Volume 11, Issue 1
Mark Bradbury. Becoming Somaliland. Bloomington: Indiana University Press/Progressio, 2008.
In recent years, the news from the Horn of Africa reported in the US media has rarely been positive; piracy, possible terrorism, and dangerous conditions for foreign aid workers seem to be the typical topics. Thus, the publication of Mark Bradbury’s recent book on the Somaliland question is cause for cautious optimism. Bradbury, who has worked in London and Somalia/Somaliland since 1988 with organizations including ActionAid Somalia, has extensive experience with the region and has written a helpful book that traces the history of Somaliland from the nineteenth century and even earlier to the present day. The author clearly recognizes the controversial nature of the Somaliland question, noting the “diplomatic limbo” (p. 256) Somaliland has experienced over the past sixteen years resulting in part from the fact its sovereignty is not recognized by any foreign country. Indeed, certainly a number of Somalis hold on to the hope that one day a unified Somalia can be achieved from the five regions where Somalis live that were divided apart in the nineteenth century– then known as the British Somaliland Protectorate, Italian Somalia, Cote Francais des Somaliens (Djbouti), the Northern Frontier District of Kenya, and the Abyssinian Empire of Menelik II (p. 24).
At any rate, regardless of the reader’s views on the Somaliland question, this book is an essential read for those interested in the sociocultural and political background of the region and the case for nationhood (For a critical view of the Somaliland question, read Roble, 2007). In addition to describing Somaliland’s history, the author does detail a number of success stories in modern Somaliland, particularly with regard to issues of self-determination, self-reliance, and infrastructure development (such as the restoration of utilities and the creation of phone and world-wide web systems). While noting important differences between the north and south of the Somali region, Bradbury hints that there are valuable lessons to be learned from Somaliland that may point the way to a solution to the troubles that have plagued the south. In particular, he emphasizes the importance of self-determinism, the need for governing structures to reflect local and historical systems in culturally sensitive ways, and the risks of relying too deeply upon foreign aid.
In 1991, the leadership of the Somali National Movement (SNM) and northern clan elders announced the withdrawal of a new state, the Republic of Somaliland, from what had been a union since 1960 of the colonial territories of Italian Somalia and British Somaliland Protectorate. Bradbury, however, traces the history of the region back much earlier. For instance, far from separatism being a phenomenon known only to the late twentieth century civil war and later, in the 1930s, chauvinistic sentiments were strong after the British defeat of Sayyid Md. Abdulla Hassan and his Dervish army. Of course, more proximal causes of the present situation include the Ethiopian war of the 1970s and the actions of the Barre regime towards the north and the resulting resentments and hostilities among certain clan groups and lineages, especially the Isaaq. Today about three million live in Somaliland, and many more if one includes those outside of Somaliland in the Diaspora.
An understanding of the various clans and groups in Somaliland and Somalia is absolutely essential to an understanding of the region. While focusing primarily on the numeric and political majority in Somaliland, the Isaaq, Bradbury offers numerous charts and tables and narrative concerning the changing and evolving alliances and hostilities between such other clans as the Darood (Dhulbahante and Warsengeli), Gadabursi, ‘Iise, Hawiye and other minorities such as the Gaboye, Somali-Arabs, Jibrahil, and Gugure. Bradbury shows sensitivity to the diversity within the Isaaq clan family as well, noting the changing representation from groups including the Habar Aawl (Sa’ad Muse and ‘Iise Muse), Garhajis, and Habar Ja’lo. A strength of the book is Bradbury’s understanding that coming to terms with Somaliland requires a keen sensitivity to both colonial/contemporary political systems and traditional cultural systems including xeer, diya paying groups, and the clan system in general. Additionally, he rightly notes that in their focus on kinship, some scholars have neglected the importance of Islam.
While Bradbury does not offer a separate chapter on women’s issues, he does offer sensitive insights into the evolving nature of women’s roles throughout his book. For instance, women are the major recipients of remittances in Somaliland, a fact that greatly increases their economic role (p. 250). Furthermore, women featured prominently in the refugee camp experience, and due to the dearth of men, by necessity they engaged in business and other employment outside the home. Politically women played important roles in the peacemaking process and as gatherers of intelligence. As Bradbury notes, “a woman’s dual kinship ties to her paternal clan and to affinal relatives in her husband’s clan would enable her to act as an ambassador and channel of communication between warring parties and to cross from one territory to another” (p. 104). While progress towards equality has been made, there is much room for further gains. For instance, in 2002, while the Harmood party pledged to appoint a woman as deputy chairperson and to guarantee that fifty percent of the candidates were women, such promises were not kept. Nevertheless since 2002, there have been three women in the cabinet and two as district councilors (p. 207). As another sign of change, Edna Adan, a former wife of President Egal, was an advocate against female genital mutilation (p. 156).
In sum, whether Somaliland will realize its dream of nabad iyo caano (peace and milk) or disintegrate into ‘ol iyo abaar (conflict and drought) remains an unanswered question. Among the important factors will be the stance of the developing cohort who were born post-1988, a generation who has never known a united Somalia. Will these young people staunchly embrace independence, yearn for a unified state, or, in some as yet unforeseen way, creatively add to a project in progress?
F. Roble. “Local and Global Norms: Challenges to ‘Somaliland’s Unilateral Secession.’” Horn of Africa. Vol. 25 (2007): 1-19. Retrieved 01/01/09 from http://hornofafrica.newark.rutgers.edu.
Omar Ahmed and Grant J. Rich University of Alaska Southeast