Somaliland beyond the confines of the Al-Mansour Hotel

By: Mark T Jones
London-based writer and specialist on the Horn of Africa

Al-Mansour Hotel

Al-Mansour Hotel

To diplomats, NGO wallahs and journalists a visit to Somaliland seems to centre upon the Al-Mansour Hotel in Hargeisa. Strategically, located in the country’s dusty capital, it is redolent in stature at least to the Hotel Sacher in post-war Vienna. A place of intrigue, political horse trading, and deal brokerage the Al-Mansour delights in its status as the favourite watering hole of Government Ministers, trade delegations and those who have yet to develop sufficient spine for a visit to Mogadishu. Strategically placed within easy reach of key ministries the hotel delights in its current status as Somaliland’s premier venue for business meetings, press conferences and official receptions. For all the near magnetic qualities of a venue such as the Al-Mansour, like all hotels there is more than a degree of artifice about it. The real Somaliland is to be found beyond its confines, away from the world of crisply pressed suits, seemingly limitless expense accounts and the hurried exchange of business cards.

For an insight into the land that gets beyond the sugared rhetoric and contrived communiqués it is essential to venture forth. By so doing there is a chance of liberation from the sophistry and semantics that crowd in on one from every official encounter. The country like its inhabitants delights in being enigmatic and takes real patience and persistence to discover something of its real self. A land rich in history and enmity, like much of the Horn, Somaliland baffles and bemuses at every turn. Stark beauty arrests, indifference infuriates, whilst a deep well of faith provides a both a salve as well as salvation. Truth like the galu (plover) is more than not illusive and in so seeking there is always the chance that what you will come across is the abesi (venomous cobra). Any peregrinations exact a heavy price, for the heat saps the will, the dust parches the throat and even when seeking shade from the Dibi or Makari tree it is important to remember that these trees were once used for making stabbing spears. Where ever one chooses to rest the modern equivalent of the herio (baggage saddle) there is a need to be alert for unexpected pleasures, as well vigilance in regard to heshima (loss of face).

Sadly, even in the largely forgotten regions the khat addled politics of Hargeisa impacts greatly. Unnecessary grievances are still being forged and moulded by those whose vocabulary seems to consist of few words other than Imisa (How much?) and I si I si (give me, give me). Present and future tragedies are being shaped, with Somalis such as the Gadaboursi (Samarone) of the Adal/Awdal Region being maginalised, ignored and unheard. The recent local elections have thrown up some interesting results, none more so than in the area around the port town of Saylac (known to the wider world as Zeila) – a strategically located port, long since coveted by Djibouti. Throughout the Saylac district ten Gadaboursi and seven Issa councillors have recently been elected. With an Issa councillor having been mayor for the last eight years, there should now be a change, as the winning councillors are meant to cast their vote as to who should become Mayor of Saylac. As the Gadaboursi councillors outnumber the Issa counsellors it is clear to see that they would provide the winning vote on a Gadaboursi counsellor becoming Mayor. However, the Issa councillors have not hung around for this to happen, after being called back by the President of Djibouti, they have up and left Saylac and returned home to Djibouti, refusing to take part in any election; branding the whole thing a farce. Historically, the Issa (a clan that straddles Djibouti and Somaliland) has claimed that the Saylac region belongs to the Issa and that no one else should be allowed to be the Mayor of the Saylac region. The Issa are now claiming the local votes were rigged, despite the fact that the Chairman of the Election Commission, Secretary and First Chairman all being Issa and confirming that the electoral process had been fair and above board. The Issa are outraged at the thought of a Gadaboursi becoming mayor, they feel the Saylac land belongs to them and they are not prepared to let anyone else have any control over the area. Such is the indignation that they are prepared to fight the Gadaboursi people using support from the Djibouti army and its resources.  As if such sabre rattling were not bad enough, matters have been exacerbated by the actions of President Silanyo of Somaliland.  On the 16th December 2012 President Silanyo was in Djibouti to attend the 40th anniversary celebration of the Somali becoming a written as well as a spoken language. When the event had finished Silanyo had a private discussion with President Guelleh of Djibouti regarding the Saylac election. The ever forceful Guelleh, made clear his displeasure concerning the result in Saylac election insisted that Silanyo override the democratic wishes of local people and install an Issa councillor as mayor. Guelleh went on to threaten President Silanyo, when he made clear that should this not happen, Djibouti will no longer recognise Somaliland as a country which had previously been agreed between the two Presidents. Rather than rebuffing this irredentism on behalf of the Issa, President Silanyo returned to Hargeisa and ordered the Vice President to ensure that an Issa was appointed Mayor of Saylac. To his credit the Vice President, thus far, has refused to do this.

Tribal animosity continues to be the wabayo (a poison made by boiling the roots of the Waba tree) that corrodes the body politic of Somali society. Naturally, the Gadaboursi feel that they are entitled to stand up for their democratic rights and regardless of international indifference, are determined to be heard. They are horrified at the thought of the Presidents of Djibouti and Somaliland acting in concert to ride roughshod over the will of local people. A clear sense is emerging that they have been caught in the middle and stifle and suffocated by Guelleh’s Issa tribe and Silanyo’s Issaq. The last thing the Horn needs now is the sound of the Giiraar (war song). The power brokers in Djibouti and Hargeisa would do well to draw back, reassess, engage and support the regions. Resources, aid and development needs to be shared an equitable manner, something which manifestly has not been done thus far. What has been happening in the Adal/Awdal region is a timely reminder that journalists, NGOs and people of goodwill must make a greater effort to break out from the cosseted environment of hotels such as the Al-Mansour and discover what is really taking place.

By: Mark T Jones
London-based writer and specialist on the Horn of Africa

Below is a clip showing the reactions from the Issa and Gadaboursi people, to date these clips have not been broadcast which shows that the voices of Adal/Awdal are being hidden from the international world:

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