In recent years, Somaliland recognition has become a hot topic within the circles of US congress, top diplomats, think tanks, and international relations experts. This generated different sets of ideas or roadmaps on how the US should establish formal diplomatic relations with Somaliland.
In this article, I will compare these roadmaps with the hope to identify a WIN-WIN deal. Failing that, I will recommend not to establish any relations between Somaliland and the US until one is found. In the words of Stephen Covey, always strive for a win-win or no deal
The roadmaps towards direct relations between the US and Somaliland are as follows:
- Suggested Talks with Somalia (with AU sponsorship)
- The UK treatment (de facto recognition)
- Direct US recognition
- The Abraham Accord
To help compare and contrast, we will look at 5 criteria to assess the practicality and how a roadmap constitutes a WIN-WIN deal.
- Capacity for adverse actions by Somalia or any third party
- Unwanted side effects
- Materialisation of US interests
- Materialisation of Somaliland’s interests
- Time and effort
Before any comparisons, below is a brief description of each roadmap
Suggested Talks with Somalia (with AU sponsorship)
Advocates: Somalia, Former US ambassador
Similar to South Sudan and Eritrea, this roadmap puts pressure on the so-called parent country (Somalia) to approve the independence of a breakaway region (allegedly Somaliland). Fruitless talks have been going on for a decade between the two countries. What is different in this alternative roadmap is exerting pressure on Somalia by the African Union with the use of tight deadlines and active mediation. This is mainly suggested by former US ambassador Stephen Schwartz
The UK treatment (de facto recognition)
In this roadmap, the immediate resolution of Somaliland’s recognition is deferred and everything that could come after recognition is put forward especially in the area of economic development and limited aid. This is the nature of the relationship between Somaliland and the following countries: Ethiopia, UAE, UK, and Taiwan. Advocates for this roadmap see it as a stepping stone towards full recognition. A military flavor of this roadmap appeared on the floor of the US senate in an NDAA bill amendment by senator James Risch. Although the amendment was withdrawn, it shows the preference for de facto recognition by some.
Direct US recognition
Advocates: AEI Scholar Michael Rubin, Former US assistant secretary of States: Tibor, Frazer, Cohen, The heritage foundation, and The Economist
By far, this is the most popular roadmap by experts and diplomats. This roadmap calls for the immediate and unconditional full diplomatic recognition of Somaliland. The basis behind it is deep knowledge of Somaliland’s history and awareness of how other roadmaps have led to failures. This roadmap sees the AU fact-finding mission inviting for such direct intervention. It underscores how Somaliland does not open a pandora box for any other African movement to declare independence unilaterally. Furthermore, this roadmap argues that Somaliland is setting the bar really high in a way that is impossible for any other future country to pursue the same path. The most comprehensive research on this roadmap is done by The Heritage Foundation’s Senior Policy Analyst Joshua Meservey
The Abraham Accord
Advocates: Dr. Edna Aden, AEI Scholar Michael Rubin, Somaliland and Israeli politicians and activists
Like Taiwan, Israel has a similar profile to Somaliland: a free democratic nation within unstable and unwelcoming neighbours. Despite the mutual interest, a direct diplomatic recognition between Somaliland and the US is similar in magnitude to the lifting of sanctions against Sudan and the Abraham Record. Since no country has recognised Somaliland yet and the significance of a US recognition, Somaliland might need to move out of its comfort zone (is dhigasho) and offer the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel in order to secure full recognition. This has been written favourably by senior scholar Michael Rubin
The Win-Win deal
In this section, I will compare these roadmaps. The following can be considered a framework that can be used to evaluate any future roadmap.
1 Treating Somaliland as a breakaway region not only is against the African Union fact-finding mission report it also gives Somalia unnecessary illegitimate control over the Somaliland case.
2 Most likely, an AU pressure will not work given how ineffective it has been in fighting terrorism in Somalia. Furthermore, the African Union does not have the same level of interest in the region as the US does. The biggest mistake when discussing Somaliland recognition is to treat the African Union as its main and only stakeholder. Somaliland is not only in Africa but also in the Red Sea and the Indo Pacific. This spans five continents and just Africa. The US and other democratic partners such as the Quad must look for their interests; which are not shared with the rest of Africa such as an open and free Indo Pacific. This means when considering allies’ positions, the US should not be limited to nations like Kenya but also Australia, India, and Japan. On the other hand, anchoring on the African Union role will not materialise any US interest.
3 There are presidential elections due in Somaliland in 2022. As part of Wadani’s campaign, Abdirahman Iro has indicated that he will prefer China over Taiwan. Wadani is the biggest opposition party and the one who won the last parliamentary elections earlier this year. This means the US has a few months to respond positively and show Somaliland people the value of forging relations with Taiwan. This has been highlighted by former U.S. National Security Advisor, Robert C. O’Brien.
4 This roadmap has already been going on for 10 years without any progress. During that period, Somaliland has incurred higher unemployment rates and increased chances of War with Somalia. The latter is already preparing for war to annex Somaliland.
5 The current status quo of keeping the talks with Somalia is blocking the US or any other country to recognise Somaliland. For example, if the US recognises Somaliland today, it will be blamed for disrupting the ongoing talks. Somaliland must end the talks immediately, not just because it did not work for a decade, but also to open doors for other nations to engage with better alternatives.
6 Turkey has supplied Somalia with drones capable of attacking Somaliland. Without full diplomatic recognition, even with good intentions, the US cannot help Somaliland to buy arms and be able to defend itself. Unlike Taiwan, which enjoys military support without formal recognition, there is an arms embargo on Somalia by the UN and security council. In other words, a de facto recognition does not address the security interest of Somaliland.
7 A direct US recognition might not be as direct as it sounds. Despite Somaliland being a democracy that ticks all the boxes, not many countries are aware of Somaliland. The shortcomings of effective Somaliland lobbying worldwide put weight and extra effort on US diplomats to not only explain their new position but also convince other nations in Africa, Quad and Europe to follow suit.
8 While there are several politicians and advocates that support forging relations with Israel, there are many conservatives in Somaliland who oppose this move. This is a risk to the ruling party with elections coming soon in Somaliland. However, it is a manageable risk given the rewards in the return which are always guaranteed within the Abraham Accords framework. Needless to say, this roadmap also requires both US and Somaliland to align their interests with Israel. In comparison to the previous roadmap, this requires far less diplomatic work.
Before anything else, ending the talks with Somalia will be the best way to start a new chapter in Somaliland’s engagement with the world. For a win-win deal, Somaliland and the US have to work hard in 2022 towards a direct formal recognition, or a deal within the Abarahm records. This will have a positive influence on the many geopolitical regions that Somaliland belongs to.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Abdirahman Mohamed Abdi Daud is an Australian Somalilander and Software Engineer. Works as a principal developer in a fintech company. Melbourne, Australia. Mr. Daud is also a Non-Resident Scholar at Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, Hargeysa Somaliland
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints of the Somaliland Chronicle, and its staff.
Notice: This article by Somaliland Chronicle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Under this license, all reprints and non-commercial distribution of this work is permitted.