The pressures that Somaliland faces will only increase in the months and years ahead. The ramifications of the possible dissolution of Ethiopia as a cohesive state will reverberate across the Horn of Africa. Somaliland, like other Horn of Africa nations, will be hard pressed to insulate itself from the fallout from the fragmentation of Africa’s second most populous country. Ethiopia’s civil war is also occurring at a time when developing and developed nations alike face rising energy costs and food inflation, as well as ongoing economic disruptions resulting from responses to COVID-19. Such challenges will test every country in the Horn of Africa and beyond.
More than ever, Somaliland deserves and needs international recognition for the great strides it has made to establish a democratic and durable government. The United States has an opportunity to solidify its relationship with a nation that has a proven record of adhering to the values and forms of governance that it supports. However, the window on this opportunity is likely to close. At some point in the near future, circumstances and necessity will force Somalilanders to choose a side. Aid from China may prove more convincing than empty rhetoric from Washington.
Following the paper “The U.S. Should Recognize Somaliland” by Joshua Meservey, the Heritage Foundation’s lead Africa analyst published in October, it is clear that there is real movement on the conservative side of the Washington foreign policy establishment for some U.S. initiative on the recognition issue, in spite of the reduced public engagement with Somaliland during the Trump Administration when the D.C. right had some real direct power in the various bureaucracies as well as the White House and top levels at State and Defense.
Ethiopia, the U.S. and the EU have brokered surprise talks between the Somalia and Somaliland administrations, which are historically opposed, though progress has stalled while both sides prepare for elections. The parties should cooperate on technical issues, pending a shot at deeper dialogue.
Mahmood and Yusuf review the background leading to talks in June in Djibouti, the mixed immediate results and events since, then offer their assessment of what will and should happen next:
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Especially given the distractions of forthcoming electoral cycles, leaders in both Somaliland and Somalia will find it difficult to resolve their longstanding differences relating to Somaliland’s status in the short term. Some of these differences will continue to be prominently displayed. Indeed, Somaliland has appeared eager to take advantage of the attention created by the talks and present itself internationally as a sovereign state. Since Djibouti, it has hosted high-level delegations fromKenya,EgyptandEthiopia, all of which discussed upgrading the status of their relations with Somaliland, and announced that it would exchange representatives withTaiwan.
Still, the momentum generated by the Djibouti talks need not be squandered. Continuing to seek progress on technical areas of cooperation – for example, encouraging the joint technical subcommittees to keep meeting to hammer out details – while holding off on wider political discussions until the spectre of domestic politics no longer overshadows the dialogue, could be a good way forward, at least pending elections. Also key to success is continued international support, which will be needed to keep this newly emerging phase of dialogue on track. The U.S., EU and Ethiopia should keep up the pressure – potentially in coordination with an expanded range of partners, such as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development regional bloc and the African Union. Following the conclusion of elections, those same actors should be prepared to lean on the parties to re-engage with a deeper exploration of political issues in mind.
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Dialogue with Somaliland Foreign Minister Abdilahi Mohamed Dualeh
Apparently my post from December 7 “Quick thoughts on Mayor Pete’s 2008 Somaliland vacation and related op-ed” has gotten shared on Facebook and otherwise linked by people with both an aggressive left and aggressive right position as to the U.S. presidential election to the point that I thought it was worth coming back to note that my intention is for this blog to be nonpartisan. I am not a member of a political party at present and am not intending to give any advice here about who anyone should vote for in any of the primaries.
One specific thing that people seem to miss is that in 2007-2008 there was regular direct commercial air service between Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Hargeisa, Somaliland. So visiting Hargeisa was not some daunting overland journey or even some exotic series of “puddle jumps”. Again, there was an issue involving permission by the United States Government for United States Government employees and contractors to travel to the country which did not have formal government recognition, even though the United States was funding some aid programs, such as the one I and other International Republican Institute staff managed from our East Africa office in Nairobi and then with a satellite office in Hargeisa opening in the spring of 2008.
Somaliland Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Hargeisa
Buttigieg’s co-author in the New York Times op-ed from their brief visit to Somaliland was working for the World Bank in Addis and thus conveniently located for a quick trip.
Traveling to and from Hargeisa from Nairobi did require us to overnight in Addis where the Meles Zenawi government had staged a major crackdown on political opposition in the context of the contentious 2005 election and kicked out U.S. democracy assistance organizations including IRI and arrested lots of political dissenters. Thus, walking around the streets in Addis was for me, at least, a tenser environment than what I experienced in Hargeisa, although not quite to the level of Khartoum at that general time. (I never visited Somalia as NDI had the programs there and as best I recollect no commercial air flights were then scheduled into Mogadishu which was still impacted by the early years of the present war with al-Shabaab.)
In fact, see this 2010 Foreign Policy piece from Nathaniel Myers, Buttigieg’s co-author on Somaliland: “Ethiopia’s Democratic Sham“.
Somalilandsun -After agreements from two meetings between president Muse Bihi Abdi and Opposition parties Wadani and UCID leaders Abdirahman Irro and Eng. Feisal Ali respectively, the fate of parliamentary and local council elections remains in the dark.
The darkness emanates from the still in office new national elections commission NEC that has been disputed by the opposition parties leading to an agreement that the former NEC commissioners be returned to office thence elections sometimes in 2020 as pursued by the international community with a stake in the Somaliland democratization process.
Following the two meetings between the three principle politicians in the country it was agreed that president Bihi shall uphold the agreements to reinstate the former NEC as per elders mediation that had garnered support from the international community.
But despite all arrangements more the 10 January date in which the president promised to finalize the issue nothing has been done and the status remain the same notwithstanding numerous visits and meets with senior IC diplomats the latest being the UN SRSG to Somaliland and Somalia Amb James Swan.
While the commitment to 10 January was hailed as a conclusive decision failure to implement anything returns the country to the days of political tensions.
A statement released this week from the Minister of Information states that the Government concluded following the agreement among the parties that legal authority was lacking for either the President or Parliament to effect the negotiated agreement and replace the existing membership of the National Election Council. The Government argues the only way to proceed would be to call for voluntary resignations which is reportedly not acceptable to the other parties.
Somaliland has now been functionally independent almost as long as it was part of the independent Republic of Somalia following independence from the UK and joinder with the former Italian Somalia. I agree that once parliamentary elections are finally held it would be wise for the US and the UK to step up a concerted diplomatic effort to facilitate with the UN and AU a durable resolution of Somaliland’s status and relationship with the federal Somali government in Mogadishu and the regional government in Puntland. This will have to include resolution of the Suul and Sonaag borders and at least a mechanism to address mineral rights issues.
The diplomatic task will never be easy with the passions involved but I think the effort is timely now with a balance of progress in the South and the risk of some unexpected disruption to the status quo from waiting too long. The move of the Gulf Cooperation Council to establish a Red Sea security initiative without reference to Somaliland, while others have supported national maritime security efforts by Somaliland is an example highlighting the growing potential for international misunderstandings as the Horn region attracts growing outside interest.
Pete Buttigieg, Democratic candidate for president, is mayor of South Bend, Indiana, in the Great Lakes region. South Bend is known nationally as the home of Notre Dame University. Notre Dame is famous here in the American South as one of the traditional Northern powers in American college football and for a period of years in the last century a rival to the University of Alabama.
In 2008 “Mayor Pete” was back in the United States as a McKinsey Consulting “whiz kid” based from the Chicago office after his Rhodes Scholarship at England’s Oxford University. He had joined the Washington-based Truman National Security Project, but had not yet become an officer in the United States Naval Reserve. In other words, he was taking a normal prep course to run for president. His membership in the Truman Project distinguishes him as a Democrat. [Editorial note 2/2020: I am not a party primary voter and intend the blog to be non-partisan; when I say “a normal prep course” I do mean “normal”, not something conspiratorial such as discussed in a FP piece this week: “No, Pete Buttigieg is not a CIA Asset“]
Where the “Tourists in Somaliland” piece misses the mark is failing to notice that USAID was supporting Somaliland, albeit in a constrained and unusual way. I am particularly aware of this because in the fall of 2007, as the resident director for East Africa based in Nairobi at the International Republican Institute, I was asked by IRI management to extend my unpaid leave from the law department at a major defense contractor, to stay past my scheduled January 2008 return to the States following Kenya’s December 2007 elections because of our new increased work for Somaliland. In particular we were tasked unexpectedly by USAID to open an office in Hargeisa with Somaliland parliamentary elections scheduled for April 2008.
The company generously agreed to give me additional “public service leave” through June 1 so long as I promised to definitely be back at that time. As it turned out the April 2008 parliamentary elections were postponed, and sadly have faced serial postponements since, with the latest being challenged in court now. Somaliland presidential elections have continued successfully, however.
In the picture below I am visiting with the leadership of the Kulmiye Party on behalf of our USAID-funded IRI program in November 2007. Chairman “Silyano” is to the far right and I am next to him. Silanyo served as President of Somaliland from 2010-2017.
As late at least as mid-2008, US Government civilians and direct contractors were not allowed to travel to Somaliland, which is perhaps one of the reasons USAID was keen for us at IRI to ramp up and open an office. Later Buttigieg did work visits to Iraq and Afghanistan under contract to an unidentified US department. As an employee of McKinsey as a US Government contractor Buttigieg would not have been able to go to Somaliland on business under ordinary circumstances to the best of my understanding. As employees of a Government-funded NGO working under a “Cooperative Agreement” with USAID rather than a “Contract” we at IRI were not subject to that restriction.
During our Election Observation Mission for the ill-fated Kenyan December 2007 election, we brought a group of observers from Somaliland under the Somaliland program. This was a successful endeavor for that program although their return was slightly delayed by the violence triggered by the Kenyan election fraud (see my piece “The Debacle of 2007: How an Election Was Stolen and Kenyan Politician Frozen with US Connivance” in The Elephant). Somaliland has continued to have peaceful presidential elections with incumbent parties accepting narrow defeats at the polls twice, including with Silanyo’s accession in 2010.
I am not sure whether Somaliland has been better off or worse off over these intervening years for not being formally recognized while agreeing sentimentally with the desire that the Somalilanders’ achievement of defacto independence be “blessed” legally.
One primary issue is the unsettled territory in the borderlands between Somalia’s Puntland state and Somaliland. See the latest in a new report from the Institute for Strategic Studies: “Overlapping Claims by Somaliland and Puntland: the case of Sool and Sonaag.” One of the key events in the history discussed in that report was the takeover by Somaliland of Las Anod after the defection of Ahmed Abdi Haabsade, former Puntland Defense Minister in November 2007. I was introduced by Foreign Minister Abdilahi Mohamed Dualeh when Haabsade arrived in Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa:
Ahead of the long-overdue elections scheduled for next month in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the State Department announced the nomination of Dr. Peter Pham, Africa Director at the Atlantic Council, to be Trump’s special envoy to the African Great Lakes Region.
Pham has a long background in academics and national security related policy/”think work” on Africa from the Right, which is a fairly limited universe. I became aware of Dr. Pham’s work initially as a “friend of IRI” in relation to my work on Somaliland as IRI country director in 2007-08. He was involved in publicly advising the Trump transition on Africa-related issues and was often identified as the frontrunner to be the nominee as Assistant Secretary of State. See “Trump Team’s Queries About Africa Point to Skepticism About Aid,” New York Times, Jan. 13, 2017, by Helene Cooper.
Pham and his deputy at the Atlantic Council, Bronwyn Bruton, have been prominent critics/skeptics of the initial 2006 invasion of Somalia and aspects of the subsequent “nation building” process there, and Pham has been seen as an advocate for Somaliland. Beyond that, I’m not as familiar with his background on the numerous various immediate issues in the Great Lakes, or how the election results and retirements will re-shape Congressional interests.
I will endeavor to read up.
In the meantime, I have not heard any public comment about any likely impact on a vote on the stalled nomination of Illinois State Senator Kyle McCarter to replace Ambassador Godec in Kenya.
Update: I had forgotten Pham’s controversial advocacy from November 2012 in the New York Times: “To save Congo, let it fall apart“. A view that could be seen as very pro-Kagame/RPF and that is certainly at odds with many considered opinions and perhaps a tough starting point for a new diplomatic posting.
Update II: Richard Dowden of the Royal African Society on Pham last year in African Arguments:
A one-time Washington outsider who challenged the consensus on US-Africa relations, Pham has reportedly been trying to broaden his connections in departments whose staffs are more likely to lean Democrat than Republican. He is working hard to establish relationships with experts across the spectrum, trying to build a policy consensus.
Pham has written profusely on Africa and rejects the previous approach – espoused by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – that insisted democracy and human rights should be the cornerstone of US support. Instead, he argues that economic growth should take precedence, though he has recently emphasized security and good governance too. He urges US companies to grasp business opportunities on the continent.
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.
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
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.
With now-President Silanyo (at right) and Kulmiye Party group at party headquarters (I’m second from the right.)
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.