African Union’s Adherence to Colonial Borders Looks Like a Needless Anachronism
In 1964, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the forerunner to the present-day African Union, declared at its Cairo summit that colonial borders would not be altered to reflect on-the-ground realities regarding ethnicity, language, and/or religion. With little debate, the OAU declared that the colonial boundaries of Africa, agreed to in far-away places like Berlin, Paris, London, and even the remote North Sea island of Heligoland, would serve as post-colonial international borders recognized by the United Nations and the tenets of international law. New states could only be carved out of old colonial entities if the post-colonial governments approved. Such approval would not come without a long and protracted armed fight.
After long periods of fighting for their independence from colonial empires, some newly-independent African states took on the mantra of neo-colonialism in denying aspiring ethnic groups their own statehood.
Perhaps the most egregious example of an aspirant nation denied its rightful status because of dictates from the African Union and outside powers in Washington, London, Paris, and Berlin is the Republic of Somaliland in the «Horn of Africa». Shortly after achieving independence from Britain in 1960 as the State of Somaliland, the nation formed what would prove to be a dysfunctional union with the Republic of Somalia, what was formerly the colony of Italian Somaliland.
One of Somaliland’s founding statesmen, Mohammed Ibrahim Egal, was not so keen on rushing into a union with Somalia. Egal wanted to wait for six months to firmly establish Somaliland’s government institutions, before rushing into a union with a nation where the predominant business language was Italian, not English, as was the case in Somaliland.
In 1969, the military junta of Mohammed Siad Barre, who hailed from the former Italian Somaliland and governed from the Somali capital of Mogadishu, began a brutal crackdown on the Isaaq people, the majority ethnic group of Somaliland.
In 1990, after Barre’s ouster, the former British Somaliland withdrew from the Somali Republic and declared itself independence once again. Although the State of Somaliland was recognized by some 35 nations during its brief independence from June 26 to July 1, 1960, no state recognized the nation’s restoration of independence in 1960. Not even Somaliland’s former colonial power, the United Kingdom, recognized Somaliland’s independence, even though many of the restored nation’s leaders had close ties to Britain. Upon independence in 1960, Somaliland’s military was composed of the Somaliland Scouts, whose officers were all trained in Britain and were graduates of Britain’s military colleges.
In 1961, the Somaliland officers, concerned that Somaliland was already receiving a raw deal from the union government in Mogadishu, staged an unsuccessful coup. These graduates of Eton and Sandhurst saw their countrymen receiving menial positions in the so-called «union» government in Mogadishu. Following the attempted coup, which sought a restoration of Somaliland’s independence, the Somaliland officers were imprisoned and not set free until 1964, when they were called on the help lead a war against neighboring Ethiopia for control of the Ogaden region. The Ogaden was recognized by the Mogadishu government as «Western Somalia».
In 1967, Egal, the founder of independent Somaliland, became prime minister of the country. The Italian Somaliland-born President, Abdirashid Ali Shermarke, appointed Egal to the post to assuage feelings in Somaliland that their better-trained and educated political leaders were being short-changed for high leadership positions in Mogadishu. The honeymoon between Somalilanders and Somalis did not last long. In 1969, Shermarke was assassinated by one of his bodyguards, suspected of being a loyalist of Barre. What followed was a military coup staged by Barre. Soon, Barre began a war of genocide against the Isaaqs and other smaller groups in Somaliland.
The Somalilanders formed an armed opposition group, the Somali National Movement (SNM), to battle Barre’s forces. In 1988, Barre’s war became more brutal when he bombed the Somaliland capital of Hargeisa, the port city of Berbera, and other towns in the region. The Barre campaign against the Isaaqs became known as the «Hargeisa holocaust». The United Nations concluded that Barre’s perpetration of genocide was «conceived, planned and perpetrated by the Somali Government against the Isaaq people».
In 1990, the SNM freed Somaliland from the Somali occupiers and the Barre junta collapsed the following year. The SNM restored Somaliland’s independence in 1991 and it claimed «successor state» status for the short-lived State of Somaliland. In 1994, Egal, the elder statesman of Somaliland, became Somaliland’s president.
Unlike 1990, however, Somaliland, with a population of 3.5 million, was not recognized by any other nation. To this day, the nation has pleaded before the African Union, the European Union, and the United Nations for recognition. The world has turned its head on the country, which remains a force of stability in an area plagued by civil war, maritime piracy, and terrorism.
What is particularly galling to the Somalilanders is that the African Union has made exceptions to its colonial border policy by recognizing the independence of Eritrea, carved out of Ethiopia, and South Sudan, separated from Sudan. There is a suspicion that the African Union and its puppet masters in Washington, London, and at the UN were more than willing to grant recognition to Eritrea in 1993 and South Sudan in 2011 because of the majority Christian populations of both nations. Somaliland is overwhelmingly Islam.
South Sudan is a particularly egregious example of recognition being extended to what would become a «failed state» wracked by civil war. South Sudan was the pet project of people like Barack Obama’s UN ambassador and National Security Adviser Susan Rice. In the leadup to South Sudan’s independence in 2011, there was not even an agreed name for the country. Before South Sudan» was settled upon, other names considered included the Nile Republic, Nilotia, Cush, and New Sudan. There has never been any question about the name of Somaliland.
South Sudan was created as the result of powerful forces in Washington. Independence for southern Sudan was a goal of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and her acolyte Susan Rice. The splitting of Sudan was also in the interests of Israel, which had yearned for a client state in southern Sudan that apply pressure on the supply of the Nile's headwaters to Egypt and northern Sudan. For Rice, a vitriolic hatred for Khartoum and its majority Arab population, helped the cause of the southern Sudanese. Rice's views on southern Sudan and Khartoum were partly influenced by two Bill Clinton administration counter-terrorism officials, Steven Simon and Daniel Benjamin. Simon and Benjamin were also cozy with the Israel Lobby in Washington.
The African Union has also made exceptions to the dissolving of national unions of its member states. The Senegambia federation of Senegal and Gambia was dissolved in 1989 without resistance from the African Union. The Mali Federation between Senegal and the-then Sudanese Republic (French Sudan, later Mali) came to an end in 1960, after a two-moth existence. The Federation of Arab Republics, consisting of Egypt, Libya, and the non-African country of Syria, was dissolved in 1977. The United Arab Republic of Egypt and Syria ended in 1961. If Eritrea and South Sudan could exit from their «parent» nations and Senegal, Gambia, Libya, and Egypt were permitted to end their political unions, why is Somaliland dealt a different hand?
Some status quo enthusiasts for colonial borders in Africa point out that if Somaliland were granted recognition, it would start a wave of other regions demanding independence. This is a specious argument as seen with international support for Eritrea and South Sudan, both the products of long guerrilla wars for independence. If Somaliland were granted recognition, it would signal to other aspirant nations on the continent that they, too, might have worthy arguments for statehood. That is how Somaliland saw independence for Eritrea and South Sudan. Prior statehood or recognition of autonomy does, in fact, provide a legal basis for the independence of Zanzibar from Tanzania, Barotseland from Zambia, and the Caprivi Strip from Namibia. These aspirant nations saw their future nationhood doomed as the result of a colonial treaty, the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty of 1890. Similar colonial treaties across Africa have stymied the sovereignty of countless other peoples. The African Union, which prides itself on rising from the ashes of colonialism, should not embrace it when it is carried out by its member states.