Somaliland Update

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Britain warns of “specific threat” to Westerners in Somaliland and urges its citizens to leave. This is sad; I found Somalilanders to be most welcoming and especially appreciative of the interest and attention of Western visitors. Likewise, during 2007-08, Hargeisa just felt safer than Nairobi, or Addis or Khartoum for that matter.

Former Ambassador David Shinn recently gave an interview with the Somaliland Sun that will be reassuring to Somalilanders wondering about the impact on them of the U.S. decision this month to give formal recognition to the new Somali government:

While I don’t speak for the U.S. government, I doubt that the formal recognition of the new Somali government will have any significant impact on Washington’s interaction with Somaliland. I believe the U.S. government will continue to work with Somaliland as it has in recent years. While there may not be public references to the two track policy, the separate administration in Somaliland remains a reality and I believe Washington will treat it as such. It is up to the leaders of Somalia and Somaliland to determine the nature of their relationship. I see no indication that the United States has abandoned any commitments reached in last year’s London conference. Nor do I expect this development will change in any perceptible way U.S. policy on combatting piracy in the region.

See David Shinn’s blog here.

Red Sea

U.S./Somaliland relationship continues to mature as U.S. leads donor delegation on preparation for municipal elections

The key focus in current Somaliland politics is the municipal elections set to be held soon.  The National Election Commission reports being close to readiness, having (with some significant dispute) determined six additional parties to compete with the established three national parties, Kulmiye, UDUB and UCID.  Somaliland’s first local elections since modern independence was declared in 1991 were held in December 2002.  The next election was originally scheduled for December 2007, when I was there, to be followed by the April 2008 presidential election coinciding with the scheduled end of President Riyale’s term.  The Presidential election was delayed until ultimately held successfully on June 28, 2010–and now the local elections are to follow.

The top deputy for Somalia/Somaliland at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi has led a six-member donor group to Somaliland to assess preparations for the elections and opportunities for donor support.

President Silanyo told the visiting delegation his government has already allocated funds for the upcoming electoral process and all preparations have been finalized, he reminded them the need for the international community to support this country in pertinent issues as security and bilateral ones.

Mr. Douglas Meurs said, the United States continues to engage with the administration in Somaliland on a range of issues, most directly Somaliland’s continued progress towards democratization and economic development.

In Feb 2007, the United States provided a total of $1 million through the International Republican Institute to support training for parliamentarians and other key programs in preparations for the upcoming municipal and presidential elections in Somaliland.

The United States will continue to engage with Somaliland, in order to support the return of lasting peace and stability in the Horn of Africa.

by Goth Mohamed Goth
somalilandpress.com

This is encouraging progress in several respects. For my first months as IRI East Africa director, we had to keep our contact with Somaliland on life support as best we could at “no cost”, hoping for renewed funding to come through from the U.S.  When funds were available, we were able to re-start programming supported by travel from Nairobi, then open an office in Hargeisa.  At that time, U.S. Government employees and direct contractors were generally not allowed to travel to Somaliland–even prominent U.S. professors who were contracted to assess our programming in the spring of 2008 were left to work from Nairobi without being allowed to go to Hargeisa. We participated in donor meetings which happened only in Nairobi.  Having senior U.S. officials lead donor groups and interact with the Somaliland stakeholders directly in the county is one more sign of de facto “normalcy” in the interactions.

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With now-President Silanyo (at right) and Kulmiye Party group at party headquarters (I’m second from the right.)

Somalia Policy Update

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.

In the meantime, Burundi is sending 1000 more troops to the AMISOM mission.

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).

“Linkage”–remembering how we got here, from “rules of the game” with the Russians and the “Carter Doctrine” to Al-Queda in East Africa and the Embassy Bombings

A mixed verdict today in the Ghailani trial from the 1998 al-Qaeda bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania led me to pull of the shelf Zbigniew Brzezinski’s Power and Principle: Memoirs of the National Security Adviser 1977-1981. These were my high school years and I wrote a paper contrasting the views in Brzezinski’s book and Jimmy Carter’s memoir Keeping Faith as an undergrad. Kenya was handed off from Kenyatta to Moi during this time. My children are roughly the age I was then.

So what did Brzezinski have to say, writing in 1983, about U.S. policy in Kenya and Somalia and the Horn of Africa generally? For him it was all about strategic confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, globally and in regard to the Middle East, most importantly Saudi Arabia. “Linkage” was between the Ethiopia-Somalia conflict and the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty negotiations.

The more immediate source of friction between Vance and me was the Soviet-sponsored deployment of the Cuban military in the African Horn. In the summer of 1977, the long-standing territorial disputes in the Horn of Africa were complicated by the dramatic switch in allegiances of the Ethiopians and Somalis. The increasingly extreme leftist government of Ethiopia broke with the West, while the Somalis, who had been aided by Moscow, turned to the United States. The unsettled situation was of serious concern to Egypt, the Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and us, because we all had evidence that the Soviets were providing increased aid and using Cuban forces in the already tense border war. Of course, our ability to assist the Somalis was not helped by the fact that they were the nominal aggressors in the Ogaden, having crossed over an established border into territory they claimed belonged to them.
However, in my view the situation between the Ethiopians and the Somalis was more than a border conflict. Coupled with the expansion of Soviet influence and military presence to South Yemen, it posed a potentially grave threat to our position in the Middle East, notably in the Arabian peninsula. It represented a serious setback in our attempts to develop with the Soviets some rules of the game in dealing with turbulence in the Third World. The Soviets had earlier succeeded in sustaining, through the Cubans, their preferred solution in Angola, and they now seemed embarked on a repetition in a region in close proximity to our most sensitive interests.
I was strengthened in my view by the repeated, like-minded expressions of concern by both Giscard and Sadat, leaders with a refined strategic perspective. Both warned Carter on several occasions not to be passive or to underestimate the gravity of an entrenched Soviet military presence so close to weak, vulnerable, yet vitally needed Saudi Arabia. Sadat let it be known that he was afraid the Soviets were seeking to embarrass him specifically by seizing control of territory crucial to Egyptian interests. We had a report from the Shah, who had traveled to Aswan and to Riyadh, that both the Egyptians and the Saudis were increasingly concerned by the increased Soviet activity. In fact, the Shah reported that the Saudis were “petrified” by the prospect of a Soviet presence across the Red Sea. The Sudanese had also expressed to Carter their worries about Soviet activity and U.S. lack of activity. In a personal message the Sudanese President wrote: “We believe that the Soviet Union is pursuing a sinister grand strategy in Africa leading to some definite goals. We are truly alarmed . . .
Yet in spite of such expressions of concern, throughout the late fall of 1977 and much of 1978 I was very much alone in the U.S. government in advocating a stronger response: Vance insisted that this issue was purely a local one, while Brown [Sec. of Defense] was skeptical of the feasibility of any U.S. countermoves. But by the late summer of 1977, intelligence sources provided mounting evidence of growing Soviet-sponsored involvement. As a result, I promoted . . . a recommendation to the President, which he approved, to accelerate our efforts to provide support to the Sudan, to take steps to accelerate our efforts to reassure and strengthen Kenya, and to explore means of getting as many African leaders as possible to react adversely to the Soviet-sponsored Cuban military presence.
. . . . Continue reading

Somaliland and Puntland Announce Breakthrough on Security Cooperation; In the meantime, where is the U.S. driving in the region?

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.

Increased engagement

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.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons magnify.gif
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?

Tough Neighborhood

As the Referendum campaigns have by Kenyan election rules ended today, it’s a good time for a bit of catching up on the challenges in the region.

With elections coming up on August 9 in Rwanda, Mike Plantz has a new piece from Chatham House “Rwandan Election: Doubts About the Poster Boy”

For similar conclusions on Somalia and Somaliland from different sources, try “Somalia’s Rough Road to Peace” from Abena Ampofoa Asare in Pambazuka and “Ballots and Bullets: The Tale of Two Somalia’s” from J. Peter Pham, published everywhere but here is the Somaliland Press version. I had also missed Bronwyn Bruton’s op-ed in the NY Times (HT to the Sahel Blog).

On Uganda, with elections upcoming early next year, the U.S. lobbyists representing Museveni, the Whitaker Group (the group that picked up Jendayi Frazer when she left the State Department) has moved out of “public sector” work and is wrapping up their contract, seeing more opportunities on the non-public side.

CPJ: “Somaliland elections and coverage surprisingly . . . normal”

The blog of the Committee to Protect Journalists gives an assessment of the state of media coverage of the Somaliland elections.

I thought this was particularly interesting:

In comparison to greater Somalia, however, where insurgents banned viewing the World Cup and a near-powerless government continues to arrest journalists for negative coverage, Somaliland’s media scene appears robust. Journalists were allowed to move freely throughout the polling stations without hindrance, Associated Press reporter Mohamed Olad told CPJ.

The public and local press feared violence after two former ruling party officials alleged there had been vote rigging in favor of the opposition in five precincts, Abdi told CPJ. “But I was pleasantly surprised when I visited the offices of Radio Hargeisa,” Abdi said. “I found Radio Hargeisa staff actually complaining that the allegations were false and could lead to post-election violence.” Even Riyale supporters objected to the allegations and the two officials were arrested, Abdi added.

How has Somaliland kept the elections and its media coverage relatively peaceful? “They have learned from example—the bad example of their neighbors,” said Olad, who often reports in the war-torn Somali capital, Mogadishu. Somaliland has become a haven for exiled Mogadishu journalists fleeing the fighting in Somalia, where 33 journalists have been killed for their work since 1993.

Somaliland journalists told me they now hope government and media relations will improve under Silyano. Whereas Riyale was a former intelligence official and wary of the press, Mohamed said, Silyano was more open with the press as an opposition party leader. “But let’s wait and see,” a cautious Amin told me, as opposition leaders often change their spots once they attain power. A once-popular Senegalese opposition leader, Abdoulaye Wade, had promised upon his 2000 presidential election to decriminalize libel laws against the press. A disgruntled local Senegalese press, who had strongly supported his 2000 candidacy, is still waiting.

Congratulations to Silanyo, Kulmiye Party on Somaliland election win (Update)

The AP story via the Houston Chronicle.

With Silanyo and Kulmiye leaders in his office

Visiting Silanyo and Kulmiye leaders

Coverage and Silanyo interview with BBC World Service.

Congratulations are also in order to UDUB in particular and to UCID for honoring the process, to the National Election Commission and to the voters for their patience.

Perhaps outgoing President Riyale will be a candidate for next years Mo Ibrahim prize?

Vote Count News from Somaliland

The party of President Riyale Kahin, UDUB, has called for a delay in announcing election results due to “huge irregularities“. Since then, a new AFP report this morning carries a statement from the President that he will step down if he loses the vote.

Thus much weight rests on the shoulders of the National Election Commission to maintain credibility and independence. It has been a long, hard and contentious process over a period of years to get to this point in terms of the composition of the NEC and the creation of a voter registration system from scratch in a “new” and unrecognized country with uncertain borders and much of its population nomadic.

We know from Kenya that a peaceful transition of power requires not only a willingness to step down by a leader who loses the vote, but also either a willingness by the leader to lose the vote in the first place or an independent election commission. In Kenya neither of the latter two conditions were met at the end of the day.

The President’s elective term in office ended as I was ending my term of service with IRI and we were opening our new office in Hargeisa. The serial delays and extensions have extended the time in office and it may be that we will now see a lot more about whether this truly reflected the best efforts to get the process right or as some critics suggested were more motivated by a wish to stay without a new decision by voters. It is encouraging that the President has made this new personal statement, which is certainly something that did not happen in Kenya during the vote counting. Although it has been awhile now since I have been there personally, I did feel that my colleagues and I had cordial working relationships with the leadership of all three parties and I would be personally optimistic about the sincerity of my friends in UDUB in making wise choices in a difficult time, serving the interests of the country as first priority–something we are all called to do to have a democracy.