Rather Be


Becoming Somaliland

By: Mark Bradbury

Mark Bradbury, author of Becoming Somaliland, is an accomplished social analyst, researcher, and aid practitioner who lived and worked in Sudan and Somalia for over twenty years. He is also the Director of the Rift Valley Institute Horn of Africa Course.

Defining Somaliland

By: Mailynh Nguyen

With its controversial break from Somalia, Somaliland has been criticized for its decision and challenges the “conclusion that Somalis are incapable of governing themselves.”1 In Becoming Somaliland by Mark Bradbury, readers are taken on a journey describing the dynamic growth of Somaliland and the issues it faces as a nation yearning for recognition. With multiple, dramatic changes under leadership, Somaliland faces civil wars, corruption, and unwanted intervention from foreign nations within their lands, eventually settling into a system of three parties with a constitution.

Bradbury begins his book with a discussion of the Somali people and their culture. He notes how the Somali people’s nomadic roots and kin-based groups play a role in Somaliland’s future basis of government in later chapters. The nomadic history focuses primarily on camels, a symbol for unity and independence, which was used for debt, payment, and trade. Bradbury mentions the division of the nation into clan families, subdivided into smaller kin-based groups, then into sub-clans, then primary lineages. Before the development of government, Somalia was described as a “stateless” order with no hierarchy. However, they maintained an “ordered anarchy” with a political and social order through their kinship system with linear heads such as the Suldaan (Sultan), Boqor, Ugass, and Malaaq for different cities and cultures. The system of kinship was not a formal democratic hierarchy but rather led by village elders. Somalia and Somaliland share similarities in culture and language with each other as Somaliland was originally a part of Somalia. The three periods of Somalia are defined from the years 1827 to 1960 with European Colonialism on the Horn of Africa and its division into five states, contributing to the divided separation of Somalia and Somaliland later on. The second period is from the years 1960 to 1969 featuring the nine years of the independent Somali Republic with nation-states. The last period is the years 1969 to 1991 when the democratic head Abdirahman “Tuur” was replaced by a militaristic type government lead by General Mohamed Siyad Barre. These changes in the Somali State were formed through violent revolts inspired through Italian fascism, civil wars, and the Second World War. Britain’s act of imperialism on Somalia led to an underdeveloped nation due to benign neglect as the British found no need to strongly influence Somalia. This also caused a lack of improvements in infrastructure and within the society. The urge for unification resulted in “two separate acts of union” of Somalia and Somaliland legislatures setting up a democratic president Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, who was killed and replaced by the military.2 General Barre set up a National Security Service which had “unlimited power to arrest and detain opponents without trial” and an increased amount of spending for a powerful army.3 However, General Barre’s rule came to an end with a failed attack on Ogaden.

Bradbury then covers the political foundations of Somaliland and the formation of Somaliland. Somaliland featured five major clans and the SNM, or Somali National Movement, as the leading power after Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal led Somaliland to break away from Somalia due to a civil war and mass famine. The civil war began after the failure of the Ogaden war and decline of Siyad Barre. The Hargeysa Group of young professionals became critical in the uprising against Siyad Barre and helped revive social services. However they were placed under trial and arrested with death sentences or life imprisonment. This case caused a chain upstart among the people and lead to the SNM to help the reconstruction of stability after the collapse of Somalia. The group proposed the political manifesto calling for a democratic system with human rights and “five administrative regions within a unitary rather than federal structure.”5 However they settled with a clan-based system of power sharing. Many civilians fled from Somalia to Ethiopia and other countries during the famine and civil war, causing some Somali clans to become transnational. The creation of Somaliland caused the rise of many problems such as the issue of recognition. The majority of the public rejected the unification leading to little support and resources. Eventually as hostilities ended, the Grand Conference of the Northern Peoples took place and succeeded in reconciling warring parties and declaring the creation of the Republic of Somaliland and the establishment of the SNM government for two years in Somaliland.6 The SNM set up Abdirahman “Tuur” as an appointed President who oversaw the reconstruction of the war-torn environment and economy. However, violence broke out again in the “sheep wars” when the government attempted to extend its authority. Somaliland was on the brink of another civil war but did not due to a sense of community and a lack of expenses for war. A series of conferences took place such as the Tawfig conference, which settled agreements for an organization of government, and the Borama conference, which halted the Berbera conflict. The conferences lead to a successful setup for peace in the beginning of Egal’s first term.

Bradbury proceeds to focus on state building and economic reconstruction and economic and social development. Somaliland broke from Somalia in May 1991 to flee from the corrupt government. However, the next Somaliland president, Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal, experienced failure in his first term. In the first few years of his presidency, Egal fared well with help from the conferences mentioned earlier. However, violence broke out in the main cities Burco and Hargeysa and evolved into a war causing people to flee to Ethiopia. The war ended in the Hargeysa national conference where Somaliland adopted a new flag and Egal’s second term began. Egal handled the need for economic revival “by taxing and harassing commercial and aid flights.”7 In his second term, many refugees returned to Somaliland, and Egal enacted many progressive reforms, yet was accused of corruption for his autocratic style of leadership. The Hargeysa conference which ended the civil war had created a path for a constitutional government. However, disagreements lead to the stalling of the creation of the constitution and was ruled instead by the beel system of power sharing. When the state collapsed into civil war, the monopolies and regulations ended with it. The nomadic roots of Somaliland reappeared in the dependence on livestock for the revival of the economy after the war. However, as shown in the Rift Valley Fever Outbreak, the pastoral economy proved to be unstable and needed improvement. The economy ranked its dependence on pastoral, remittances, and trade from order of most important to least. The social developments of Somaliland caused the urban drift towards cities such as Hargeysa, a large influential city. However as populations rose, levels of unemployment and poverty rose with it. This led to the revival of social services including the reestablishment of basic welfare and an increase in public learning. Other large concerns featured healthcare and the improvement of water sectors. Universities were created and there was a growth in an independent media with the help of the radio. Transnational Somaliland people sent new technologies back such as telecommunications.

Bradbury discusses the issue of democracy and the government and finishes with issues Somaliland still faces. Somaliland gives suffrage to all those over the age of sixteen. The presidential election featured six political organizations running with May Riyale as the new president. But at this time, the United States status on the war on terror after the attack on 9/11 caused Somaliland to be placed on trial as suspects. A group called the Somalia National Reconciliation Conference, SNRC, helped with international peace talks with Somalia. Somaliland also participated in their first parliamentary election. Somaliland’s government is a mixture of the US executive presidency and the British bicameral Parliament. It contains three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. The legislature is divided into the House of Elders and the House of Representatives. The judiciary is divided into the Justice Committee and the Courts. The book concludes by discussing issues such as Somaliland’s issue of recognition and possibilities of reunification with Somalia. Bradbury claims that Somaliland because not been declared a country because they fulfill the requirements for a state, even though they are better off than Somalia and are considered as such. He also says that Somaliland has almost no chance of reunifying with Somalia as the other countries would prefer to keep Somalia divided because it was “suspect that the push for Somaliland’s independence [was] simply a consequence of foreign interest to keep Somalia divided and weak.”8 This false interest in Somaliland’s formation is proven through the failure of accepting Somaliland as an independent country because it would allow more power to a potential competitor.

Bradbury’s book exhibits a well-organized display of the history and foundation of Somaliland. He addresses his purpose for the book through a passage of his view of why it is important for other nations to be aware of Somaliland: “Somaliland offers important insights for current policy [on] Africa and elsewhere…[and] is one of several policies…that do not fit the normative world of juridical states”9 Thus, bringing awareness to a small and primarily unknown country allows readers to sense the efficiency of other types of unorthodox governments and changing stigmas on African countries. Bradbury’s purpose uncovers the effect other countries have on each other through differing ideas and organizations.

Mark Bradbury fulfills his credentials as he worked as “a social analyst with 20 years’ experience” in countries in Africa for international development and humanitarian aid as well as a “RVI Regional Director for East Africa and the Horn of Africa.”10 As he worked in Africa, Bradbury personally investigated the backgrounds and traditions of Somaliland and researched about the politics and economics of the country. He has also written other books on Somalia and other topics such as The Somali Conflict. From these points, Bradbury’s writing has a neutral tone to his book as he experienced Somaliland firsthand and understands the political decisions and circumstances made by the people. His specialization in the topic of Somalia gives credibility to this book and allows readers to trust in the source to gain insight on the topic. The credentials of Bradbury also play into his purpose of informing the readers on the development and importance of Somaliland he learned on his travels through Africa.

Becoming Somaliland was published in 2008. As Somaliland declared their independence on May 1991, not much time had passed from the event to the publication. However, Bradbury had lived in the country and area and experienced the changes in the environment for himself. The fact that it is a recent topic means there is not much perspective on long term effects of actions taken in this period of time, meaning that the analysis is not fully developed as it will be later on. The effects of the war of terrorism may have affected the book as well. With suspicion of countries around Somaliland, the interrogation influenced Somaliland by which the U.S. intervened with the developing country. This event may have caused the rising interest in Somaliland and the creation of the novel.

In reviews, Becoming Somaliland has been praised by Lionel Cliff who discusses how Bradbury succeeds in keeping his voice unbiased and achieving a book that challenges the ideas of Africa as a war-torn and backwards continent to something from a different perspective.11 Bradbury does succeed in creating a book on a relative unknown and new topic. He also manages an unbiased voice which helps the story progress in discussing sensitive issues with foreign intervention such as the actions of UNOSOM, United Nations Operation in Somalia, in which the United Nation failed in their attempt to bring humanitarian aid. Another review by Nicolas van de Walle claims the book is easily understandable and does well in writing on a more recent topic.12 From this, it was inferred that even though it is well written, the new topic means the information may not be analyzed to the fullest it can be.

Becoming Somaliland discusses a topic most readers know little about in an easy and understandable fashion. Through his neat organization of subsections, graphs, charts, lists, and pictures, readers are able to grasp main ideas easily. He also builds readers up from the beginning with basic knowledge such as a historical lesson on Somalia before moving on chronologically to more detailed topics such as the independence of Somaliland and the fundamentals of the government. Bradbury also connects ideas from the beginning of the book to the end, helping readers understand the importance of history within present day events. For example, he mentions the nomadic roots in the culture of the Somali people and then mentions it again later when discussing how the kin-system plays a role in Somaliland’s current government foundation.13 The book also does not contain a biased voice towards or against Somaliland people. Bradbury clearly dictates the book by listing events as they happened and giving perspective to all sides of the wars that occur.

The independence of Somaliland affected the United States as UNOSOM attempted the “Plan of Action” in giving humanitarian aid to Somaliland. This plan of action also included sending military troops to Somalia. However, once the military servicemen arrived, they were killed and UNOSOM withdrew from Somalia. At the same time, the Cold War heavily affected American minds in causing paranoia on communism invading other countries. Thus, the United States intervention within the country of Somaliland reflected the fear and hopes between the two countries in forming a democratic leadership. However, UNOSOM was unsuccessful in its attempts to restore an effective central government to Somaliland. As a social effect, the United States was criticized as the actions of the UNOSOM only “served to deepen and prolong the crisis in Somalia by shoring up the power structures of the warring factions.”14 The failure of UNOSOM intervention within Somalia showed weakness from the US and other countries in the United Nations in failing to restore the government and being attacked by the people they were trying to help.

The United States was affected politically by Somaliland’s society through the increasing advancement of technology. Because of the increasing amount of media and public interest in foreign affairs, the United States was forced to take action due to policies in the Cold War and the war on terrorism to intervene in developing countries to show dominance and a progression of setting up democratic states. The United States Strategy of September stated that “America is now threatened less by conquering states than we are the falling ones.”15 This passage shows how America now faced political dangers to its reputation and the fear of terrorism from developing countries. Thus, the United States was affected politically through the growing digital technology as forms of mass media and attention grew.

In conclusion, Becoming Somaliland is a well-informed book on the development and up start of the present day Somaliland. The book also touches up on the dilemmas of United States intervention and issues that Somaliland faces today.

[1] Bradbury, Mark. Becoming Somaliland. London: Progressio, 2008. Print. 7.
[2] Bradbury, Mark .33.
[3] Bradbury, Mark .38
[4] Bradbury, Mark .48.
[5] Bradbury, Mark .63
[6] Bradbury, Mark .82.
[7] Bradbury, Mark .119.
[8] Bradbury, Mark .250.
[9] Bradbury, Mark .6.
2006 | RVI Local Peace Processes in Sudan.pdf. “Mark Bradbury.” Mark Bradbury | Rift Valley Institute. N.p., 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 23 May 2017.
[10] “Lionel Cliffe, University of Leeds, Leeds African Studies Bulletin , #71 Oct. 2009/2010.
[11] “Becoming Somaliland.” Indiana University Press. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2017.
[12] Nicolas van de Walle, Foreign Affairs , Vol. 88.3 May/June 2009
“Becoming Somaliland.” Indiana University Press. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2017.
[13] Bradbury, Mark .12
[14] Bradbury, Mark .49.
[15] Bradbury, Mark .244.