A section in a book titled “Somaliland: The Legacies of Non-Recognition”, which is still in the works, deals with Somaliland’s relationships with its neighbors, other relevant key countries and multilateral political organizations, such as the AU, the UN, the AL and the EU . The following is the chapter in that section that examines the Somaliland-Djibouti Relationshipi.
Perhaps it is more appropriate to characterize Djibouti’s policies and attitudes towards Somaliland as a manifestation of its president Ismail Omer Gelle’s personal mind-set rather than a reflection of the Djiboutians’ popularly held wishes and sentiments. However, it is always a dictatorship’s tendency to take positions that are in contradiction with its citizenry’s real beliefs and opinions. At any rate, when president Gelle thought he could manipulate the affairs of Somaliland and Somalia, he failed to look at himself in the mirror and draw obvious conclusions.
Lets us start with a few facts about Djibouti. With a population of about three quarters of a million and an area of just 23,200 sq km, Djibouti is the tiniest state in the Horn of Africa. Its climate is desert; hot, torrid and dry. It has no known natural resources; no arable land; no forests and grassland.
The economy, which is almost exclusively based on service activities, has been repeatedly beset by recession, civil war, a high population growth rate and fiscal mismanagement. It has serious employment, education, and health problems. Due to pervasive corruption, cronyism and lack of transparency, foreign aid donors have on occasions been reluctant to continue with their largesse.
In adversity, if all men who are fit to bear arms are drafted into military service, Djibouti will be hard pressed to muster more than 65,000 men. In case, God forbid, any of its neighboring countries so much as sneezes in its direction, Djibouti will be swept off its feet and the landing would likely be hard.
Above all, Djibouti is plagued by that most destructive of world curses: the all encompassing, omnipresent and demonic tyrant who is at the helm and in the thick of all affairs of state no matter big or small.
By any measure, Djibouti’s circumstances are unenviable. Admittedly, this condition is not exclusive to that country. Many nations around the world share the same fate or worse. However, its predicament is aggravated by a geographical ill fortune of being in a rough neighborhood and by Gelle’s ill-advised tendency of foolishly putting his middle finger in the said neighborhood’s problematic pies.
Given its physical and economic statuses, it would have been most logical and prudent for Djibouti’s leaders to follow the paths of countries like Switzerland, Singapore, and Costa Rica. These countries long found out that because of their tiny sizes, neutrality in the political affairs of the regions in which they are respectively located is a virtue. They maintain cordial relations with all their neighbors and stay away from their disputes.
This policy should not be construed as lack of ambitions on their part. Rather it is attributable to pragmatic and sober realization that any meddling by them in disputes would not, at the end of the day, make much difference in the outcomes thereof. One the other hand, interference could potentially prove detrimental to their interests. Quiet development and minding their own business became their preferred preoccupations. Today they are beacons of prosperity and stability.
Djibouti or rather Gelle, however, has chosen a different and ominous tack. He has a finger in every regional contentious pie. In the Ethiopian-Eritrean war of the nineties, he was very vocal in his opinions. Nonetheless, neither country was pleased with his noises. Immediately after that conflict cooled off, Djibouti itself went to war with Eritrea that is yet to be resolved. Eretria allegedly still occupies some Djiboutian territory.
For too many times, Djibouti plunged to neck deep into the muddy political water of the erstwhile Somali Republic. The danger also here is that Djibouti’s head may go under water and risk suffering consequences that are as awful as they have been preventable.
But the most baffling and absurd of Gelle’s behavior is his irrational almost paranoiac hostility towards Somaliland. Paradoxically, Djibouti is one quarter from which Somalilanders least expected disfavor of any kind and magnitude, let alone hostility.
Djiboutians and Somalilanders have common ancestral linage and overlapping geographical habitation. For Djiboutians, Hargeisa and other Somaliland cities were always and continue to be literally their second hometowns. They could and still can stay in the country indefinitely; own property and even obtain Somaliland citizenship—all without let or hindrance. Djiboutian nomads cross into Somaliland for any purpose without second thoughts. Somalilanders as a matter of fact never bothered to make any distinction between themselves and Djiboutians.
In their struggle for independence, Djiboutians could count on Somalilanders’ unreserved support. At the time, Somaliland had been in the midst of its dark union with Somalia. The erstwhile Somali Republic, ostensibly true to the Pan-Somalism creed, had admittedly also been helpful to the freedom cause. However, Somalilanders’ succor, unlike other Somalis’, was much more than a mere expression of national policy. It was more emotional, more personal, more dedicated, more material, more practical and more effective.
Many Djiboutian freedom fighters used the Somaliland regions of the erstwhile Republic as their base of operations, or took refuge there after carrying them out, without the then governments’ express involvement or even knowledge. This was partly because many of these fighters had also been members of families in Somaliland.
Ahmed I Hassan
This post has been viewed 3389 times.