Twenty two years after self-declared Independence and twelve years after the ratification of Somaliland’s constitution by popular vote, the democratically elected Government of Somaliland (GoSL) headed by its fourth president Ahmed Siilanyo had finally been given the opportunity to open dialogue with the internationally accepted President of the Somali Federal Government (SFG), Hassan Sheikh. Talks were inevitable and have been highly anticipated by the Somaliland Govt and the citizens of Somaliland who finally have the opportunity to finalize the reality after waiting decades for a credible Government to be formed and acknowledged by the International community. Somaliland is considered a self-governing autonomous region of Somalia even though it was one half of the former Somali Republic which was formed by voluntary union of British-Somaliland and Italian-Somalia; this formation disbanded after the Somali Civil War which the Socialist Military dictator SiyadBarre was held responsible for the massacre ofan estimated 75,000 Somalilanders.
During my several visits to Somaliland, to this present day there are still vivid reminders of that period whether it’s the memorial in Hargeisa of the MIG which desecrated Somaliland’s capital Hargeisa to naturally occurring reminders such as bones appearing on the riverbank every time the rivers flow in both Gabiley & Hargeisa. These talks have the ability to provide a platform for acknowledgement of the atrocities as well as compelling the SFG to realise the reality on the ground.
Turkey initiated the first round of talks between the two sides to ‘open dialogue’ in Ankara on April 13th. The talks concluded with a memorandum of understanding known as the ‘Ankara Communiqué. The Ankara Communiqué consisted of seven points which both side agreed which can be viewed on the Turkey’s Foreign Affairs website.
Unfortunately the talks didn’t yield results in terms of breakthroughs from both SFG and GoSL, this deadlock became evident when SFG authorised an airplane to land within Somaliland’s territory breaking point seven of the Ankara Communiqué. This led to the GoSL grounding all UN flights in and out of the country. This issue was resolved July 7th – 9th2013 in Istanbul which both parties held further talks to rectify the situation. An agreement was reached which was to create a joint-control body which manages both airspace based in Hargeisa however this was reneged by the SFG which discreetly signed another agreement with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
The final talks was expected to take place in November however due to Political turmoil within the SFG which subsequently led to the ousting of its PMSaciidShirdon, the talks were delayed on several occasions. Somaliland’s FM Mohammed BihiYounis who was the former Deputy Joint Special Representative for UNAMID in Darfur emphasized during an interview with a Somali news outlet that “… Somaliland is ready and has been ready for a while” reiterating that the conclusion of the talks will be “Somaliland and Somalia living side by side as neighbours and brothers as two countries as it has been over the last two decades.”On the other hand, the SFG’s President Hassan Sheikh proclaimed “We will do our best and unite with our brothers from Somaliland by early next year.”
In my view, this proclamation by President Hassanisn’t just reckless, butalmost borderline delusional as it is completely devoid of the reality on the ground in Somaliland. President Hassan has set the bar very high for himself which he’ll soon realise. Somaliland unlike Somalia has stability which many argue is down to democracy. I agree to an extent that democracy is a factor which ensures a sense of national unity, participation and representation. The idea that Somalilanders will reunite again with Somalia to form another Somali Republic is a dream held closely by Somali Nationalists that are predominantly located within former Italia-Somalia who aspire to reunite all Somali speaking regions whether it’s within Ethiopia, Kenya, Somaliland or Djibouti. Their arguments tend to be incompatible with the concept of democracy as they strongly feel there shouldn’t be a choice. They believe there should be one Somali speaking country irrespective of freedom and choices.
To understand the difficulty of a reunion with Somalia, I will address some hypothetical situations. Let’s say for argument sake the GoSL agrees to reunite with Somalia to re-establish the Somali Republic again, this agreement would have to clear a few hurdles and acknowledge that:
- Firstly, the GoSL will have to call a referendum as it would mean a change in the constitution of Somaliland. Please note the constitution was ratified by 97% of electorates in 2001 which was considered free and fair by international observers. The Government in power which attempts to implement this change will have automatically committed political suicide and would most likely be followed by an overwhelming defeat in the next elections and replacement for the foreseeable future after its motion is rejected in parliament. I’m sure every political party in Somaliland is fully aware of the reason why they have been voted for and their expectations to abide by the constitution.
- Secondly, the Government in Mogadishu would be expected to acknowledge the atrocities committed under the regime of SiyadBarre and hand over all those evading justice in Somalia and the West. However a recent report eluded that the SFG has requested immunity for former Defence Minister Mohamed Samantarwho’s currently in Prison in the U.S. for War Crimes committed in Hargeisa, Somaliland during the late 80’s. Information on the case can be found online as ‘Samantar v Yousef.’ It is very unlikely President Hassan Sheikh would comply with such requests as it would cause him difficulty within his reconciliation efforts with the dozens of warlords in and around Somalia.
- Finally, the SFG will have to acknowledge that Somaliland is not a region of Somalila but a country. The fact Somalilanders celebrate 26th June as their independence is testament to the history and reality of the region. Somalia’s Independence Day is celebrated 1st July. Regions such as Puntland and Jubba Administration which had always been a part of the former Ita-Somalia would likely reject the notion that the reunification will be implemented as two countries reuniting again and not a ‘Federal Region’ as they are/want to be recognised as.
The mammoth challenges which lie ahead are difficult indeed, I believethe talks will ultimately reach a deadlock which the international community will eventually be compelled to mediate. I believe this is actually the most beneficial solution for the GoSL as its clear the SFG have no logical reason to reunite other than the false hope that all Somali regions will eventually be reunited, this is known as ‘Somaliweyn’ in Somali. This logic is incompatible to the realities on the ground in Somaliland and the aspirations of self-determination of the citizens of Somaliland. Somaliland’s case for recognition is similar to every other annulled union around Africa and around the world e.g. Egypt/Syria and Senegal/Gambia.
In conclusion, the inevitable outcome of the talks will ultimately come down the ability of the SFG to recognise the realities on the ground and act on the olive branch being presented. The SFG recently lost an MP within its compound Villa Somalia; this displays the challenges it faces by threats not just within the country, but within its capital Mogadishu from Al’Shabaab. The opportunity for creating an environment of mutual trust and cooperation is required now more than ever in Somalia and I believe the inexperience of the unelected Government in Mogadishu are either inadvertently or purposely harming Somalia’s position in the region. The current status quo of delaying talks will not benefit the SFG but prove Somaliland has done everything and the situation calls for International intervention. Just last week I read reports of Somaliland’s first car was assembled along with the reports that a French investor is ready for invest a substantial amount into the infrastructure of Berbera port; these projects which have been implemented with the GoSL is testament to the reality on the ground. Moreover, the recent return of Genel Energy will raise eyebrows across the globe, especially if a vast reserve is discovered. It’s important to note than these Oil exploration licences were authorised by the GoSL and will be used to benefit its citizens only.
There a several options available to the SFG, one would ensure an amicably separation based on mutual trust and friendly relations whilst the other option wouldadd tension, mistrust and animosity in an already volatile regioneventually compelling International companies to act on the stalemate and lobby for recognition in lieu of their clients operating in Somaliland. The main issue many large international corporations have in Somaliland is insuring their products/services.Due to Somaliland’s status, financial services will not provide insurance because Somaliland is yet to be recognised, this is a barrier which I’m sure stakeholders will tackle if the Port of Berbera will be utilized effectively.It would be an embarrassment to President Hassan Sheikh who proclaimed the intention of unity whilst International Governments and NGO’s continue to coordinate, liaise and forge bilateral relations with the Government of Somaliland, this itself adds to reinforce that the GoSL is the legitimate representative of Somalis living in that region.
The inevitable conclusion to the Somalia-Somaliland talks will come down to the issue of freedom and the right to self-determination. Can a country enforce unity on another country? The answer is No. Somaliland earned it’s statehood through the darkest of timeslooking down a barrel of a gun. Think about it, those born in 1991 when Independence was reinstated will be twenty two years old. Twenty two yearsin living in what they know as Somaliland, how do you reverse that historical, physical and emotional attachment? As long as Somalilanders continues to celebrate its Independence when it gained it from Britain on 26th June 1960, it will always remain a country in the hearts and minds of its citizens irrespective of recognition and that remembrance itself is the biggest obstacle for the SFG.
The author Sayid Madar was born in Gabiley, Somaliland and currently lives in the UK. A business graduate and a Civil Servant employed by the UK Government. Interests include Foreign Policy & International development. Please note, views expressed are views of the author only. You can contact the author on: