Jun 06, 2008

Somaliland: The US and Somaliland: A Roadmap

Sample ImagePreeminent international affairs commentator, Dr J Peter Pham, provides an overview of recent strong strides made by the government of Somaliland in gaining international recognition, with particular focus on its relationship with the US, and provides a roadmap for the aspiring state for what further steps it can take to facilitate this movement.

Below is an extract from an article published by World Defense Review:


In January [2008], the president of the Republic of Somaliland, Dahir Rayale Kahin, accompanied by his foreign minister, Abdillahi Mohamed Duale, and several other members of his cabinet were invited to Washington for a visit that was officially acknowledged by the U.S. Department of State.


Barely two weeks later, on February 3 [2008], Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, arrived in Somaliland's capital, Hargeisa, with Ambassador John M. Yates, a veteran diplomat based in Nairobi, Kenya, who is America's special envoy for Somalia (the U.S. envoy to Ethiopia, Ambassador Don Yamamoto, preceded the pair by one day). Dr. Frazer, the highest-ranking U.S. official to set foot in the republic since it reasserted its independence in 1991, spent the day holding formal talks with top government officials as well as meeting privately with representatives of Somaliland's three registered political parties – the Union of Democrats (UDUB), the Peace, Unity, and Development Party (KULMIYE), and the Party of Justice (UCID) – and the unregistered "Qaran" political movement.


A few days after Dr. Frazer's visit, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) announced that it would "expand substantially activities designed to improve the lives of citizens of Somaliland," pledging  "resources amounting to twice those spent in 2007 will be spent on projects focusing on the rule of law and security, democratic governance and on recovery and sustainable livelihoods, as well as on additional staff to increase the range of the ambitious programme in different regions of Somaliland" in concert "with the Somaliland government and other UN agencies."

Dr. Frazer was careful to emphasize that the recent flurry of activity did not imply diplomatic recognition was imminent, noting that while "we have said on many occasions that the U.S. will continue to work with Somaliland, in particular, in the strong democratic values which Somaliland has succeeded in implementing," the issue of recognition should be left to the African Union (AU), while America would "work with the AU and will respect whatever decision it makes on Somaliland's status." […] [The] AU is simply unable to actually address the matter as long as it continues to seat the utterly ineffectual "Transitional Federal Government" (TFG) of Somalia, which asserts sovereignty over the entire territory of the defunct Somali Democratic Republic despite being unable to so much as safely police its putative capital. Since Dr. Frazer is, undoubtedly, well aware of this reality, what is one to make of the recent developments?

In large measure, the recent engagement can be viewed as strategically sound at several levels. In the short term, it is increasingly apparent that the TFG's lease on life is perhaps even more tenuous than that of its "president," Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, who, until last week, had not been in Somalia for months and was evacuated to London from Nairobi last month for medical treatment.


Over the longer term, given the apparent futility trying to reconstitute a unitary state […] the members of the international community, especially the United States and its allies, have every reason to seek to engage Somaliland, not least of which is its geopolitical significance as a Muslim country with authentic democratic aspirations controlling over 900 kilometers of coastline along sea lanes along the Gulf of Aden, just opposite the Arabian Peninsula.


However, […] [this] does not mean that the United States will extend formal diplomatic recognition to Somaliland any time soon despite the consonance of the admirable efforts by its people to build a secure and democratic state for themselves to the vision which President George W. Bush outlined in his second inaugural address: "It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world ... Our goal ... is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way." Rather, while the commonality of ideals provides a basis for moving forward, Realpolitik dictates that not just ideals, but concrete national interests must be carefully considered if a great power like the United States is going to break new ground and recognize an aspiring state like Somaliland. In other words, […] I cannot foresee recognition from Washington unless the government in Hargeisa convinces skeptics that there is substantial "value added" in the relationship.

To this end, the following are some steps which President Kahin and his government might take to build upon the recent progress in ties with the United States with a view to eventually securing formal recognition of what their citizens have accomplished in building a nation out of the wreckage of the former Somalia:

First, one cannot understate the importance of the presidential election scheduled for August 2008: it must be a model of free, fair, and transparent balloting. One of the most important claims that Somaliland makes on the attention of the international community is its democratic politics. While the 2005 elections for the House of Representatives marked a significant milestone in that the incumbent president's UDUB won only 33 seats in the 82-member legislature (KULMIYE and UCID won 28 and 21 seats, respectively), following this up with a successful second direct democratic presidential vote (the first took place in 2003), would truly confirm Somaliland's status in the company of emerging democracies. […]

Second, beyond the voting, Somaliland must continue making progress on democratic governance. The territory is characterized a "partly free," scoring 5 on political rights and 4 on civil liberties in Freedom House's annual report, Freedom in the World 2008 (the scale is 1 to 7, with 1 corresponding to the highest and 7 the lowest levels of freedom). While the scores are impressive in contrast to that of the countries in its neighborhood – Somalia scores an abysmal 7 on both indices, Ethiopia and Djibouti scores a 5 on both political freedom and civil rights, while Eritrea manages to score 7 and 6 respectively – there is still considerable room for improvement. The members of the upper chamber of parliament, the House of Elders (Guurti), for example, have repeatedly extended their own terms of office. Corruption, while not as insidious as elsewhere in Africa, nonetheless needs to be systematically combated; while President Kahin deserves credit for sacking a number of corrupt officials during his tenure, the fact that they were even in place at all and needed to be removed is still disconcerting. While Somaliland is a largely homogenous society, there are nonetheless a few very small minority communities whose concerns could also be better addressed in the overall political process.

Third, while President Kahin expressed the willingness of Somaliland to work with U.S. regional counterterrorism efforts during his meetings with Defense Department officials in Washington last month – and legal avenues for such cooperation need to be found on the American side – Hargeisa must redouble its efforts on the anti-extremism front. And while government agencies on the American side may have unresolved issues with certain types of engagements with their Somaliland counterparts, nothing prevents the latter from more increasing the quantity and quality of intelligence which they share. This would be particularly helpful since American military and intelligence officials have very limited access to reliable information from southern Somalia, an area where Somalilanders not only are better positioned to operate, but in fact already do so extensively. While I realize that this proposal shifts the burden somewhat to Somaliland, it is, after all, Somalilanders who are trying to make a case for partnership with the United States. (For their part, American officials would do well to shift responsibility for matters relating to Somaliland from the U.S. embassy in Kenya to the one in Ethiopia given that while there are no direct connections between Hargeisa and Nairobi, Somaliland officials and civilians routinely pass through Addis Ababa en route to other destinations.)

Fourth, it is no secret that the former Somalia has significant potential natural resources. […] [There] are reports of the Swedish-based Lundin Petroleum AB (owned, since 2001, by Canada's Talisman Energy) had approached Somaliland's Ministry of Water and Minerals for rights to oil and natural gas exploration [and] authorities in Hargeisa would do well to consider the long-term strategic implications of their decisions as well as the economic benefits. Even if their foreign policy elites were not generally divorced from the interests of their business classes, neither Sweden nor Canada would likely be much of a strategic ally for anyone, much less a nascent state in a dangerous neighborhood like the one Somaliland finds itself in. In contrast, as Walter Russell Mead and other scholars have pointed out, there is a long tradition of American business and government working in tandem, with the latter often following the former's lead and U.S. political interests adjusting themselves to advance the economic interests of its citizens. Not only should the government in Hargeisa be open to approaches by American firms, but it ought to actively court them, realizing that without significant commercial ties to the United States, any political relations – if they come about at all – will be very tenuous. Conversely, the presence of American business interests, especially in strategic sectors, reinforces the geopolitical case for diplomatic ties between Washington and Hargeisa.

Commenting on Somaliland, I.M. Lewis, the British scholar who for half a century has been the preeminent authority on the Somali peoples,  observed: "The overall achievement so far as truly remarkable, and all the more so in that it has been accomplished by the people of Somaliland themselves with very little external help or intervention. The contrast with the fate of southern Somalia hardly needs to be underlined." For these two reasons, among others, it is hoped that Somaliland will take the steps necessary to take advantage of the momentum in favor of advancing ties with its natural strategic partner, the United States, to the next level.