Partition as a Conflict Management Tool
As a conflict management technique, partition is often thought of as the either the last choice or no choice at all, and for good reason. The arguments surrounding the use of partition to solve ethnic conflict actually suggest that by physically separating two warring ethnic groups you will lessen the chance that genocide or ethnic cleansing will occur. The reasoning for this argument lies in the idea that once the groups have been separated tensions will decrease due to the removal of the security threat that is presented when ethnically divided groups are intertwined. It is obvious that there are numerous problems with this concept, such as the logistical challenges of physically moving populations and the ethical implications behind separating ethnically mingled families. It is clear that partition is a hard sell. However, the case of Somaliland may provide the just the right circumstances to provide support for this conflict management technique.
Somaliland and Informal Partition
For those who haven’t recently brushed up on their Horn of Africa geography lessons, modern day Somalia is divided into two distinct geographical and political regions – Somalia in the south and Somaliland in the north. While Somaliland is not recognized as an independent state, it has been operating as such since, in relative peace and security, since it unilaterally succeeded from Somali after the toppling of the Somali government in 1991. While Somali descended into chaos, in short order (about 5 years) Somaliland settled into peace and now boasts a functioning government, the basis of an elementary taxation system, a reasonable level of internal security, and some rudimentary public services. Somaliland holds regular elections for three tiers of government, and has seen two peaceful presidential transitions, including one to the opposition. Numerous authors attribute this success to the lack of intervention that Somaliland experienced after 1991 as compared to Somalia. However, little attention has been paid the effects that Somaliland’s informal partition have played in helping foster this peace. By separating itself from the conflict occurring in the south, Somaliland continued to foster the sense of identity in opposition from southern Somali’s that deplores violence and gave itself the time and space that was required to establish a bottom-up approach to power sharing that in based in the tradition clan systems of pre-colonial Somalia. This is not to say that partition is solely responsible for the progress that has occurred in Somaliland, but rather that the separation that occurred was a key element that interacted with the other factors at play during the formative years of Somaliland.
While, informal partition has served Somaliland well it is recommended that the international community give formal recognition as to cement the somewhat fragile democratization process that continues to unfold rather than continue to ignore it and potentially risk it’s collapse as party leaders continue to feel the frustration of being denied any formal international development assistance. And given this fragile situation in Somaliland and the teetering political transition occurring in Somalia, Canada should not support reunification of region as this could disturb the fine balance that has occurred within and between the two halves at the current moment.