President of Somaliland Administration Muse Bihi Abdi has adopted a politically self-defeating strategy to double down on his decision to forcibly displace Somalis from the South living in districts controlled by his administration. Bihi strongly criticised United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for using the phrase forced displacement in relation more 6000 Somali citizens whom Somaliland authorities forcibly displaced in Las Anod three weeks ago.
The Federal Government of Somalia should take some of the responsibility for the forced displacement of Somali citizens in a part of the Federal Republic of Somalia. In 2013 the Federal Government of Somalia supported the Special Arrangement programme that enable Somaliland administration to receive direct development assistance. The Special Arrangement puts obligations on the administration that claims to have unilaterally seceded from Somalia in 1991. Protecting the rights of internally displaced persons is one of those obligations. The secession claim does not deprive a Somali citizen of his/her right to live, work or own a property in districts under Somaliland administration.
One thing that made postwar recovery in Somaliland-controlled areas more successful than the piecemeal state-building endeavours in South Somalia is the respect for property rights. Somalis from the South did not come to the North for handouts from aid organisations, as subtly claimed by President Bihi; entrepreneurial zeal helped internally displaced persons from the South to create small businesses, boost local economies and in the process maintain social harmony weakened by the collapse of state. By turning its back on the core co-existence principles Somaliland administration risks becoming a political pariah, its political leaders vulnerable to lawsuits since many of them have dual citizenship.
The Federal Government of Somalia — both the incumbent and its predecessor— must share a part of the blame for the forced displacement by the Hargeisa-based administration. Somaliland always included a clause — free movement of people — in Somalia-Somaliland talks to grant the breakaway administration a pretext to question the rights of Somali citizens from the South in Somaliland-controlled districts. This damaging oversight on the part of Mogadishu is partly to blame for the forced displacement by Somaliland government. The second lapse of political judgement pertains to the disputed territories under Somaliland and Puntland administration. Rather than addressing the dispute that renders a part of Somalia inaccessible to aid agencies the Federal Government of Somalia handed Somaliland administration opportunities to forcibly displace citizens in their homeland. More leniency will only embolden Hargeisa to displace more Somali citizens. No government can claim legitimacy if it does not prevent forced displacement of its citizens by a subnational identity. Rectifying mistakes made by the Federal Government during 2013 and 2020 talks is the path to holding Somaliland political leaders accountable for forced displacement. Failure to decisively act against forced displacement by the Somaliland administration equates to condoning impunity. The onus to stop forced displacement of Somali citizens by Somaliland administration is on the Federal Government of Somalia.
By Liban Ahmad