May 18th in Somaliland: Celebration for a Few; Sorrow for Many
By Jaafar M Sh Jama
A tall gaunt looking young man ambles back and forth in the streets of downtown Borama. His shirt is unbuttoned and you can count his ribs without even feeling them. He has been pacing the streets since the atrocities committed against his brothers by the Somali National Movement in 1991. His mother, suffering from extreme grief over the death of her sons, lost her mind and now goes in circles all day in the downtown market of Borama. They both lost their minds after they witnessed the murders of their relatives by the SNM militia. The militia killed the brothers and then drove armored vehicles over their dead bodies.
Another man shouts in grief, “my camels are completely wiped out!” His entire herd was slaughtered by the SNM and taken to feed its soldiers. Another man in his early 80’s, sobs as he sits on the floor of his hut. He saw the SNM killing people in the streets of Gabiley; and watched helplessly as SNM soldiers completely destroyed his orchards. The orchards were all the material goods he possessed—his entire life savings. Displaced at the age of 80 after witnessing the most atrocious crimes, he vowed never to return to his home.
These are a few accounts from over 764 pogroms carried out by the SNM against the Gadabursi. While committing these atrocities, the SNM militia chanted a poetic epithet, “Hadaan Saw iyo Sogsoglay iskugu gayn” (I will sweep the Gadabursi and gather them under Saw Mountain). The militia depopulated many towns and pursued survivors to Borama and beyond. While besieging a town, they would chant, “God is great!” Emboldened by their victories, they pillaged and razed Gadabursi villages all along the Gabiley Dilla corridor.
Somaliland, an evolution of the SNM, considers May 18th a victory day—a day to celebrate the dislodging of an oppressive military regime in 1991. The Gadabursi, Dhulbahante, Warsangeli, Issa, Fiqi Shini and other Somalis in Somaliland consider May 18th a time that will live in infamy. These tribes did not approve of what Siad Barre, the tyrannical former Somali president, was doing to the Isaks who formed the SNM. The SNM never officially sought the support of these tribes. The tribes never supported the regime’s efforts to crack down on the SNM—and neither did they support the SNM. They were strictly non-aligned. If the other tribes had supported the Barre regime, SNM would have never been successful. Instead of staying focused on the overthrow of the Barre regime, the SNM went after the “sleeping” tribes with a vengeance that ultimately resulted in a killing frenzy.
For many northern tribes, the May 18th celebration simply rekindles the trauma of the civil war and reinforces the exclusive character of the leadership and ownership of Somaliland. It is not a day that all Somaliland tribes agreed to celebrate. It is the unilateral celebration of the Isak tribe. This event doesn’t bring on board all of Somaliland’s tribes. It takes more than a parade and high-sounding speeches to make a celebration. May 18th will continue to be a divisive day with no meaningful sense of nationhood until Somaliland is led, owned, served, and shared equally by all the peoples who live within its borders. On the day that happens, there will be a genuinely heartfelt celebration among all the people of Somaliland.
By Jaafar M Sh Jama