- When the newly sworn-in President of Somalia, Abdullahi Yusuf, launched his calculated and provocative attack on Somaliland on 29 October, this put enormous popular pressure on the democratically elected but fragile Somaliland government to deal with the situation militarily and secure the country's often violated borders. From the first outrage, it is now time for cool heads in Somaliland.
For the first few days after the assault, in which captured Somaliland servicemen were humiliatingly paraded on websites supporting Somali President Yusuf, it seemed that no one in Somaliland was in a mood for reconciliation or peaceful resolution. "We cannot shake hands with a clenched fist that draws pleasure and self-esteem from giving us a bloody nose whenever we try to go closer to it," thundered an editorial on the usually sober 'Awdalnews Network'.
Thousands of outraged Somalilander citizens came out on the streets many demanding to be sent to the front. "We stood up to [ex-Somali dictator] Siyad Barre, we will stand up to this thug too," was a commonly expressed sentiment in Somaliland towns, from Burao to Borame.
Even the more hot-headed members of the government joined in the hysteria, one, a senior Minister in the Defence Department allegedly saying that the Somaliland troops will "not stop" till they reach Garowe, the capital in President Yusuf's stronghold, Puntland.
There were other alarming signs of disarray in the government as 'off-message' ministers took upon themselves to talk to the media and promptly contradict each other. Further, the Somaliland government allowed itself to go down to the level of of its enemies by failing to prevent the publication of pictures of Puntland militia prisoners of war and their dead officers.
If the Somaliland military officers responsible for this act of barbarity are not brought before military courts, Somaliland may risk its credibility as a country governed by civilised rules and laws, perhaps on an irretrievable basis, some Somalilanders fear.
Fortunately the nation soon regained its composure. This was helped by the realisation that the battle was not lost, despite the fiasco of the prisoners of war, and that indeed the attacking Somali militias suffered far heavier casualties than Somaliland troops.
Among the more ghoulish minds, the pictures of the two dead Puntland commanders might have helped quench the popular thirst for revenge. It also proved beyond doubt that Puntland lost the battle: any army who leaves its commander's and deputy commander's corpses on the battlefield, cannot reasonably claim victory.
And then there were other voices of reason emerging from all over the country as the more astute recognised that a Somaliland overreaction is exactly what Somali President Yusuf would have wanted from this adventure.
Boqor Bur Madow ("King Black Mountain"), the leader of eastern Somaliland clans, reached out to his elders in the area and asked them to calm the situation down in their localities. Somaliland President Dahir Riyale Kahin ordered his army to halt operations unless attacked.
Somaliland ministers crisscrossed the eastern regions affected by the militia's raids, calming down tempers and offering support to affected local communities. Somaliland frontline commanders allowed access to the battlefield to Somali Red Crescent and local families to search, identify and bury their dead.
Edna Adan, Somaliland's Foreign Minister dispatched letters to the international community rightfully complaining about the attack on peace-loving Somaliland. She succeeded in getting President Yusuf reportedly chastised by the EU and others.
No one can fault Somalilanders for seeking to secure their borders and repel invaders. Indeed they demonstrated admirable reticence ever since Somali President Yusuf laid claim to Somaliland's eastern town Las Anod a year ago, as he still only was the leader of Puntland.
But that calculated reticence is a sign of strength and hallmark of maturity. It shows that reason prevails in this nascent democracy, which like all democracies, would rather build political institutions and public infrastructure than launch military expeditions into distant tribal border areas.
Somaliland knows that while its territorial integrity is non-negotiable, the still-occupied town of Las Anod is nonetheless of no strategic importance to the existence, stability or prosperity of the country. In the long term, the best way to win it back is through winning hearts and minds and avoiding falling into the traps set by marauding mini-warlords from Puntland.
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