By Eng. Bashe Abdi Gaboobe
The history of negotiations between Somaliland and Somalia is very much a young history, with successive elected governments of Somaliland stead-fistedly refusing to partake in negotiations with Somalia, in the past. Payne (2011) believes this is because these governments were armed with the understanding that engaging with
Mogadishu implicitly accepts its authority over the affairs of the Somaliland region; thus belying Somaliland’s longstanding justification for the right of self-determination. However, this stated view is slowly being replaced by a new perspective championed by the current president of Somaliland, President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo whose government has willingly participated in several internationally sponsored dialogues with their counterparts in the newly elected government of Somalia.
This should not be taken to signify a change in Somaliland’s attitude to Somalia’s claim over its sovereignty, as Dr. Omar, Somaliland’s ex foreign minister and signatory of the Seven Point Agreement in Ankara, stated in an interview, “Somaliland is not seceding from a functioning independent state, but simply decided to withdraw from a union that had absolutely failed in all respects” (Wardheernews, 2011). Rather, it illustrates the importance of a new factor that had come into play and which is the formation of legitimate government in Somalia with which the Somaliland government can broach the matter of getting the Somali government and the international community to accept the dissolution of the union that had already happened 24 years ago.
Dagne (2010, p.27) states that there have been over 14 national reconciliation conferences which have largely “failed to bring about lasting peace in Somalia”. Thus, without any power-wielding government in Somalia, let alone a legitimate government, Somaliland continued with its own state-building exercises – such as strengthening its political institutions by regularly holding elections that are highly peaceful and in accord with international standards (Bradbury, 2008) – while biding its time until Somalia stabilizes and elects a democratic government that can openly represent the interests of its people, and confer acceptance over Somaliland’s right to self-determination.
The newly elected government is headed by President Hassan Sh Mohamoud who took over from the Transitional Federal Government that was provided with the authority to govern Somalia on the behalf of the Somali people since 2004 (Sage, 2005). As the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2013) notes, “the new president is committed to improving security and justice in Somalia, including the protection of human rights. This greater political commitment is encouraging, but the government faces many of the same capacity problems as its predecessors.”
Somaliland has engaged with this new government in Somalia by participating in the London Conference on Somalia, despite concerns of the ‘capacity problems’ that plagues the new government, in the hopes of demonstrating its commitment to safe-guarding any possible future where Somalia becomes a stable country and Somaliland is awarded the recognition it highly seeks.
It took the amalgamation of recent historic phenomena – the formation of a legitimate government in Somalia, a stronger assuredness of its stature as a sovereign nation in Somaliland and renewed efforts from countries such as Turkey, UAE and Britain to intercede directly between the two countries – to bring about direct talks between the two countries. Nevertheless, the talks entered into were only held with the precondition that the issues to be discussed were to be solely centered upon mutually agreeable issues. These talks have been heralded by the international community as being ‘a move in the right direction’, even though the outcomes from those negotiations, as will be argued by this author, demonstrates core divisiveness between Somaliland and Somalia that will be hard to overcome in any future negotiations.
The success of any negotiations between two entities is highly dependent on the willingness of both parties and more significantly, the intermediary to compromise on the core tenets which divide the two parties. The central positions that divide Somaliland and Somalia – sovereignty vs unity – is so divisive that it renders any negotiations entered into by Somaliland and Somalia highly untenable. Furthermore, the indecisiveness of the international community – as evidenced by the recent conferences hosted by Istanbul and London – to justify the Somalia position of national unity, while relying upon it as their default option when dealing with both Somaliland and Somalia has led to an erosion of the credibility of such countries such as Britain to intermediate fairly in the eyes of Somaliland. This diminishes the prospects for Somaliland to successfully steer future negotiations. Thus, the expected impact will result in a ratcheting of tension between the two countries, increased instigation from Somalia as already seen in the conflict over control of Somaliland’s airspace – and eventually result in the destabilization of the two countries.
This article was delivered by the author in a debate launched by the University of Hargeysa about Somaliland and Somalia negotiations in August 2013.