An Interview with Dr. Saad Noor, North American representative of the Republic of Somaliland

by Bill Weinberg, WBAI Radio

Somaliland is a de facto independent country in what is known in the med ia (none too accurately) as "Somalia." It is an ironic situation that  south ern Somalia has no effective government on the ground, but has a largely fictional government that is recognized by the international community; whereas in the northern part of the country—Somaliland—exactly the opposite is true: it has a functioning government on the ground, but no government that is recognized by the international community.

So-called "government-controlled" Somalia in the south is war zone, while Somaliland, with no recognized government, is an enclave of stability. With all the media attention Somalia has received in recent years—with the warlords, the Islamic Courts Union, the Ethiopian invasion, the insurgents, and now the pirates—there is very little acknowledgment that the northern third of the country is a functioning independent republic.

Dr. Saad Noor, North American representative of the Republic of Somaliland, spoke with Bill Weinberg over the airwaves of WBAI Radio in New York City on the night of April 21.

Dr. Noor, what does your work entail? What is it like to be the representative of a government that most people in America don't know exists?

My post is not an official one, because Somaliland is not internationally recognized yet. But nonetheless, I do the same kind of work that envoys from officially recognized countries do perform. I am working to create a situation where there will be connections and contacts between the government of Somaliland and the government of the United States of America. It is rather difficult, because you feel like you are here, yet you are invisible. It takes a great deal of patience.

Is there any kind of de facto diplomatic contact between Washington and Somaliland?

Yes, indeed. That's the reality of the situation—there are de facto diplomatic contacts between Somaliland and the government of the United States of America, and a great deal of understanding on a number of issues.

Well, the issue of piracy is the one that happens to be in the news at the moment. Have there been any moves towards cooperation around addressing that crisis?

The piracy phenomenon takes place, actually, in Somalia—the former Italian colony—and particularly in the northern province of Puntland. It does not, as such, concern Somaliland. But anything that calls for cooperation between the government of the United States and Somaliland, Somaliland happily will do that. And of course, there already is cooperation in the area of security.

Let's talk a little bit about the history. What we might call "government-controlled" Somalia in the south of the country and the autonomous enclave of Puntland together make up what was the former Italian colony; whereas, Somaliland is the former British colony...

That's correct.

...and it achieved its independence in 1991 with the fall of the Siad Barre dictatorship.

Somaliland actually became independent on June 26, 1960, from Great Britain. Unfortunately, in the same year, it formed a union with the former Italian colony of Somalia, which became independent on July 1, 1960. But that union did not work. And eventually, there was an armed struggle on the part of Somaliland against the former Italian colony of Somalia. And that ended in 1991, when Somaliland re-proclaimed its independence in May of that year.

What were the issues that led to the emergence of this independence struggle? Why was the union with Somalia not working?

It was a union that was created in a haphazard fashion. The people of Somaliland were actually the ones who instigated that union, because it was seen that there was a need to have a government that included both the former British colony and Italian colony, and what had been French Somaliland [Djibouti], and Ethiopian Somalia [Ogaden], and a part of Kenya—the northeast part of Kenya, the Northern Frontier District. The idea was to create a government that encompasses all the Somali-speaking communities in the Horn of Africa.

But that did not happen. What happened was that the guys in the south began usurping all the government powers. They took advantage of the good intentions of the people of Somaliland. They had the capital, Mogadishu, the president, the prime minister, the commander of the army, the commander of the police—you name it. Eventually, it became a southern oppression against the north. So the north eventually had to react.

As you pointed out when we spoke earlier, the union of Somalia and Somaliland was actually an exception to the stated policy of the Organization of African Unity that the colonial boundaries were to remain intact under independence.

Absolutely correct. When that resolution of the Organization of African Unity was passed in Addis Ababa [1963], it actually made the union retroactively illegal—because it changed the boundaries that were inherited from the colonial administration. And now we are saying that all that Somaliland has done is to go back to the [original] boundaries. And therefore, the Organization of African Unity, and now the African Union, should uphold that principle of the inviolability of the boundaries inherited from the colonial administration. But unfortunately, both the Organization of African Unity and now the African Union never took that seriously. Our separation from the former Italian colony of Somalia is legal, as a matter of fact. The problem is a political one. There is no political will, thus far, on the part of the African Union, to address this issue the way it should be addressed.

And the problem is that countries like the United States of America and the European Union are saying that this issue should be dealt with by the Africans first. If the African Union recognizes Somaliland, then we have no problem with Somaliland, they say. But the African Union does not have the same capability of the European Union—which would never allow the continuation of such a thing. They immediately recognized the republics of the former Yugoslavia, and lately Kosovo. But the African Union has never, thus far, since its inception—or the Organization of African Unity before it—recognized one single new entity.

Well, there is Eritrea...

Eritrea was actually in a federation with Ethiopia, and Ethiopia agreed in advance to let it go. If Ethiopia did not agree, the African Union would not have done anything.

So in 1991, Somaliland formally declared its independence. A referendum was held, I understand.

Yes, and 79% of the people approved it.

And elections were held?

We created an electoral process. We have three political parties, a multi-party system. And we have held elections—parliamentary elections; elections for the governorates, the local regions of the country; elections for president and vice president. And now we are preparing our second multi-party presidential elections. This president is the third one, but the first two actually were appointed. From now on, all our presidents will be popularly elected, with a one-man-one-vote multi-party system.

The current president is Dahir Riyale. How long has he been in power?

I think this is his sixth year now.

And he was elected into office?


So he's the third president, and the first to be elected?

Well, he's the first to be elected popularly, with a multi-party system, one-man-one-vote. The first two were appointed. Our first president, Abdirahman Ali, led the independence struggle. Our second president, Mohammed Egal, put together our political system.

And who appointed them?

They were appointed by a body of elders, who were appointed by their constituencies. A council of elders.

But there has been a functioning parliament—it's a bicameral system, like the United States—for how many years now?

At this point, from 1993.

So how does the country function? Since it has no recognized government, I don't imagine there's a lot of corporate investment. I imagine there's a lot of fishing going on. What else is going on?

Livestock is the most important thing that sustains the local economy at this point. Beyond that, our people are very industrious—doing business with Ethiopia, with Djibouti. And also, remittances from our own diaspora. That helps a lot.

But the country is known to be a potential oil area. There are indications that we may be sitting on an oil glut. But because of the absence of international recognition, international companies cannot come. They say, "Look, we would love to come, but according to international law, you don't exist. And if you don't exist, we cannot insure our equipment, our capital, our staff. If we invest in the place, and something goes wrong, we cannot sue you anywhere."

So it's a very, very difficult situation. The country is far away from being self-sufficient at this point. But look at the other African countries, that have been independent for 20, 30, 40 years. Many of them are not democratic. Second, they are not that better off than we are, despite the recognition and heavy investment and foreign aid. The majority of them could not exist without foreign aid for six months. We are standing without foreign aid, and we don't owe anyone a penny—because nobody would give it to us to begin with! [Laughs]

Right! Well, this is a very critical point. I'd like to hear your analysis of why the entity that people consider to be "government-controlled" Somalia has been a war zone with no functioning government since 1991, while Somaliland, with a government not recognized by the outside world, has been an enclave of peace and stability. How do you account for this seeming paradox?

This is a question that has been raised a lot by many people. The people in both areas are Somalis—they all speak the Somali language. But people who have studied the question attribute it, at least as one factor, to the different colonial administrations. The British rule of Somaliland was totally different from the Italian rule of Somalia. The British—as in many other parts of Africa, as in Ghana, as in Nigeria—had an indirect rule. They empowered the local indigenous political structure that was in place. And they controlled it from afar. The Italians did not have this political culture. They penetrated the society down to its lowest level, and they eliminated whatever local political structure that was there. So by the time they left, there was nothing.

Whereas, when the British were preparing Somaliland for independence, they did it from the grassroots, to the level of a shadow parliament. So that is one thing. Another thing is the lack of cohesion. There has never been an attempt on the part of the people of Somalia—the former Italian colony—to go and sit down and do what we did. We built ours from the bottom up—not from the top down. We began at the household and worked up to the sub-clan, clan, major clan, all the way to the regions. None of that has been tried in Somalia, unfortunately. In Somalia, everything which the international community has supported has been trying to impose everything from the top. Unless someone gets a handle on the situation at the level of the grassroots, I don't think anything is going to happen there.

And yet there was, at least, a functioning government in Somalia from independence in 1960 through the fall of the Siad Barre regime in 1991.

That government would not have functioned if it had not been for the sacrifice made by the Somalilanders, who offered themselves as a sacrificial lamb.

How so? Explain.

When the leaders in the south tried to grab power, the Somaliladers said, "What are you fighting about? You want power? Here, take it. Let is create a government and let us hope for a better future." There are some people who say—although I personally reject it—that unless Somaliland goes back to that union, there will never be a Somalia. But we say: Hell no. Never, never, never again. Like the Jewish community say when they recall the ghettos of Warsaw.

Union with Somalia was that much of a disaster for your people?

Oh, my God. It was more than a disaster. It was a real excruciating pain and destruction. We never got anything from that union other than death and destruction and deprivation.

What was the mechanism of oppression?

Well, first of all, they disenfranchised us, even before the [1969] military coup d'etat of Gen. Siad Barre. They sent their own rulers to our cities and regions, and treated us as second-class citizens. In the 30 years of the union, not one single development project was put in place in Somaliland. All of them were put in Somalia. It was just as if they said, "Go to hell, you're not going to get anything."

And then when the resistance began, the city of Hargeisa, our capital, was totally razed. I mean, 85% of it was destroyed in June 1988 by the Somali air force. About 50,000 people were killed or injured. And 1.1 million were displaced or fled as refugees to Ethiopia. This is the first time an air force flew from a city airport to bomb the same city! And after that, the Somali army was brought in with field artillery. This is what happened. You call that brotherhood? You call that unity?

Now, this received very little coverage at the time in the world media.

Right, it did not. Because at the time, unfortunately, it was during the Cold War, and Siad Barre had severed his relationship with the Soviet Union and moved toward the American side.

Right, he flipped. After the fall of Haile Selassie in Ethiopia in the mid-1970s, they flipped sides. Before that, Ethiopia had been in the US camp and Somalia had been in the Soviet camp, and then they totally flipped.

Indeed, that's what happened. So by 1988, everybody here [in the US] was looking the other way. And Somalia was a member of the Arab League, so the Arab League looked the other way—and still continues to see Somaliland's departure from the union as a secession which should be shunned and rejected.

So for the US, because Ethiopia was Communist at the time, everybody was paying attention to the very real atrocities which were going on there, but I guess they didn't want to look at what was happening in Somalia, which was their ally.

That's right. You see, Siad Barre, seeing instability, attacked Ethiopia when Haile Selassie fell and Mengistu Haile Mariam came to power. He thought he could take the Somali Ethiopian region by force, so he began a war.

The Ogaden crisis.

Yes, in 1977. And he was defeated—by the Ethiopian army, supported by the Red Army. Can you imagine? The Red Army was there, and East Germans and Cubans.

Well, the Soviets had military advisors in Ethiopia...

No! Real combat units! This was the first time that the Red Army came to the African continent. And the Somali forces were beaten to death. and then when Siad Barre started dealing with Somaliland, and destroyed the city of Hargeisa, everybody looked the other way.

Right. I follow the news, and I was not aware of it at the time. I was aware of the Ogaden crisis and the starvation in Ethiopia, but I was not aware of what was happening in Somaliland in 1988.

Yes, it was unbelievable. We have rebuilt the city now. And without any international support. There are even a new hotels opening in downtown Hargeisa. The city still needs a lot of work. But I even saw some tourists from Europe the last time I was in Hargeisa! And there is peace. There is nobody fighting there. Nobody is going to shoot you. So people are welcome.

Now, the situation is becoming very tense, as you know, because of the machinations of these Islamic extremists...

Yes, there's been some recent political controversies I'd like to discuss. But first—how did you manage to rebuild your city without any international aid? That's quite an accomplishment.

Well, people came back, and reclaimed the location of what was left of their houses. And what did help us was the money that came from the diaspora.

People working in Europe, for the most part...?

In the Middle East, Europe, Canada and the US.

Your liberation struggle was led by the Somali National Movement, or SNM. When did it take up arms?

In 1981.

And finally achieved victory in 1991.

Yes, 10 years of armed struggle.

And 1991 was also when the warlords emerged in Somalia proper, so to speak. And there was the famous "Black Hawk down" incident after the apparent threat of mass starvation prompted the US military intervention of 1992. What was happening in Somaliland at this time?

At that time, we were just busy trying to pick up the pieces and put the place together. Operation Restore Hope was launched by the first President George Bush with good intentions, but it ended disastrously. The SNM at first aided Farah Aidid and his Somali National Congress to fight Siad Barre in the south. We gave him ammunition and training and our own officers. We wanted our two movements to get rid of Siad Barre and sit down together and come up with some acceptable political order. But unfortunately, it didn't happen. It turned into a fight within the major clan in that part of Somalia, Mogadishu and its environs, the Hawiye. And that, unfortunately, is still going on.

Well, I have to say that some of us took a much more cynical view of George HW Bush's intervention, and saw it as a means to secure a very strategic region. There's a strategic choke-point there at the southern end of the Red Sea that could be used to block off the world's oil. And I think it was perceived that there was a power vacuum that could be filled by Islamic radicals or what have you, and that it was necessary to get some kind of military presence there to fill the vacuum.

The US action was not devoid of strategic interests. Remember, Berbera, which is now Somaliland's major port, was a Red Army air and naval base, given by Siad Barre to the Russians during the Russian [influence] era. The things they left in the ground there, we cannot even clean them up. So, yes, it is strategically located close to the Middle East and the Persian Gulf—where the oil was coming from, and is still coming from. So I cannot divorce strategic thinking from Bush's actions. But nonetheless, I think he did a fantastic job of stopping the fighting at the time, and feeding the starving children and dying mothers.

And yet the fighting certainly continued.

Unfortunately, yes. And it ended with Black Hawk down, with 18 Americans killed and 72 injured.

So at the same time that (for lack of another phrase) Somalia proper was being torn apart by the warlords, Somaliland was rebuilding from a period of war.

That's a fact.

Then we could fast-forward nearly 20 years to the current situation. In June 2006, the Islamic Courts Union established power in Mogadishu. They brought a modicum of stability there, but under extremely draconian terms, imposing their very harsh interpretation of sharia law. And this prompted the US to back the Ethiopian intervention of that December, which ousted them but merely succeeded in re-igniting the war.

Yes. [Laughs]

So what has been the view of this whole chess game which has been playing out from Somaliland? Who were you rooting for in all of this conflict?

We were rooting for no particular faction. We were rooting for stability and order, so Somalia would not be a source for extremist activities. We are not going to go back to the union. We withdrew from the union freely. But we are still waiting for leadership in Somalia to whom we can say, "Let us cooperate as two sisterly states. We cannot close our borders or deny our common Somali language and culture. So why don't we cooperate, as brothers?" That is what we have been waiting and waiting for.

We really were not rooting for a particular group. But now, with the emergence of this Islamic extremism, it is a whole new ballgame. You know they attacked us last October...

Yes, there were a series of suicide blasts in Somaliland in October...

The al-Shabaab group...

The Islamist insurgent group that is active in Somalia proper.

That's right. They attacked the presidency, attacked the Ethiopian consulate, and attacked the United Nations office in Hargeisa, and killed and injured so many people.

And these people are actually in control of much of Somalia proper. The government, which is called the Transitional Federal Government, is actually the third effort at a transitional government. The first one was created in Djibouti in the year 2000. It collapsed. The second one was created in Kenya and was headed by a former warlord, Abdillahi Yusuf. It collapsed. This is the third one, and it's not doing well. I don't want to be pessimistic, and in fact we wish them success. But we also wish that if they succeed, they will be realistic and deal with us as an equal state. Because if they don't, nothing is going to go anywhere. They cannot control us. If they attack us, I don't think they will be victorious. There is no way they can be.

Why do you think the Islamists attacked Somaliland? Somaliland had not even been involved in the crisis in the south of the country.

Because they don't believe in international boundaries. They have threatened to attack Ethiopia and Kenya. They want what they call the "Somali Islamic Emirate." And they believe Somaliland in the biggest [regional] enemy, because it has a democratic constitution—which in their dictionary is equal to the denial of God and the Koran. They see Somaliland as a bridgehead against them. They call us the government of the Americans and Jews.

But your government is not even recognized by Washington! So how could they accuse you of being a puppet of Washington?

They simply say that we cooperate with Washington, that the West likes us because we don't to become a part of the emirate that they want to form. They call us pro-Western. Well, we are pro-Western. We don't deny that. Is that a crime?

What do you mean by "pro-Western" exactly?

I mean, simply, that we are a democracy, to the best of our ability. We have a democratic constitution. We believe in human rights. We are not recognized by any state, but we uphold international law. Our relations with Britain and the United States of America are excellent, although it is a de facto diplomatic [arrangement]. You could even call it de facto recognition—but not de jure.

They don't want that. They don't want any Western influence in the area. They don't want a political order that calls itself a democratic political order. They say democracy is a Western deception, they say it is anti-Islam. Just like the Taliban.

When was Somaliland's constitution drawn up?

In the year 2000. Before that we had a national charter, which was drawn up in 1993.

And what does your constitution have to say about Islam and freedom of religion?

Like any Muslim nation—except Iran and Saudi Arabia, which are theocracies, as you know very well—Somaliland is governed by a democratic constitution and a modern legal code, within the sharia framework. Sharia courts exist, but deal largely with religious and moral issues—and do not supersede the civil courts.

What exactly do you mean by "religious and moral issues"?

Marriage, inheritance, things along those lines. The local sharia courts, overseen by people well-versed in Islamic jurisprudence, oversee those things. But they cannot supersede the civil courts.

So the sharia courts have jurisdiction in cases of divorce, inheritance, child custody?

Yes. But if things cannot be adjudicated through the sharia courts for one reason or another, then they go to the civil courts.

So the sharia courts exist more to adjudicate than to rule, and if they fail to adjudicate the case would go to the civil courts.

Yes, sir.

I would imagine there is acknowledgment in the constitution of Islam on some level.

Yes, indeed. As in Afghanistan's constitution, Pakistan's, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Mauritania. They all say that the religion of the land is Islam, and that the constitution cannot contradict the basic beliefs and philosophical underpinnings of the Islamic religion. It's based on that ethos.

Are there provisions for freedom of religion?

Well, 99.9% of the people are Muslim. Accordingly, that issue is mute. There is a very small Christian minority, but you never hear from them. I'm sure one day, they will come to the fore within the context of human rights.

So perhaps this is still a developing question.


Let's talk about some of the recent instances of violence and unrest in Somaliland. It is certainly nothing approaching the scale of what is happening in southern Somalia, but it is nonetheless worrying. For instance, I understand there has been a certain amount of violence around the elections which are coming up...

Well, there has been no violence actually, but a great deal of commotion between the opposition and the ruling party. But nobody has been killed. There have been flare-ups here and there, where clans disagree on the possession of certain lands or wells or what have you. But it never gets out of hand. We have been there. We know what it means.

Well, there's been this move on the part of the sitting president, Dahir Riyale, to postpone the election for several months, which has been met with some controversy. Why did he choose to do that?

Well, the government's version is that there are things that have to be completed prior to holding the election. For instance, voter registration, which has been happening. Legally, it has been stipulated that no election should take place prior to the identification and registration of all voters.

And yet the opposition has held protests against the postponement in the capital.

Yes. Democracy comes with its own problems. The government is being accused of being sluggish, taking its own sweet time [in the voter registration], and using undemocratic techniques to have people arrested and what have you. And the government is saying, no, this is just a matter of upholding law and order. There is always a gray area in the middle... So yes, we are going through a very delicate time. I think we will come through it.

And, as you say, there's been some clan violence in the countryside...

In one small area only, not far away from the capital. It has been a simmering feud for a long time. This feud goes back to the Siad Barre period. Some clans say their lands and wells were given to another clan that was loyal to Siad Barre. And so far, nobody has really looked into it and come up with the right solution. It is a sensitive situation, but there are groups that are working on it now to solve it once and for all.

Through mediation...

Yes, through mediation. You have to give and take.

More worrisome, in 2007 there were border clashes between Puntland and Somaliland. What was that all about?

Well, first of all, Puntland is a new name. The name Punt was used by the ancient Egyptians when they went to the Horn of Africa for the first time. The entire Horn, the entire frankincense area, they called Punt. In, as I recall, 1998, they began using the name Puntland for that northeast region of Somalia that is inhabited by one major clan, called the Harti. Some of the Harti are also on the Somaliland side, according to the international boundaries created by the Anglo-Italian agreement of the 1880s. But they say they are creating a state that is based on ethnicity—on the clan. Now, when the Europeans were making boundaries in Africa, clans were not taken into consideration. So, there are Isaaqs—who are the majority group in Somaliland—who live in Ethiopia and in Djibouti. But there are some in Puntland who refuse to accept the international boundary between Somaliland and Somalia—because, they say, their cousins live there. We say, it is not a matter of cousins. Everybody's cousin is living across international borders in Africa. We told them, you cannot do it that way.

There was speculation that international oil companies may have been behind the Putland attacks, because they were seeking to exploit oil in Somaliland's territory.

That's right. We sent them away, we told them they cannot come.

Do you know which oil companies?

Some Canadians, we believe, and maybe some Australians. In 2003, they took an area from Somaliland—the capital of the Sool region, which is called Laascaanood. Puntland occupied it. We told them to leave and they refused. Eventually, we took it back without killing anybody, because they were fighting among themselves.

The Puntlanders?

Yes. There is no state as such there, but they are better than Somalia proper. Although they have been heavily infiltrated by the Islamists.

The leadership of Puntland has?

No, the people on the ground. The port of Bossasso is full to the hilt with Islamists. They don't even hide.

And yet it seems that the pirates are operating out of Puntland, and the pirates and Islamists are not allied. In fact, they seem to be antagonistic.

When it comes to command and control, they are not allies. But when it comes to cooperating on the clan level, it is very difficult to discern. And it has been alleged time and again that the leadership of Puntland have been involved in piracy themselves.

And yet they've also at least made some token efforts to crack down on the pirates.

Yes, but it has been said that the appointed president of Puntland [Abdirahman Mohamud Farole] is a godfather of the pirates. I'm not accusing him, but it has been said time and again.

Now, it should be said that Puntland has not declared independence from Somalia.

No, they haven't. They are still flying that flag, and using the old money. In Somaliland, we have our own currency, the Somaliland shilling.

You mint it in Somaliland?

No, we mint it outside, but with reputable people in Europe. It cannot be falsified, and, strangely enough, it has been stable.

We have the flag, we have the currency, we have the army, we have the police, the intelligence service, we have the national anthem, we are at peace—but where's the recognition? It's tough.

Well, Puntland may not have declared independence, but it isn't under the control of the Transitional Federal Government, or the Islamic Courts Union, or any of the other factions that have been vying for control.

That's correct, although they cooperate with the government in Mogadishu—particularly under Abdillahi Yusuf, that last president who was pressured to get out. Because Abdillahi Yusuf was the founder of Puntland.

Oh really? And he was replaced by the current Transitional Federal Government president, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who was formerly the leader of the Islamic Courts Union. Which is rather an irony!

It's an irony. This man was chased from Mogadishu by the Ethiopian army, and when he was appointed in Djibouti, his first trip was to Addis Ababa! [Laughs.] So, it's politics.

Well, I think Ethiopia, probably with US connivance, decided to put him in power to try to buy peace with the Islamist insurgents.

But they cannot.

It has failed, largely.

No, they cannot. And we are all worried, because everyone is saying this is Somalia's best chance. The international community, it seems to me, is really in a state of daydreaming.


Because they are dreaming of a unitary government of Somalia. And that is not going to happen. The international community should help Somalia to rebuild the state that existed before union in 1960—[the former] Somalia Italiano. We will help you with that. But time and again, they say they have to have a central government in Somalia.

The international community?

Including the USA. They tell us our government will not be included. And none of the factions in Somalia have recognized Somaliland as a separate entity, no matter what color they are—democrats, Islamists. They refuse. The international community is still trying to put Humpty-Dumpty together.


But they cannot put it together. We need someone who will say, OK, let's call a spade a spade.

So what about the pirate crisis, and the showdown with the international naval taskforce that has been assembled to confront them? What challenges dos this situation pose to Somaliland's independence?

At this point, there is no challenge as such. There has never been any hijacking in our part of the Gulf of Aden. We have a small coast guard. The pirates came and tried to operate from Somaliland twice. Both times, we arrested them. They are serving in our jail now. We sentenced them to 20 years.

What do you make of the claim that they aren't really pirates, that it's actually the Somalia Volunteer Coast Guard, and that they are protecting Somalia's coast from illegal fishing, toxic waste dumping, et cetera? Does this have any legitimacy, in your view?

When it comes to fighting the illegal fishing and dumping, it has some legitimacy. Because the place was raped, really. The kind of illegal fishing that was taking place was unbelievable. They destroyed the coral reefs...

You are using the past tense. Is this still continuing?

It is still continuing, but it is getting better since those guys came! They chased a lot of them out. Last week, they took two Egyptian trawlers. But Thailand, China, India—they were the worst. So yes, it began as resistance against this. They were cutting their nets, and eventually they realized they could take them over. There are a lot of people [in the pirates] who used to be in the Somali coastguard, with a lot of know-how. That's true. So these are the origins. But now it's becoming a real thriving business, and a real menace to international trade.

And I think the solution to this is not on the sea, it's on the shore. The area that has to be patrolled is about 1.4 million square miles. How are you going to do it? The entire US Fifth Fleet couldn't do it. You have to solve the problem on land.


By creating some kind of order in Somalia. And that's what the international community talks about.

They've been trying since 1991 to impose some kind of stability in Somalia, and they've completely failed.

Speaking unofficially, to my friends, I say this. You have to come up with a comprehensive policy and put behind it what it takes in men and matériel. That's the only way you can do it. And there is no heart for that. So sometimes I jokingly say—failing to do that, why don't you recognize us and deputize us? We will bring peace to that country. I'm not kidding you!

Aren't you afraid of getting sucked into the maelstrom?

No. Listen, we are all Somalis. We know everybody and his grandmother. Nobody can lie to us.

Well, this is my fear actually—what I've been trying to get around to in this line of questioning. When the crisis is just on land, they can let it fester. But when it is actually posing a threat to global commerce on the seas, there's a greater imperative to get Somalia under control. And every intervention by the international community has only made things worse. So if they go into Puntland to clean out the pirates, Somaliland could be the next domino, so to speak.

Listen, we could assist to a great extent. This whole thing has been from outside and half-hearted. The international community should say, first of all, Somaliland is safe; we have to see to it that it remains safe. Two, we should see what we can do to utilize the know-how of the Somalilanders. When it comes to the reconciliation of the clans—we created Somaliland through a reconciliation conference in 1993. It took us only four months. And we brought every clan and sub-clan to the level of households together through representatives at that conference in Borama. In four months, we came up with a president, a charter and a republic! Still, we are using the same structure.

So you think this is model that could work in Somalia proper?

We have a Ph.d in that business! I'm telling you!