If it makes sense for Somalia, why not for Yemen?

Dr Qais Ghanem, a retired neurologist, radio show host, poet and novelist.

By Qais Ghanem*


Two major events touched me this week, one happy, the other disastrous!

Today is the twenty second anniversary of Independence in Somaliland, an annual celebration held on May 18 to mark its declaration of independence from the rest of Somalia, in a unilateral proclamation which remains unrecognized by the United Nations and the rest of the world.

What I have learnt very recently is that this country, which has not been able to receive any international aid, because it is not a recognized independent country, is doing quite well by African standards, in fact better than Somalia, with which it went into a union in 1960, after the withdrawal of the British. There was a brief honeymoon, which was soon interrupted by the coup mounted by Siad Barre in 1969, when the greater Somalia descended into progressive chaos, anarchy and factional fighting, until Barre was ousted in 1991, at which time Somaliland withdrew from the union and reasserted its independence as the sovereign Republic of Somaliland, able to chart its own political path and to take charge of its own destiny, thus avoiding the mayhem of the conflict involving al-Shabab movement, and the interventions of foreign troops including the Americans, Ethiopians and others.

Although it did have its own conflicts, temporarily, it was able to begin a process of reconstruction and state building. Today, it has all the attributes of a sovereign functional state. Recognition by the UN is a matter of time.

The disastrous event, not surprisingly, occurred in Yemen!

According to Adenalghad newspaper, two Adeni youths went on a visit to Sanaa on Wednesday afternoon. A few hours later, with another young man who had met them at Sanaa airport, they were driving at normal speed on 50 Street road when they were deliberately shot dead by armed men from the tribe of Sheikh Awadhi, simply because they did not get out of the way to allow the wedding fleet of cars of the sheikh to pass! One of the three, miraculously, managed to escape.

To make things even more personal for me, one of these was a cousin of one of my close friends here in Ottawa, and the grandson of one of my old teachers at Aden College. The reaction of people from the South was predictable, and their frustration and fury understandable. For they already know that they will not see justice within the archaic and entrenched tribal system of North Yemen, which protects the rich and powerful, and marginalizes, indeed despises the poor, the weak and those who do not have a tribe to protect them.

This feeble government, albeit ostensibly run by a southern president, prime minister and foreign minister will not be able to bring the murderers to justice, something I can predict all the way from Canada! The best they would offer is the traditional slaying of a bull, in compensation!

And so, the parallels between Yemen and Somalia seem much clearer as a result of this horrendous episode, which is but the tip of the iceberg. I trust that it will now push people in the south to take a leaf from the book of Somaliland, which also found itself taken over by Somalia, suffered loss of its own autonomy, as well as economic and political deterioration with Somalia, but then woke up and decided to go it alone, and never looked back.

Apart from their much higher literacy rates, and education, the people of the South got used to a progressive system of government which included respect for all people, including northern Yemenis, Indians, Somalis and others. Above all they lived according to that most important “rule of law”, about which my late brother Isam Ghanem frequently spoke, as the backbone of civil society. No one – absolutely no one – was above the law, and even the socialist governments in the South could not dismantle it.

There will no doubt be those who will rush to declare such talk as heresy. It is not! If and when the North is able to implement human rights and the rule of law, the South should be gently wooed to rejoin the Great Yemen – but not until then.

*Dr Qais Ghanem is a retired neurologist, radio show host, poet and novelist. His two novels are Final Flight from Sanaa and Two Boys from Aden College. His non-fiction is My Arab Spring My Canada. His combined English/Arabic poetry book is From Left to Right.

Follow him on Twitter @DialogueLuta

Website: Dialogue with Diversity


  • First of all "Somaliland" is not a country and will never be as it is a one clan led operation which will never succeed. Lastly, South Yemen should forget about the dream of forming its own country as that will never happen, you can't just take a chunk of a country and think you can run away with it.

    • Thank you for your comment.
      But, as mentioned in the article, May 18 to marks Somaliland's declaration of independence from the rest of Somalia, in a unilateral proclamation. So it IS already a country. Secondly, what you called a "chunk of a country" was until 20 years ago a sovereign member of the UN, with its own flag and government! There are definite advantages to keeping the greater Yemen intact as one country, but it has to be under a system of equality and the rule of law for all citizens. Otherwise separation is inevitable, sooner of later – that's all I am saying.

  • Good article and nice approach. I just wish the south Yemenis still believe that no one is above the law. Unfortunately there have been massive changes in south Yemen and a lot of the old beliefs have been replaced with new ones that no longer serve the overall benefit of the once existing Southern Yemen. Tribesmen and "nouvaux" Sheikhs have appeared and everyone wants a piece of the cake while poor
    'Aden" is caught in the middle of the whole mess.

  • That is indeed sad to hear, Lana. But I know that there are many thousands there, who my be aging now, but who still believe in that old and tried system of freedom and the rule of law. While people die off, ideas and principles tend to be a lot more resilient. Let us have hope.

  • First and foremost things to parents related to their children is to provide them with the best education and knowledge so that they could able present themselves in a society in a better way. As education is the only think that help human beings to groom their personality.