Jul 06, 2010

Somaliland: Will Successful Elections Increase the Chance of Regional Recognition?

Sample ImageBoth the Ethiopian and Djibouti Governments commended the democratic process that has taken root in Somaliland but African Union recognition will remain key.

Below is an article published by Afrol.com

International election observers hail the "free and fair" presidential election in Somaliland, where the opposition won. Also neighbour countries Ethiopia and Djibouti hail the poll. But is recognition within reach for Somaliland?

Several monitor groups followed Somaliland's second presidential polls since independence in 1991, both foreign and national. All agree that the election was well organised and free, which is ultimately witnessed by the victory of opposition candidate Ahmed Mahamoud Silanyo.

Somaliland Non-State Actors Forum (SONSAF), who deployed a larger Somaliland-wide non-partisan election observers' group, today issued a statement agreeing to foreign observers. "The 26 June 2010 Presidential election took place in a general peaceful and transparent environment," SONSAF concludes.

"With the exception of isolated acts, SONSAF noted the Election Day process proceeded very peacefully and without any sign of intimidation. It was heartened by a high turnout of voter, included women," the statement said. The National Electoral Commission (NEC) had "administrated the elections in a competent and professional manner."

But maybe more important, at least for a nation that has not been recognised by any state so far, Somaliland's neighbours commended the poll openly. Especially key neighbour Ethiopia reacted in a way that resembled ordinary state-to-state relations.

In an overwhelmingly positive Ethiopian Foreign Ministry statement, the Addis Ababa government yesterday paid "tribute … to [outgoing] President Dahir Riyale Kahin for his high sense of obligation to the people of Somaliland ... and to the leader of the winning party Ahmed Mohamud Silaanyo for his magnanimity and for his commitment."

"The people of Somaliland can always count on the full support of the government and people of Ethiopia as they continue to preserve their peace and stability and ensure the democratic process is protected," the Ethiopian government statement added.

Ethiopia so far has been Somaliland's main regional ally and has admitted the opening of a Somaliland embassy in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia also has an office in Hargeisa, the Somalilander capital. 

Full-fledged diplomatic ties are not established, at least not in officially, and Ethiopia has so far not wanted to be the first country to recognise Somaliland.

For Somalianders, it was an even more positive surprise that also the smaller neighbour Djibouti - which so far has kept Hargeisa at a good distance - heartedly commended last week's elections. Djiboutian president Ismail Omar Guelleh himself sent a letter of congratulation to President-elect Silanyo.

President Guelleh, who generally has opposed Somaliland's independence, in the letter commended the democratic process in Somaliland. He further encouraged Mr Silanyo to continue government's development and promotion of democracy and peace.

The President-elect, who's main political aim is to seek recognition for Somaliland's independence, seems to have been given a flying start from its two main neighbours. With such credible elections - sharply contrasting the continued chaos in Somalia - Mr Silanyo's Somaliland is also emerging as a desired Horn of Africa partner for Western nations.

In the US and in Europe, there are many voices favouring recognition of Somaliland. Why insist on a reunification with Somalia and thus letting this stable and democratic oasis of the Horn with an immense strategic value slip into a Somali chaos, the question is asked. 

The answer is nevertheless clear. The current order has it that the African Union (AU) must be let to decide on Somaliland's recognition. The AU administers the doctrine of Africa's untouchable colonial borders, and no Western or Eastern power wants to be seen as promoting secessionism on the African continent.

But there is movement in the AU. As Somaliland was a British colony, as opposed to Italian Somaliland, and even was completely independent in 1960 before uniting with the former Italian colony to form Somalia, the colonial border doctrine would not be jeopardised by recognition of Somaliland's second independence.

And Somaliland's outgoing and incoming Presidents have actively promoted this view in Africa and outside. It is believed that Ethiopia - after its futile attempt to stabilise Somalia - now favours such a solution. Djibouti, which played an important role in forming the failing Somali transitional government, may also have given up its belief in a Somali unity state.

Outgoing President Riyale has been received as a state leader in countries such as Ghana and South Africa and managed to gather support from ex-colonial power Britain. The pressure within the AU is therefore increasing to consider Somaliland's recognition.

Last week's election - one of the few examples in African history where an opposition candidate beats an incumbent President - has only strengthened Somaliland's case. Maybe it will by the young nation's third President, Mr Silanyo, that achieves the aim of recognition.