Somaliland and Puntland are continuing to deploy more troops in the disputed border regions of Sool and Sanaag. A peaceful, mutually accepted resolution of these disputes with the support of the local population would be a gamechange for the region which has seen these conflicts and tensions periodically escalate for years.
[Update: Polls have now closed. Here is a VOA story with interview with Dr. Steve Kibble of Progressio.]
Voters in Somaliland will chose local officials around the country, and the results will determine the three officially recognized political parties for the next ten years under the Somaliland Constitution. Kulmiye, UDUB and UCID have been the three parties, and will face competition from recognized “political associations”. The three parties will then compete in the future parliamentary and presidential elections.
Here is the link to the “From the Ground” blog from Progressio, which is leading the international monitoring. Also follow the hashtag #SomalilandElection.
Here in the capital voting started around 7 a.m. in most of the 404 polling stations including Ga’an Libah, where President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo cast his vote. He was joined by first lady Amina Sheikh Mohamed Jirde and members of his cabinet including minister of presidency, interior, minister of finance and members of the ruling Kulmiye Party.
The president expressed a sense of opportunism and congratulated the people of Somaliland for their commitment to democracy and stability.
He urged everyone to vote peacefully and respect the electoral officials, volunteers, observers and the outcome of the result.
An international observation team of 56 from 15 countries is on the ground monitoring the elections. They see this as a crucial step in the democratization of the whole Horn of Africa region. Two teams from Puntland and Mogadishu are also there to observe and discover their neighbour’s voting system.
The polls close 6 p.m. and results might not be known until the weekend. . . .
Fighting was reported with militias in the town of Hudan in Sool, in the uncertain eastern border region with Puntland.
Here are excerpts from “Q&A: Somalia Expert Ken Menkhaus on the Famine”, at the “Enough Said” blog (h/t to AidNews)
How are independently governed areas like Somaliland and Puntland faring? I understand the crisis hasn’t been as severe in those areas, but it’s interesting to consider how governance factors in to either prevention or response to the famine.
MENKHAUS: Actually, the drought has been quite severe in the north of Somalia as well, but what is interesting is that the north is generally much more arid than the south. The south has rivers and generally has better rainfall. But the north, despite being more arid and being affected by the drought, has not seen famine. The reason for that is pretty straightforward: There is a social peace, [managed by clan elders]. There is governance. The Somaliland government has been able to maintain a reasonable level of security and stability that has allows for the flow of commercial food, and as the drought hit, for the flow of international assistance. As a result, they have been hosting more and more displaced people from the south.
There have been conflicting reports on whether the militant group al-Shabaab would let aid groups into the most gravely affected parts of Somalia or not. But you’re in touch with people in the region all the time – local sources, aid groups, governmental entities. How has the group’s presence impacted the response?
MENKHAUS: We’re pretty sure that Shabaab is splintering now. The famine has been a source of tension within the organization, and the hope is that we’ll see some breakaway wings again that would say, ‘our people are starving, and we welcome aid.’ It would be very risky for those splinter groups, but desperate times call for desperate measures. That could open some space for aid groups to come in. That’s the last best-case scenario we’ve got left, because right now we have people flooding the Kenyan border, and that creates a massive, long-term refugee crisis that will haunt us.
It’s important to flag the breaking news that Shabaab has pulled out of Mogadishu. We’re still trying to make sense of that – Is it a tactical measure? Do they want to launch more hit-and-run attacks instead? There are a lot of possible explanations, but it could be that the social pressure now is so great that clans are rebelling, that the group is fragmenting and actually being pushed out by local Somali communities. That would be a major break for the famine response. Regardless, Shabaab’s in trouble. [The famine] is just disastrous for this group – by blocking food aid, blocking people from getting out, they have just shredded what little credibility they had left with Somalis and jihadist around the world.
What lessons should the international community take away from this present humanitarian crisis? How should the U.S. government revamp its approach to Somalia or to the Horn more broadly to help prevent crises from continuing to occur in regular intervals?
MENKHAUS: This crisis is a potential opening, both for humanitarian response and for new policy directions on Somalia. The scale of this crisis has forced people to do a fundamental rethink of all of our policies and assumptions. . . .But the broader question is what do we do about governance in this country. Shabaab may be crumbling, but the TFG remains irrelevant and is just a source of massive corruption. I think what we’re going to see over the next year is a rethink about continuing to support the TFG versus finding alternatives. But it’s difficult to get people to think about alternatives when we’ve got such immediate problems.
An Ethiopian embassy official in Somaliland Mr. Berhia Tesfie, said that leaders of the two
regions have reached a preliminary agreement to discuss the border problem in order to forge
peace between the authorities which were at loggerheads following disagreement over Sool,
Sanaag and Ceyn regions.
“The Ethiopian government is working to mediate the difference between Somaliland and
Puntland . We have advised leaders of the two authorities to embrace peace between their
. . . .
The center of the conflict is the Sool region in the central north of Somalia. On Monday, 1
October 2007, Puntland and Somaliland armed forces fought near Laasaanood, the capital of
Sool region. Fighting worsened again two weeks later, on 15 October. Since then, Laasaanood
has remained in the hands of the Somaliland forces.
The heightened border security divided a community already fractured by a number of internal
conflicts, clan rivalries.
At The Sahel Blog, Alex Thurston discusses Assistant Secretary Carson’s recent comments on Somalia in an interview with allAfrica.com. In summary:
Stepping back, Washington is clearly happy to see AMISOM make headway against al Shabab, but it seems that Washington’s disappointment with the TFG outweighs that happiness. The parliament’s reach for more time alienated the US, and it appears that going forward Washington will decentralize its political contacts in Somalia even more. What that says for the TFG’s future I can’t say, but August is not far off, and from the TFG’s standpoint it’s a bad time to have run afoul of Washington.
I’ve added a link to a good site from the “Movement for an Independent Somaliland” to the Organization roll at right. As Washington’s “two track” policy seems to be becoming more established and bearing at least some fruit, perhaps the next evolution is a “three track” policy that moves closer to “the facts of the ground” in acknowledging Somaliland’s functional independence. At some point, it seems to me there needs to be some type of grand bargain among Somaliland and Puntland and the local groups to establish a relatively understood and stable border between Somaliland and Puntland.
For an interesting look at a policy challenge in Somaliland, an article from IRIN discusses a recent run-up in the price of charcoal, which is the dominant fuel source for urban residents (and of course helps drive deforestation which impacts the rest of the population which is primarily pastoralist).
The United States says it is planning to boost ties with Somalia’s two autonomous regions – Somaliland and Puntland – in an effort to restore stability in the south and to curb the spread of Islamic extremism. Some analysts say the move, however, may end up increasing violence and instability in Puntland.
In late July, Puntland government forces began fighting with militants loyal to an Islamist factional leader based in the remote and mountainous Sanaag and western Bari regions of northern Somalia.
Puntland President Abdirahman Mohamed Farole said the assault was a counter-terrorism operation, targeting the terrorist leader of the Puntland cell of al-Qaida, Mohamed Siad Atom. The Puntland government has linked Atom to numerous kidnappings, bombings, and assassinations in the region since 2008.
. . . .
But the leaders of the Warsangeli, a sub-clan of the larger Somali Darod tribe, say the conflict in the north is not about entirely about terrorism. They say it also is about long-held political and economic grievances the Warsangeli have had against the Puntland government since the region declared autonomy in 1998.
. . .
The leadership of the Puntland government is dominated by members of the Majeerten sub-clan of the Darod, and there has long been a simmering power struggle between the two sub-clans for control of Puntland’s lucrative commercial hub, Bosasso.
In the meantime, Jeffrey Gettleman writes that “The Pirates Are Winning!” in the New York Review of Books”:
There’s very little hope, in the near future, of the transitional government in Mogadishu becoming strong enough to wipe out the pirates’ bases. The government is simply trying to stay alive. The hard-line Islamist insurgents who control much of Somalia have flirted with dismantling the piracy business, but the money is too good. One group, Hizbul Islam, recently moved into Xarardheere and now gets $40,000 from each ransom. The more powerful insurgent group al-Shabab made a deal with the pirates in which they will not interfere with the pirates’ business in exchange for 5 percent of the ransoms. This seems to be the beginning of the West’s worst Somali nightmare. The country’s two top exports—piracy and Islamist radicalism—are at last joining hands.
Yesterday, however, the BBC reported that a Puntland court in Bossaso had sentenced a pirate leader to death for murder of a ship captain following a raid by Puntland soldiers.
A major announcement from Somaliland today, as reported by IRIN:
HARGEISA, 28 September 2010 (IRIN) – Somaliland and Puntland, once-warring territories in northern Somalia, have unprecedentedly agreed in principle to work together to tackle common security threats.
Troops from both entities have clashed over disputed borderlands in the past. They also differ over the issue of sovereignty: Somaliland unilaterally declared independence in 1991, and Puntland, while asserting a degree of autonomy, recognizes Mogadishu as its own, and Somaliland’s, capital.
"You can’t choose your neighbours, whether it is a region or state; for this reason, from now on, we are going to work with the Puntland state of Somalia, in terms of security of the [Horn of Africa] region,” Somaliland’s Interior Minister, Mohamed Abdi Gabose, said on 26 September in the Somaliland capital, Hargeisa.
"Of course this does not mean we unite with Puntland or the other conflicted areas. We will discuss the [security] issues later," he said.
“From now on, we [Somaliland] want to work together on security matters because it seems there are anti-peace groups who want to threaten our peace,” he said.
The rapprochement follows renewed clashes in July in Galgala, an area on the Puntland side of the border, between Puntland’s security forces and troops loyal to Sheikh Mohamed Said Atom, a leader of an insurgency accused of having links to Al-Shabab, the main Islamist group fighting Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Atom and Al-Shabab have both denied such links exist.
"Of course the [Somaliland] government has its worries when it comes to the Galgala war because if these groups win or fail, either way it is not good for Somaliland because if they win they may try to enlarge their presence deeper in Somaliland," said Gabose.
Hargeisa is faced with another security concern – an armed group claiming to be fighting to liberate – and which is named after – the Somaliland border regions Sool, Sanag and Cayn. The group rejects the legitimacy of Somaliland’s government and sovereignty and says it has set up its own administration.
Puntland Information Minister Abdihakim Ahmed Guled said of Gabose’s statements: “We welcome the openness of the new government in Somaliland and its aim to solve the problems in peace and negotiations.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Puntland and Somaliland have agreed to work together to tackle common security threats
“On our side, we are happy to hear that the Somaliland government is ready to work with us on security matters because at this time, there are new groups in the region who are killing Muslim people in mosques. These groups have in the past carried out suicide attacks in Hargeisa as well as in Puntland’s port of Bosasso."
Meanwhile, there have been international moves to increase engagement with both Somaliland and Puntland, most notably by the United States, which plans to send more diplomats and aid workers there.
“We think that both of these parts of Somalia have been zones of relative political and civil stability, and we think they will, in fact, be a bulwark against extremism and radicalism that might emerge from the south,” Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnny Carson said on 24 September.
The US has stressed, however, that this initiative does not mark the beginning of a process to recognize Somaliland’s independence.
Commenting on the US move, Sally Healy, an associate fellow of the Africa Programme at Chatham House, told IRIN: “Both territories are quite effectively administered by authorities that are hostile to Al-Shabab and the spread of extremism in Somalia. Their strategic position is important in terms of the security threats emanating from the Gulf of Aden.
“They have important and influential diaspora communities in the west. So it makes a lot of sense for the US to do business with them instead of putting all their eggs in the TFG basket, which remains extremely fragile.”
An op/ed piece from Puntland’s Garowe Online describes the new U.S. policy of "agressive engagement" with Somaliland and Puntland as a "U Turn" by the United States. The statement by Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson on Friday does indicate some real change in direction, but it remains a bit unclear what we are driving towards.
Some points: First, Carson’s comments on its face treats Somaliland and Puntland in parallel and equivalently. Second, Carson stated clearly that the U.S. was not moving toward recognition and seems to echo previous policy in that regard. Third, the new policy seems, then, to be entirely dependent on the "informal" status identified by Carson for initiatives to support the capacity of local authorities in "development" catagories. Fourth, changes in policy in regard to Southern Somalia are not yet clear. Fifth, this will continue to be run primarily out of Nairobi.
This is the long slow turn of sorts that I have seen transpire on Somaliland from my vantage point: When I started as Director for the East Africa office for the International Republican Institute in Nairobi in mid-2007, our status in regard to a Somaliland program was up in the air. We had previously operated a Somaliland program from Nairobi and had made a major monitoring effort for the 2005 parliamentary elections. Funding for the program had expired in 2006 and we had been given a "no cost extension" through the end of 2006. After that time, we were doing our best to maintain contacts and stay close to the situation, but had no money for travel, overhead or anything else. Regional officers in State’s Africa Bureau in Washington indicated that new funding from USAID should be forthcoming, but nothing happened until the very end of the fiscal year in September 2007. When we finally received a Request for Proposal for a funding agreement, the annual funding amount was suddenly more than tripled to $1M annually for three years and we were to open an office in Hargeisa which we had not expected. At that time, local and presidential elections in Somaliland were schedule for the spring of 2008, with the president’s term ending in April.
Nonetheless, at that time, State Department and USAID employees and direct contractors were barred from travel to Somaliland. In the spring of 2008 we had an evaluation visit from regional experts who were contracted by USAID and we were not able to secure permission for them to visit Hargeisa. During this time frame Jendayi Frazer made an initial visit to Hargeisa from an African Union meeting in Addis Ababa. This got a lot of attention in Somaliland and seems to have been a bit of a breakthrough in terms of educating American officials about the level of stability there (the degree of security was the subject of a certain amount of amusement by Somalilanders, although the bombing of the presidential office and Ethiopian facilities in late 2008 changed the environment somewhat).
At this point, Somaliland has come through a long and difficult process of voter registration, its first ever, and its second successful presidential election, with a peaceful transfer of power. IRI has been up and running in Hargeisa for two and a half years. The UNDP and a variety of NGOs have continued to work "on the ground". Foreign investment is increasing and awareness is growing of economic opportunities.
I certainly welcome the new realism reflected in Carson’s statement, and I do think that there will be opportunities for the U.S. to do more to help–and the government in Somaliland and the authorities in Puntland have welcomed it as well. At the same time, I wonder how far ahead we are looking and what we see in future years if we are discouraging hopes for eventual recognition for Somaliland (and do we mean to send that message?) There seems to be a broadly shared consensus that the policy of supporting the Ethiopian invasion in December 2006 displacing the UIC in Southern Somalia was short-sighted and has ultimately proven to be a fiasco leading to worse conditions now and worse options going forward. Is there some vision of a federated Somalia including Somaliland someday? If not, do we seriously think that the AU will someday move forward on recognition for Somaliland without U.S. leadership on the issue? Is there something more or different that Somaliland could do on its own to persuade us to move toward recognition in coming years?
Kevin J. Kelly’s piece in this week’s East African, “US urged to cut lifeline to struggling TFG”, comes as the Progressio international team and IRI’s observers have made positive statements on the status of the voting in Somaliland Saturday.
It seems that at least some people in Washington are taking stock of the gravity of what Jeffrey Gettleman reported on in the Times on the TFG’s use of child soldiers. Perhaps the “now what?” is a different approach.
To me, an orderly election in Somaliland in which the violence was limited to confrontation with militia supporting Puntland in the disputed region should not come as a surprise–this reflects society in Somaliland. This should be appreciated and “recognized” by the rest of the world. Nonetheless, let us see the electoral process to a conclusion before we offer our own conclusions.