Quick thoughts on Mayor Pete’s 2008 Somaliland vacation and related op-ed

Pete Buttigieg, Democratic candidate for president, is current mayor of South Bend, Indiana, in the Great Lakes region and known primarily 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 and 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.

In July 2008, Buttigieg and Nathaniel Myers, identified as a “political analyst” in Ethiopia, had published in the New York Times an op-ed under the understated headline “Tourists in Somaliland“. I have no clear idea why. The substance of the article is not about tourism but rather the argument that the United States was failing to adequately support Somaliland and should initiate formal recognition, but with very little real detail or heft. Myers was working as a World Bank consultant in Ethiopia at the time according to his a bio online at the Carnegie Endowment where he worked until recently. Myers also published two op-ed pieces in 2010 in Foreign Policy on the authoritarianism of Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia and analogizing Eritrea as “Africa’s North Korea”. My involvement in East Africa has been as a democracy advocate so I agree with the sentiments of Myers’s writings, even if I don’t think the “Tourists” piece with Buttigieg was really on point.

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 Northrop Grumman, the 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 and Somaliland parliamentary elections were scheduled for April 2008.

Northrop Grumman 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 March 2008. Chairman “Silyano” is to the far right and I am next to him. Silanyo served as President of Somaliland from 2010-2017.

With Silanyo and Kulmiye leaders in his office

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 or partner at 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” 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 theses intervening years for not being formally recognized. I have always agreed sentimentally with the desire that the Somalilander’s achievement of defacto independence be “blessed” legally even if I did not consider it “my place” to be an advocate on that specific issue.

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 was the takeover by Somaliland of Las Anod after the defection of Ahmed Abdi Haabsade, former Puntland Defense Minister in November 2007, whom I met when he arrived in Hargeisa.

As fate would have it a month before Mayor Pete’s op-ed on Somaliland ran in The New York Times on July 31, 2008 a Times investigative reporter contacted me at my office in Mississippi about the unreleased IRI exit poll showing an opposition win against Kibaki in that election in Kenya. I gave the interview and initial follow-up that contributed my input into the investigation that the Times eventually reported on on the front page, after the Obama inauguration, on January 30, 2009: “A Chaotic Kenya Vote and a Secret U.S. Exit Poll.

Somaliland’s President Silanyo Official Guest for Saturday’s South Sudan Independence Ceremony

HARGEISA (SomalilandPress)—President Ahmed Siilaanyo received an official invitation from the president of South Sudan Salva Kiir to attend the Declaration of Independence of the Republic of South Sudan on the 9th of July, 2011. South Sudan is set to become the 54th nation in the African continent after long fought civil against Northern Sudan’s rule that saw thousands of lives lost and millions displaced.

The invitation of Somaliland’s president Ahmed Siilanyo to South Sudan’s historic day has been welcomed with delight in Somaliland by both the government of Somaliland and its citizens. Somaliland believes it could use the south’s independence as a precedent as it seeks more support for its case for international recognition and become the 55th nation in the continent after South Sudan. Some foreign observers and politicians believe the Juba government will recognize Somaliland which will pave the way for other regional powers to follow.

Somaliland’s new administration assessed five months in by the heads of the international election observation efforts

“Hope and Caution in Somaliland” by Steve Kibble and Michael Walls, in Pambazuka, suggests some positive developments from the Silanyo government but also significant work that has yet to get underway domestically. Diplomatic efforts seem to be positive in the region (and a visit to China has just been announced):

There is nevertheless ample evidence of general donor goodwill. In September, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs announced a new policy on Somaliland that would see ‘aggressive’ engagement with the administration there, as well as that in Puntland. This is part of a ‘dual track’ strategy which will see the US continue to support the Mogadishu-based Transitional Federal Government, but which will also result in an increase in direct aid to Somaliland. The British ambassador to Ethiopia, a Danish minister, the Swedish ambassador and the UN envoy to Somalia all also confirmed increased aid to Somaliland and there has been some talk of direct budget support for the Somaliland government. If implemented, this would mark a significant shift in donor engagement with Somaliland, contributing materially to the process of incremental recognition mentioned above. However, these discussions are yet to result in action.

Finally, Somaliland has a significant potential opportunity at the present time given the impending expiry of the mandate of the Transitional Federal Government in the south. With the TFG representing an obstacle if Somaliland is to extend the depth and breadth of its formal engagement with the international community, negotiation over their future offers a leverage opportunity for both Somaliland and those amongst the international diplomatic community who would like to see a change in the nature of that engagement.

The new Hargeisa government will need to be far more clear-sighted and long-term in its vision to obtain not just outside support but sustained momentum for democracy and development. Civil society too can play a material role in seeing that Somaliland continues down a road in which the transition from discursive to representative democracy continues to advance the needs of the wider population, not just of a political elite.

Somaliland: Gracious outgoing President Riyale to stay on as leader of UDUB in loyal opposition

HARGEISA (Somalilandpress) — The outgoing president Dahir Riyale Kahin, UDUB party leader, said he will stay in Somaliland politics as an opposition while speaking to BBC Somali-Service on Friday night.

Mr. Riyale who gracefully accepted the out come of the election said he will step down in accordance with Somaliland’s legal system and urged Somaliland public to work with the new leader and maintain their stability.

A statement issued on government website said: Somaliland president H.E Dahir Rayaale Kahin and vice president Ahmed Yassin sent congratulatory messages to the president elect Ahmed Mohammed Mohammed and vice president Abdirahman Abdillahi Ismail.The president thanked the people of Somaliland for their support and urged them to work with the incoming government and continue to support the stability and security of Somaliland.

“I congratulate President Ahmed Mohammed Silaanyo and his Kulmiye party for winning the presidential election,” he said.

Mr. Riyale who takes great pride for his years in power said he will not harm the democracy his very own party and leadership has created in the country. He added the election was a “friendly match” but Somaliland’s interest always comes first.

Full Story here.

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?