 2010 following my father a Habar Awal who was a leader in Qaran which was headed by a Garhajis leader Dr Gaboose. The Irony was that we met with Abdirahman Ciro, speaker of the parliament and Garhajis supporting Dahir Riyale at the time. Ciro rejected the idea of opening new parties and said it was against the constitution, which wasn’t true. Later Ciro will be the one who will benefit from us (Qaran) when Kulmiye opens the new parties and opportunistic Ciro creates Wadani which replaces Udub. These events refute the whole narrative of Claire that Somaliland elites work against other’s clans or that political parties were frozen in 2002. The struggle of Qaran (many of its leaders were jailed) and the vision of President Siilaanyo were another example of how Somaliland kept its oligarchy at bay.

Bihi and Djibouti

From the Garhajis/Wadani based narrative, it is clear that Claire focused on only the arguments from Wadani instead of looking at Somaliland as a whole. Somaliland dual national companies in Djibouti and Somaliland were not alone in funding elections campaigns. For example, why would the author mention SomCable and not Telesom which supported Udub against Siilaanyo? Using the same arguments, one can say Telesom undermined Somaliland democracy since a Mogadishu businessman holding a majority shareholder in Telesom has funded UDUB so it wins a government fibre deal. This is a partisan and tribal view which is a common theme in the article. Omitting the other actors gives a false perception of the degree of oligarchy in Somalilland.

Corruption and "Jeeganism"

In her Wikipedia of topics, corruption has been mentioned a lot in Claire’s article. I will not defend or support the material in this section since that should be the job of those who have been accused. It is good to know, however, that the masters behind of Siilaanyo’s decentralized kleptocracy have migrated to Wadani. The head of Somaliland parliament and the head of the party are those ministers that enabled such wide corruption. The author says Wadani might stand for Somaliland for all mantra and at the same time highlights how its new leaders were behind a decentralized kleptocracy. This oxymoron continues when speaking about how Bihi is part of jeegansim and at the same time how he stopped one of the airlines that were gained through that alleged corruption before him. This confused the readers. Is Bihi is part of jeegan or not? Bihi conducted elections of parliament during his term which meant losing control of the parliament. How is he then an authoritarian in Claire's absolutism?

I want to warn foreign scholars about the use of the word Jeegan. Every Somaliland political party seeks to form alliances based on clans. Wadani tried to form the Habar Garhajis alliance which included the Arab clan. UDUB did so between the Samaroon, Habar Awal and Garhajis. It is unprofessional for Claire to pick on only the alliances formed by Kulmiye and use a 'street banter', jeegan, in a research scientific paper. The research should have instead examined whether tribal alliances are merely election campaigns or the true power-sharing formula favouring clans and 'territories' within an alliance. It appears to be the former since the article fails to point out any allegation of such favouritism in Bihi’s government. The only corruption mentioned is personal to Bihi himself and told by no one other than an opponent working in Dahabshil.

Democracy and Elections

In case you have got lost in fairy tales, yes, this is our actual topic: democracy. Somaliland is the oldest democracy in the world. It stems from the pastoral life of its clans and elders. As we transition into a western form of democracy, we need to remember that the latter is a privilege gained from paying taxes. The author has ignored the relationship between taxation and democracy in Somaliland as of today. Most of Somalilanders’ income is from diaspora’s remittance and that affects the advancement of western and not pastoral democracy. In 2016, as an individual, I have paid more tax to the Australian government ($25,000) more than all Somaliland employees in the private sector. My clan leader has paid nothing to the Somaliland government and yet had the power to tell who can be a candidate in local elections. The article is focused on Somaliland political economy but fails to mention that company tax in Somaliland is one of the lowest in the world: 10%. Companies such Dahabshiil, Telesom and SomCable do not pay even half of their tax duties. For them, it is much cheaper to fund a Wadani or Kulmiye campaign. While the author touched on the importance of regulation of such funding, it worked against it when painting Bihi as a socialist like Siyad Bare and ‘bad’ for business just for asking companies to do their taxes. I have strong opinions against Muse Bihi however, the article is incoherent in its evaluation of his performance.

There are already active global monitors of Somaliland democracy who have a great reputation. Freedom House is one such organization. Every year, it publishes comprehensive reports about the trends of democracy in Somaliland. In these reports, Somaliland is always placed as Partially free and not completely free. However, Somaliland is still the freest and most democratic country in the horn of Africa. It is important to stress that Somaliland never claimed to be perfect and therefore Claire's narrative, besides being over-exaggerated, has missed the crucial role of the positive, now more accurate, Somaliland democratic success story. We have reached a state where others are benefiting from Somaliland more than Somaliland itself. As we speak genocides are taking place in Ethiopia and ethics groups are trying to dominate each other. The story is beyond seeking recognition or geopolitics. Somaliland is a model for stability in the burning Horn of Africa whether it is recognised or not. Scientific Research should focus on all the aspects of an issue instead of focusing on achieving a certain sentiment. An example of a missed aspect is that the author did not discuss how a certain degree of local oligarchy is preferable to being a complete game of chess in the control of external actors which is the case in Somalia.

Similar to democracy, there are already independent elections observers starting from the 2001 referendum. In those reports, Somaliland has been improving in both freeness and fairness since then despite what the author claimed. It is quite unblievable to say that May 2021 was highly rigged and without any references for that while going against the reports from international observers.

"Isaaqsim" in Somaliland

I have heard a lot about how the move from tribal quota to democratic elections have led to more Isaaq in power. While is this is true, it is important to stress that is not a result of tribal bigotry against the non-Isaaq clans. Again, the article mentioned this in the conclusion without fair coverage. Should we become less democratic and go back to a tribal-based quota? First of all, let’s speak about the fact we have new non-isaaq businesses in Somaliland such as HAAS petroleum which is something never happened during the tribal quota era in the 90s. Now, let’s take one step back and revisit what Isaaq actually means:

In Somaliland, there is a core economic triangle zone that existed for ages (Berbera, Hargeysa, Burco) belonging to this area means more money, connections and thus power. There is no single clan living in the zone. In 1880s, the British did not sign a treaty with 1 Isaaq Sultan, they did with several. This is an established fact that Isaaq is a group of clans in the political context. Few Somalians refuse this fact to downplay the progress of Somaliland. The economical zone is inhabited by the Isaaq clans who politically and economically have competition between them. This rivalry has indirectly alienated other disadvantaged areas outside zone (which happen to be clans that are non-Isaaq). There is no bigotry between Isaaq clans & non-isaaq clans. The Harti & Dir Somalilanders are not a minority in numbers to be oppressed. They are as big in numbers as some of Isaaq clans. However, they're not linked in the zone which gives them a sense of being a minority sometimes. I am saying non-isaaqs are left behind *sometimes* and not always because there is already a quota system in some places but not everywhere. We have it in the ministerial positions but not the parliament. We have it in the vice-presidential position but not the political parties. And here is why I'm against highlighting that there are more members of Isaaq without deeper analysis: We need to understand it's not a bigotry issue but there are disadvantaged areas - again not clans - which need investments to connect & compete. Having said that, we should not forget that the highest MP with votes in the 2021 Somaliland parliament elections is a non-Isaaq clan member and most of the funding and votes were from the Isaaq clans members. Not only refuting Claire's narrative, but this also has given hope to Somalilanders that any change is possible through their votes


Claire's article had the context and focus to present a new narrative on why democracy is weaker in Somaliland but somehow she went too far into irrelevant and misunderstood past. The author seems to have become lazy and copy-pasted the raw data from the research without connecting the dots and noticing the contradictions. Somaliland is at the crossroads between continuing the rivalry between the Isaaq clans and letting that dominate every discourse or completing the nation-building process. Sadly while the article highlighted much-needed discussion on oligarchy, it is largely part of the problem and not the solution. The ugly turn for Claire's article was when started anchoring on my uncles’ fairy tales. I hope the author and others refine their stories and also seek to hear what the other parties think. It is totally unacceptable that peer-reviewed articles do not follow such basic decent journalism. On a positive note, Claire might have given us the courage to talk about topics such as Somaliland Civil War, 'Isaaqsim' and ideas on how to advance our democracy.