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The bombings in Somaliland and Puntland - an attempt to drag the north into the politics of violence of southern Somalia

Bombenanschläge in Somaliland und Puntland sollen den Norden in die Gewaltpolitik des Südens hineinziehen

By Markus V. Hoehne?

German summary (Deutsche Zusammenfassung)
Am Mittwoch, den 29.10.2008, wurden zeitgleich fünf Selbstmordattentate in Hargeysa, der Hauptstadt Somalilands, und in Boosaasso, der wichtigsten Hafenstadt Puntlands verübt. Diese Anschläge im ansonsten relativ friedlichen Nordsomalia hatten einen deutlichen politischen Hintergrund: Sie zielten nach Auffassung des Autors darauf, 1) die Unabhängigkeit Somalilands von Somalia zu unterminieren, 2) Abdullahi Yusuf, den derzeitigen Prädidenten der somalischen Übergangsregierung und den ehemaligen Präsidenten Puntlands "persönlich" zu treffen, und 3) Rache an den Äthiopiern für ihr militärisches Engagement in Mogadishu und anderen Teilen Südsomalias zu nehmen. Die Anschläge passierten zeitgleich mit der Veröffentlichung einer Übereinkunft zwischen der angeschlagenen somalischen Übergangsregierung und moderaten islamischen und oppositionellen Kräften in Nairobi, Kenia. Mit den Attacken zeigten die radikaleren Kräfte in Somalia, dass sie einer solchen Annäherung nicht zustimmen und zudem über terroristische Kapazitäten in ganz Somalia verfügen, mittels derer sie auch den friedlichen Norden in die Gewaltpolitik Südsomalias ziehen können.

For years, the situation in Somaliland and Puntland had remained relatively calm. Somaliland in the northwest of the Somali peninsula had seceded from the rest of war-torn Somalia in May 1991 and had since then overcome internal tensions and managed to rebuild a stable and peaceful polity. In recent years, political reforms were introduced that lead to an increasing democratization of the country. Puntland in the northeast is a late-comer, compared to its neighbour to the west. It was established only in August 1998 as federal state of a future Federal Republic of Somalia. It did not accept the secession of Somaliland but adhered to Somali unity. Internally, it is based on power sharing between the three largest Harti clans inhabiting its territory. Both political entities managed to distance themselves from the warlordism and faction fighting in Mogadishu and the south. For years the only large scale security threat in the north emanated from the continued conflict between Somaliland and Puntland over the Harti inhabited regions Sool, Sanaag and Southern Togdheer. These regions are simultaneously claimed by Somaliland and Puntland as part of their respective state-territories. While occasionally violence erupted in the contested borderlands, the centres of both political entities remained stable and peaceful. Currently, both governments in Hargeysa (Somaliland) and Garoowe (Puntland) are preparing presidential elections upcoming early next year.

Throughout 2008 it had become clear, however, that the general security situation in Puntland in the northeast of the Somali peninsula was deteriorating. The region made international headlines as hotbed of piracy in the Horn of Africa. In the last 12 months several dozens ships have been hijacked and high sums have been paid to pirates by foreign governments in order to free ships and crews. Garoowe obviously lacks the means to prevent piracy within its territory. Moreover, criminality and violence increased in the interior of Puntland. Armed gangs operated in the large towns such as Boosaasso, Garoowe and Galkayo. Several international NGOs were attacked and a few foreigners were abducted and released only against ransom payment. This situation in Puntland has much to do with Garoowe's continued support for Abdullahi Yusuf and his Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Abdullahi Yusuf had been President of Puntland between 1998 and 2004. After his election as head of the TFG in October 2004, many soldiers of the Puntland army were sent to the south in order to support their clansman in his fight for power in Mogadishu and environs. This caused a security vacuum in the northeast that the new President of Puntland, Mahamuud Hirsi Adde Muuse, was not able to fill. However, until recently, it seemed that Puntland's slow decay could be stopped by a new President coming to power in the January elections. It could even have been speculated that then, in the face of the TFG's failure, Puntland would have reoriented itself towards enforcing its autonomy from southern politics.

Now, Mogadishu-style politics have entered the north with a big bang. Five concerted suicide bomb attacks hit Somaliland and Puntland on 29 October 2008. In Hargeysa, the capital city of Somaliland, the Presidential Palace, the UNDP compound and the Ethiopian liaison office were attacked. In Puntland, two offices of the Puntland Intelligence Service (PIS) in the town of Boosaaso were bombed. In total, 23 persons were killed and more than 35 were injured. While the local security forces did not yet definitively identify the perpetrators, it can be suspected that Somali Islamists and nationalists with relations to the south (possibly to the militant group al-Shabaab) were behind the well organized and devastating attacks. This reasoning is based on the timing and the targets of the attacks.

First, the attacks happened simultaneously to a press conference held in Nairobi at which the results of negotiations between the TFG and moderate Islamic Groups were announced. The negotiations had been held under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD). The explosions in northern Somalia forcefully demonstrated that the meeting in Nairobi did not find the approval of the more radical and militarily powerful groups in Somalia. Second, the targets chosen both, in Somaliland and Puntland, point to larger political connections with the south. They express strong anti-Somaliland, anti-Ethiopian and anti-TFG sentiments. The Presidential palace in Hargeysa is the center from which Somaliland's struggle for independence is coordinated. This independence, however, has never been accepted by Somali nationalists. Recently, under the brief rule of the Union of Islamic Courts, it became clear that Islamic politics in southern Somalia are also strongly informed by (Pan-) Somali nationalism. The UNDP office in Hargeysa stands for large scale development projects in Somaliland and support for the Hargeysa University, where Somaliland's upcoming elite is educated. This again is closely related to Somaliland's independence. The Ethiopian liaison office, of course, is an easy target for those who wish to revenge for Ethiopia's brutal military campaign in Mogadishu and environs. The aims in Boosaasso are directly related to Abdullahi Yusuf. The PIS was established under his Presidency in Puntland. Many leading PIS officers are close relatives of Abdullahi Yusuf. Since the latter is the head of the TFG, he and his 'family' can be perceived as prime targets of insurgents fighting the TFG in southern Somalia.

This brief analysis does not suggest that those involved in the attacks necessarily originated from the south. Of course there are a number of native 'northerners' who are sympathetic to radical Islamic and (Pan) Somali causes. Yet, whoever the perpetrators and their supporters were, the attacks clearly point to the overall aim of the terrorists to drag the relative peaceful and stable polities of Somaliland and Puntland forcefully into the violent politics of southern Somalia. The immediate danger is that the suicide attacks demonstrated the vulnerability of Somaliland and Puntland and may lead to follow up operations of radical groups with networks all over the Somali peninsula.

It remains to be seen if the governments in Hargeysa and Garoowe can handle this threat. Without some external solidarity and effective support, this will be a very complicated task. Sadly enough, apart from some very brief reports on BBC and CNN, the international community seems not have noticed what happened in Somaliland and Puntland. Its focus is on Mogadishu that still is perceived as representing Somalia as a whole. This perspective was -- for those looking more closely -- proven wrong by Somaliland and Puntland, at least until recently.

* Markus V. Hoehne is PhD Candidate at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle/Saale, Germany. His research is on identity and conflict in northern Somalia (Somaliland and Puntland) where he conducted 16 months of field research. His publications include a book entitled 'Somalia zwischen Krieg und Frieden. Strategien der friedlichen Konfliktaustragung auf internationaler und lokaler Ebene' (Hamburg, 2002), as well as several peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters; for further details see http://www.eth.mpg.de/people/mhoehne/index.html

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