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.
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“.
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: