Somaliland has been a self-governing nation for 23 years, but lacks international recognition as a state. Somaliland’s neighbours should recognise the nation to ensure security and stability in the region
For many years, the Horn of Africa has been characterized by wars, anarchy, terrorism, piracy and instability. Amid the chaos and uncertainty in the region, Somaliland managed to maintain cordial relations with its neighbouring countries. Somaliland has always accomplished its affairs in accordance with the interest of the region. Additionally, Somaliland has carefully avoided any action or utterances that may negatively affect the stability of the region as well as its relations with the countries in the region. Yet, Somaliland’s neighbouring states have dithered to grant Somaliland it’s well deserved recognition. Since Somaliland’s immediate neighbours are not willing to facilitate the long-awaited recognition of Somaliland and are not expanding their diplomatic relationships with Somaliland, they have made it easy for policymakers in the West to defer the issue of recognition and maintain the status quo of the diplomatic limbo-status of the country.
Notwithstanding these double standards of the regional states, this paper argues that the current situation offers a window of opportunity to re-assess Somaliland’s diplomatic relations with these countries. This essay seeks to identify the ways in whichSomaliland can improve its relations with neighbouring states and also suggests that Somaliland needs to balance its relationship with these states.
SOMALILAND’S RELATIONSHIP WITH ETHIOPIA
Ethiopia has the second largest population in Africa with around 90 million citizens. The ninth largest country in the continent, covering over 1 million square kilometers, is the only state in the region without a coastline and port. Ethiopia has maintained close relation with Somaliland since its re-emergence in 1991. During the liberation struggle against the Siyad Barre dictatorship, Ethiopia was the base of guerilla movement Somali National Movement (SNM), from which the military campaign against the regime was launched. In addition, Ethiopia was the principal haven to which Somaliland's civilian refugees fled during the period 1988 - 1991. In 2000, a Somaliland delegation led by the second president of the Republic Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal visited Addis Ababa and signed agreements aimed at enhancing trade and communications. Ethiopia was the first country that established diplomatic relations with Somaliland’s capital Hargeisa by opening a consulate which issues visas to Somaliland passport holders, while Somaliland also maintains a diplomatic office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In addition, Ethiopia Airlines flies to Somaliland several times per week. Nevertheless, even though Ethiopia is considered as being directly supportive of Somaliland’s independence claims, there are no signs that Ethiopia is ready to recognize Somaliland as Ethiopia has stated several times that it would be the second country to recognize Somaliland. Ethiopia’s disinclination to be the first country to recognize Somaliland is due to a number of factors:
• Given the historical animosity between Ethiopia and the Somali republic, the subsequent disintegration of the former Somali republic and its support to SNM, the Ethiopian government is not willing to be accused of dismembering Somalia further by recognizing Somaliland.
• The absence of vibrant diplomatic pressure and drastic political bargaining from Somaliland has resulted in the seemingly lack of Ethiopia’s political willingness and enthusiasm in recognizing Somaliland as a de jure state.
Many observers argue that both Somaliland and Ethiopia have been half-hearted in developing an effective relationship with regard to trade and investment. Specifically, Hargeisa was not able to table a convincing trade development program that would influence Ethiopia to invest in Somaliland. Many political insiders contend that the successive Somaliland governments have not invested much time and effort in promoting and developing the Berbera Corridor as a major route for Ethiopia’s imports and exports and it remains grossly under-utilized compared to its potential. In addition, Ethiopia had succeeded in bringing hydro-electric power to towns near the Ethiopian-Somaliland border, but the current government in Hargeisa has not taken advantage of this opportunity to extend this into Somaliland.
Nevertheless, it is our firm belief that Ethiopians also need to rethink their political and diplomatic strategy towards Somaliland. Firstly, Ethiopia’s interest lies in ensuring a peaceful and independent Somaliland with a fully-functioning and responsible state. Secondly, security remains one of the most challenging issues in the contemporary setting and particularly in this highly volatile region. Moreover, Ethiopia shares with Somaliland a long border extending over hundreds of kilometres—that remains secure thanks to the Somaliland government and its people. In this regard, Ethiopia should reconsider Somaliland’s quest for recognition as a critical and strategic agenda for its security.
With new leadership in both countries, there is a window of opportunity to develop a closer and more fruitful relationship, particularly with respect to trade and investment. Interestingly, the foreign policy of Somaliland seems to be improving as it is currently led by a minister with pragmatic capacity, while Ethiopia has a new prime minister as well as a new and energetic foreign minister.
SOMALILAND’S RELATIONS WITH DJIBOUTI
The relationship between Somaliland and Djibouti has never been successful due to Djibouti’s proverbial antagonistic policy towards Somaliland. Djiboutians had received widespread and sustained support from the people of Somaliland during their struggle for Independence in the 1970s. However, when the Siyad Barre’s regime initiated its policy of internal war against the people of Somaliland during the late 1980s, which lead to the massacre of civilians in Hargeisa and other cities in 1988, the Djibouti government was not receptive to the flood of refugees that poured out of the country seeking shelter and safe haven. Therefore most of the refugees sought asylum in Ethiopia rather than Djibouti.
Djibouti is an important neighbour to Somaliland for several reasons. Firstly, Djiboutians and Somalilanders have common ancestral lineage and geographical tenancy since the people of Somaliland live both in Djibouti and Somaliland. Secondly, most recently, Djiboutian businessmen, especially from the circles of the ruling family, have hugely invested in Somaliland with large scale business projects.
Since the re-emergence of Somaliland in early 1991, relations with Djibouti have been unstable. There have been a number of military confrontations between SNM fighters based at the border and the Djibouti military. The late President Egal tried to establish better relations with Djibouti and he initiated several measures in this regard, e.g. during a visit by Egal to Djibouti in January 1994 President Abtidon requested President Egal that he remove Somaliland forces based at the border between the two countries. President Egal complied and ordered the removal of the Somaliland forces at the border.
Formal diplomatic relations between Somaliland and Djibouti started early in 1999, when President Egal nominated Ambassador Omer Dheere to officially open Somaliland’s diplomatic office in Djibouti, however, Djibouti has not opened any diplomatic office in Hargeisa. This low-key diplomatic relationship deteriorated in early 2000, when Djibouti was hosting the Somali Peace Conference in Arta, which the Somaliland government boycotted. The proposal of the Arta Conference was initiated by President Egal, who visited his counterpart President Ismeal Omar Gelleh in Djibouti and proposed in detail a peace plan for Somalia that envisaged a reconciliation conference for the warring factions hosted by Djibouti – the only Somali-populated country that enjoyed international recognition. Egal believed that Djibouti could play a significant role in reconciling the warring factions in Somalia by using its positions at the UN, AU and Arab League to secure the diplomatic, economic and political support of the international community. Unfortunately, Gueleh betrayed Egal and invited Somaliland to the Conference as one of the warring factions of Somalia in direct contravention of their private agreement that Somaliland would not participate at the conferences.
The Djibouti government has been deeply engaged in the politics of Somalia and has hosted a number of peace conferences, notably Arta at which a puppet government was established. More recently, Guelleh was the architect of Sheikh Sharif’s transitional government, which was established in Djibouti. However, Djibouti’s peace efforts have all proven ill-advised and counterproductive. During this period, i.e. 2000 until the present, Djibouti’s political position on Somaliland’s recognition has been ambivalent at best and hostile at worst. Djibouti has not supported Somaliland’s quest for recognition at any international forum, e.g. IGAD, AU, Arab League, while by contrast, Somaliland has cooperated with Djibouti in securing the Djibouti-Somaliland border for some 23 years.
Presently, Somaliland maintains a diplomatic office in Djibouti confined to minor activities such as welcoming Somaliland delegates to Djibouti. Many political observers argue that Djibouti is very much engaged in thwarting Somaliland’s political maneuvers. For that reason, it is necessary that Somaliland re-assess its diplomatic relations with Djibouti.
SOMALILAND’S RELATIONS WITH SOMALIA
The people of Somaliland and Somalia share many things which are very unique; they share language, culture, religion and ethnicity. The Somali people who live in these two states also reside in other countries from the Horn of Africa such as Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya. Somaliland was the first Somali state that got independence on 26 June 1960. Somaliland and former Italian trust territory united on 1 July 1960 and became the Somali Republic. It is important to remember that Somaliland willingly and voluntarily surrendered its sovereignty in 1960 without preconditions in the cause of Greater Somalia. The main dream of that union was to bring all Somali speaking people into one state. Unfortunately, that dream never materialized. On the contrary, the union of two Somali territories was unable to establish peace and justice between them. The former Italian trust territory (South Somalia) had dominated the politics of the new republic and marginalized the people of the former British Protectorate.
The inequity started from the beginning; the president, the prime minister, key ministers, Head of Military, Police and other key posts went to Southern politicians. The only civilian government, which had a premier from the former British Protectorate Somaliland, had been overthrown on 1 October 1969 by the military junta. The Somali National Movement (SNM) - an organization representing northern clans, although comprising mainly the Isaaq membership - emerged in response to General Barre’s policy of atrocities, summary executions, targeted assassinations, arbitrary arrests, expulsions, freezing of commercial activities and mass starvation of millions of nomads whose livestock and water wells were destroyed by the army of dictatorship.
After defeating Barre’s army in 1990, the SNM convened a conference in the town of Burao in 1991 at which all the northern clans/tribes were represented. At this meeting, the representatives of the clans/tribes from the Somaliland British protectorate decided to nullify the unratified Act of Union of 1960 and re-established Somaliland’s sovereignty. Since then relations between Somaliland and Somalia have been uncertain due to the fact that the Somali state collapsed and never recovered from its destruction, while Somaliland had experienced a speedy recovery.
Successive governments of Somaliland have considered relations with Somalia as a critical and sensitive matter. Unlike the incumbent government of President Silanyo, all preceding governments were very sensitive and reluctant to commence official or formal relations with Somalia. The main arguments of the preceding governments of Egal and Rayale were twofold:
• That there was no credible, capable and functioning government with which Somaliland can deal and negotiate on the critical issues interested by the two parties,
• That there was no reason for Somaliland to meddle itself with the divergent warring political functions of Somalia.
However, the incumbent government of Somaliland shifted the longstanding policy of abstaining from any “deal with Somalia” and agreed to start talks with Somalia for the first time in 21 years. The first time that Somaliland and Somalia had “official talks” was July, 2012. These talks came about after the “London Somali Conference”— in which President Ahmed Silanyo participated. This conference had a great impact which drove Somaliland and Somalia to participate in subsequent bilateral meetings that were held in Dubai, UK and Turkey respectively. President Silanyo as the elected Head of State of Somaliland and President Sh. Sharif as the head of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia signed an agreement that was facilitated by the UAE government in Dubai providing for further talks and negotiations between the two entities. Interestingly, President Silanyo argued that these talks with Somalia will pave the way for the long overdue recognition of Somaliland. Those opposing talks with Somalia argue that it is a waste of time as there is no democratically elected and strong government that has the legitimate authority to negotiate and decide upon the critical and key issue of Somaliland’s independence. One of the key factors such opponents cite to challenge the ongoing dialogue between Somaliland and Somalia is that not a single point of these agreements, understandings and principles that have so far been reached has been implemented.
In light of this fact, it is the firm belief of the authors that Somaliland needs to critically re-examine its relations with Somalia and re-think the ongoing dialogue between the two entities.
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The government of Somaliland has to balance its diplomatic relationship with the neighbouring states. Somaliland has to increase its diplomatic efforts in the region—it is of paramount importance that Somaliland brings a pragmatic approach to its diplomatic maneuvering in the region. Somaliland’s quid pro quo for offering bilateral security relations in the region has to be international recognition.
Based upon the foregoing review, we would like to mention the following recommendations as a basis for improving existing Somaliland’s relations with its neighbouring countries in the region:
• Strengthen Somaliland’s diplomatic missions in Ethiopia and Djibouti
• Establish a special desk in Somaliland’s Foreign Ministry for pursuing effective relationships with these neighbouring countries in the region
• Come up with special and critical policy coupled with delivery mechanism on the recently-formed relations with the so-called Somalia government
• In improving its relations with its neighbouring countries, Somaliland should not forget the significance of prioritizing “trade, investment and economic partnership”—which can contribute to Somaliland’s economic growth.
• Capitalizing on the potential of the academia, the so-far formed think-tanks and intellectual groups to ensure a participatory approach of building vibrant relations and obtaining capital which can safeguard Somaliland’s interests.
* Mohamed Abdilahi Duale is a political analyst and an independent researcher currently based in Somaliland.
* Saeed Mohamed Ahmed is a senior social worker and a youth activist based in Somaliland. The article was first published in Somaliland Sun, May 2014.
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR/S AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
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