Apr 24, 2008

Somaliland: New Report Shows Successes & Trials

Sample ImageThe Senlis Council have published a report urging greater international recognition of the republic if the state-building of the last decade is not to be undone.

Below is an excerpt from the ‘Chronic Failures in the War on Terror: From Afghanistan to Somalia’ report published by the Senlis Council:

[…] In contrast to the foreign programmes in the south-central region, Somaliland has been characterised by a lack of external intervention. The region has also been conspicuous for its stability and security in an otherwise violent and lawless locality. After some initial problems with banditry and a serious intra-SNM factional conflict in 1992, a National Charter was formed in 1993 and the SNM handed power to Mohammed Egal. Egal was appointed President of an administration combining modern and traditional forms of governance. The region's business and clan groups lent legitimacy by providing vital support to the new government, which could draw on local social and economic ties formed under the corrupt Barre state.

Unlike Somalia, an internationally recognised state without a functioning government, Somaliland has a fully functioning central administration but no recognition. The Somaliland authorities have concentrated on achieving the milestones of an independent state, establishing security within a territory and forming a functioning administration capable of entering into relations with other states. It carried out a successful demobilisation campaign and established police forces and judicial systems in the towns. When security had been stabilised, basic service delivery and a taxation infrastructure were established, and economic growth and trade increased steadily. Somaliland has a Constitution – ratified in a referendum in 2001 – which institutionalises the separation of central authority's power, active opposition parties, an independent press, and in 2003, held multi-party competitive Presidential elections. The next presidential elections are due to take place in August 2008, with tight controls against vote tampering.

In return for economic and political support, Hargeisa has provided security for the business community, as well as the general population. To ensure that Somaliland remains a peaceful region while wars rage on its borders, it has spent heavily on military defence and policing at the expense of health and education programmes, for which it has been criticised by some human rights organisations. However, sustained economic growth and personal security represent an enormous achievement in the region, and are highly valued by the general population. The military and police also provide targeted employment for young males, many of whom own personal arms and have military experience, and could otherwise be a cause of insecurity.

In 2003 and 2004, a number of attacks were carried out on foreign aid workers in Somaliland, prompting fears that radical Islamist groups were operating in the region. Almost all Somalis are Sunni Muslims of the Shafi'i school and Islam is one of the few movements that can cut across clan divides and historical tensions. However, radical Islam is opposed by many, and in Somaliland, religious authorities and the general population have shown intolerance for such movements.

The government of Somaliland has been consistently hostile to radical Islamist influences, but considers its struggle against terrorists to be a domestic issue, not part of the United States' global War on Terror. However, Somaliland also cooperates with US counter-terrorism efforts, and this cooperation has resulted in some arrests.

Despite minimal local support for extremism in Somaliland, there is some concern that radical Islamism could be gaining ground. The limited budget of the government means that there is a gap in educational provision. In some areas this gap is being filled by Arab-funded madrassas teaching radical Islamist ideology. There are concerns that radical Islamism is also being imported by Somalilanders radicalised in other countries. Positive diplomatic relations with the international community and greater funding for local educational systems could counter this influence.

In 2004, former Puntland President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed was appointed President of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government. He has loudly opposed Somaliland independence, calling for a unified Somalia. Although Somalia's Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein has recently talked about reconciliation with political opposition within south-central Somalia, he has made no similar comments about Somaliland. With Somalia's Transitional Federal Government focused on the extreme problems in Mogadishu and south-central Somalia, there are currently no indications that it is willing to negotiate a peaceful settlement recognising Somaliland's independence.

To date, no states have recognised Somaliland's independence. Despite this, Somaliland's government has adopted a pragmatic relationship with its neighbours. Economic ties and diplomatic relations with Djibouti have improved since 2003, partly due to strong clan ties (the current President of Somaliland is from the Dir clan, predominant in Djibouti).

Political engagement with Ethiopia is necessary due to the nomadic Somali populations that move across the border, bringing local land and clan conflicts with them. Ethiopia is a stronger and more powerful state, however it is landlocked; Somaliland's Berbera port is an important trade point to which Somaliland granted Ethiopia formal access in 2000. Ethiopia has a Trade Liaison Office in Hargeisa, headed by a diplomat with the rank of Ambassador, and Somaliland also has a Liaison office in Addis Ababa.

A number of issues could derail Somaliland's progression towards official recognition. Some of the territory's clans remain politically marginalised, and allegations of political corruption have been raised. In addition, fears that political positioning prior to the upcoming Presidential elections could spill over into violence appear to be realised, as evidenced by the series of explosions in April 2008 in Hargeisa. However, despite these issues of concern, it is clear that Somaliland has achieved a significant level of progress and stability, particularly when measured against Somalia.

Although the African Union (AU) has made some positive noises about the possibility of recognising Somaliland's independence, it has done little to convert these sentiments into action, and AU member states have not taken a collective position regarding recognition. An AU fact-finding mission to Somaliland in April-May 2005 generated some apparently positive findings:

“Going by the clear presentation and articulate demands of the authorities and people of Somaliland concerning their political, social and economic history, Somaliland has been made a “pariah region” by default. The Union established in 1960 brought enormous injustice and suffering to the people of the region. The fact that the “union between Somaliland and Somalia was never ratified” and also malfunctioned when it went into action from 1960 to 1990, makes Somaliland’s search for recognition historically unique and self-justified in African political history. Objectively viewed, the case should not be linked to the notion of “opening a Pandora’s box.” As such, the AU should find a special method of dealing with this outstanding case.” 

Attempts by the government of Somaliland to have the AU re-visit the region with a mission including member state representatives were rebuffed at the AU Summits in January and July 2007. As well as Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed's opposition to recognising Somaliland, other member states such as Egypt have expressed interest in keeping Somalia unified as a regional counterweight to Ethiopia.

Other AU states oppose Somaliland recognition on the grounds that it could set a precedent for separatist movements elsewhere on the continent. However, following the January 2008 AU meeting in Addis Ababa, the United States' Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Dr Jendayi Frazer, called for the AU to send another senior delegation to Somaliland.

The UN Security Council insists on using quotation marks when referring to Somaliland or terming it “northern Somalia”. In assessing the region's dynamics, the March 2008 Secretary-General's report on Somalia did not encompass a visit Somaliland. Despite this, the report determined that security in Somaliland is “fragile” and only “relatively better” than in south-central Somalia.

However aside from the border with Puntland, almost every other study on Somaliland contradicts this assertion, including reports by the United States' Government Accountability Office, the International Crisis Group and The Senlis Council's field research in Somaliland. The Security Council report does recognise the need for “careful consideration” of the state identity of both Somaliland and Puntland, but assumes this will occur in the context of a Somali federation.

The European Union pays scant attention to Somali or Somaliland affairs. Italy is a strong advocate of unification, and few European countries have sought to make an issue out of the remote country. Nonetheless, Denmark, Sweden and particularly the UK have been supportive. In a demonstration of international contradictions regarding Somaliland, President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso recently pledged European Commission support of free and fair Presidential elections there, despite the fact no formal EU recognition of the Somaliland government exists.

The United States Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi E. Frazer's recent testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa praised Somaliland's achievement of “a commendable level of stability, largely without external support or assistance, which the international community must help to sustain regardless of the question of formal recognition.”

Of Somaliland's democratic processes, Assistant Secretary Frazer commented that “we are witnessing the patient, methodical emergence of representative institutions.” Despite the lack of formal recognition, the United States government has channelled limited amounts of aid for capacity-building in Somaliland's parliament and to support elections.85 Following Assistant Secretary Frazer's meeting with Somaliland President Riyale, a US State Department spokesman stressed that the US was not planning to recognise Somaliland. However, he did state that, “there is a process underway that the AU is engaged in and we are going to be watching very closely that situation” […]


To download the full report, with footnotes, please click here. (PDF format, 3.7MB)