Somalia’s Ever-Changing Boundaries

The latest focus on Somalia has led to some confusion over maps and territorial boundaries. Somalia is no longer a “country” but three functioning areas that require different visas and have different governments. Somaliland, Puntland and Somalia are no longer one unified country. Mohammed Yusuf reports.

Those covering the drought find themselves actually in the latest Somali center, the massive refugee camp of Dadaab, Kenya, a mini nation unto to its own, run by western aid workers and guarded by Kenyans. Somalia is unique in that depending on the story a journalist may focus on, they might find themselves in essentially a different country.

Those covering the war of al Shabaab against the TFG find themselves in the oceanside enclave of Mogadishu strapped inside armored vehicles operated by Ugandans It would be hard to convince anyone that Mogadishu is not broken into three parts; Insurgent controlled, AMISOM controlled and the confused lines in between.

If your interest lies in piracy, then Puntland and Galmadug are the areas of focus. If the topic is ‘breakaway nations’ you could be excused for being baffled by regions that range from SSC to Galgamud to Jubaland. If you are doing a story on a functional Somali state vs dysfunctional you would be in Somaliland If your interest is history, there are the former French, British and Italian regions with scattered sultanates and trading ports.

The most common phrase used to describe the country is that “it has been wracked with warfare since its government fell” so if there is no government, who and what is Somalia?

Somalis are above all a race of around 17 million people who share an ethnic identity, language, and a general homeland. Somalis are not just found in Somalia. A people known for movement as pastoralists or as sailors they can be found primarily in Somalia (9M), Ethiopia (4.6M), Yemen (.9M), Kenya (1.5M), and Djibouti (.35M).

Somalis make up over 80% of the ethnic makeup of the region and they align themselves along clan and regional lines. The Somali language can be divided into three dialects with the common use of Arabic. By the end of World War Two, Somalia was divided along borders with some regions called “protectorates”.

French Somalialand was created along treaty lines beginning in 1883 until 1947 and lasting until 1967. British Somaliland was also established with treaties with the Warsangali Sultanate and then expanded into an colonial administration beginning in 1905. Italian Somaliland began also as a treaty with the Majeerteen Sultanate and expanded into the Italian Empire in 1936.

Ethiopia in the late 1930’s transferred from Haile Selassie’s control to Italy because Mussolini invaded in October 2, 1935. The region then became part of the Italian empire in Africa up until World War Two creating a very large “Somalia” with a smaller Harra, Scioa, Galla Sidamo, Amara and Eritrea. Before the war the only real ethnic division was between British Somaliland and Italian territory. Italy began to actively colonize the region creating an axis of commerce from the interior of Ethiopia towards Mogadishu. The Allies defeated Italy and returned Selassie annexing Eritrea in the process. Post war Ethiopia retained the Somali populated regions to the east and upon de-colonization, Eritrea began its war on independence in 1961.

This quick history vastly oversimplifies a number of liberation movements by tribal and regional elements against colonial interests.

Although the goal was to merge the northern protectorate and the southern trusteeship into one nation, Siad Barre seized control of the government and began building what is essentially now perceived by outsiders as “Somalia”. Due to abuses of Somalilanders, the region declared independence on May 18, 1988. The Siad Barre government fell in the early 90’s leaving much of the former nation to fend for itself. This turn of events created a territorial vacuum with Somaliland, a disputed region of Sool, Sanaag and Cayn, Puntland, Galmadug, and parts of southern Somalia seeking some degree of autonomy.

For years the determination of a state’s existence was formal diplomatic recognition. In Libya, a number of Western nations recognized the rebels rather than the actual leader Moamar Qaddafi. Kurdistan was a state briefly but is now part of Iraq. After decades of fighting South Sudan officially became a nation, even though it had operated like Somaliland with its own administration and clearly demarcated borders. There are also dozens of borders from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia to Somalia that continue to frustrate mapmakers who must make the call as to exactly what is a state and what is a border.

The most recent UN map of Somalia seems to be more a work of fiction based on the organizations intimate knowledge of the region. But their decision to keep Somalia as one big happy geographic family is in line with international laws. Most atlases show one Somalia without getting into the substates of Somaliland or Puntland, or even the quasi legitimacy of the TFG and al-Shabaab. Forget about the Ogaden and SSC every appearing on a map.

US based Somalia analyst Professor Michael Weinstein of Purdue University in Chicago toldSomalia Report that maps are most fundamentally indicators of political divisions and conflict.

“We must see the map, not as an objective representation of political units, but as a weapon of political propaganda that represents the interests of those who publish it,” explained Professor Weinstein.

The UN’s newest map of Somalia clearly demonstrates that they recognize the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) as the sole government of the territories of post-independence Somalia and reject the breakaway regions.

“Somalia is too much in flux to draw an objective map. The situation being in flux simply means that we’d have to change the map frequently, but each time we did so we would have an objective map until the situation changed again,” said the professor. “Therefore, the reason why we can’t get a single objective map is that Somali politicians and the external actors can’t agree on what it should be.”

There are maps which show the borders of Somaliland and Puntland quite differently, which clearly reflect the different territorial claims of the two states.

Professor Weinstein said that each new administration has a different view of the country’s borders reflective of their political positions.

“Each administration would draw a different map depending on its claims. That is why the map is a great indicator of the political positions of the different players,” said the professor.

Somalia’s civilian population are also divided on what Somalia map should look like. There are those who are for the idea of every region forming its own administration while others believe in unity and even expanding the country.

Ahmed Hassan, 43, a refugee in Hagardera Dadaab camp told Somalia Report he is for the idea of regions forming their own system of government and drawing different borders.

“We were fighting for twenty years and we are still doing it to date. We have tried to form a government for the last couple of years and as we try to move forward we find ourselves going three steps backwards,” complained Hassan.

“Since we love being tribal, let each community come up with their own administration, and we cut the whole of Somalia into pieces because Somalis don’t want to have one country,” he suggested.

Hassan says that if northeastern Kenya was part of greater Somalia, then half a million Somalis who are in Dadaab refugee camp wouldn’t be have any place to call a second home.

In the nearby Dagahley refugee camp Dadaab, Moulid Mohamed, 28, disagrees with the idea of dividing the whole country into different regions. He believes that people around the world are divided politically and ethnically, but live peacefully in democratic societies.

“We are not the only country that has experienced civil war, but our problem is that we don’t learn from our mistakes. We are still where we were twenty years ago, but I always hope we learn from past mistakes.”
Abdirizak Hussein, a student at the University of Nairobi, says he would like to see a big Somali map that comprises Djibouti, Ogaden and northeastern Kenya.

“I would like to go with the symbol in Somalia flag especially the star. We have two regions – southern Somalia and Somaliland – making up the country, but don’t you see we lack three more areas: Djibouti, Ogaden and northeastern Kenya.”

Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, a political analyst, toldSomalia Report that the case of Somaliland is different from the other breakaway administrations.

“Somaliland is still claiming some territories that were under British colonial rule, but we also see some clans in those territories saying they want to come up with their own administration challenging Somaliland’s concept of boundaries.”

Professor Weinstein said the map is the last thing that parties to a conflict would agree upon and the only way they can agree on a map would be to solve their territorial conflicts.

“Objective maps, therefore, are only possible when all the players agree on which territories belong to which actors,” he said.
For now the political vacuum will encourage change.


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