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The challenges and burdens our people faced during the last three generations, including colonialism, bad governance, massacre by a dictatorial regime, neglect, and being scattered all over the world as refugees make one inherit painful memory and a worrisome past empty of any signs of happiness and a dark future without end in sight. I am not yet sure whether my children and their children will experience the kind of government their peers enjoy all over the world. However, Somaliland is today a peaceful oasis very different from the predicaments of the Somalis they united with after gaining independence as British Somaliland and the Italian Somaliland, together becoming the Republic of Somalia. There is plenty of negative history endured by both Somaliland and other Somali regions and we had no choice to be Somalis but can choose to be valued in the world and leave behind a memorable positive legacy.
After the collapse of Somalia’s last central government, those who remained in Mogadishu declared founding a new government and since no opportunity was afforded Somaliland had the right to declare its independence (Somaliland Declaration) 31 years ago today, on May 5, 1991. Whatever the cause is, the government in Mogadishu is still struggling to reach maturity, and though the government in Hargeisa matured it is still not among the recognized nation-states of the world. After 30 years of being part of Somalia, it took Somaliland another 30 years to wait for recognition. Gaining recognition is one of the major goals anticipated to be realized by the people of Somaliland if it is not the first goal dear to their minds. Besides Somaliland’s fruitful efforts on achieving total peace, democracy, and development, there is still great weakness in its strive in finding the best way to achieve international recognition in order to take its rightful position among world nations.
Therefore, did Somaliland fail to get recognition or it is that the right approach was never taken? In this piece, we will examine the answer to that question, while analyzing it from different angles. Some people believe that Somaliland did not try enough to seek recognition, as cited from a Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs (Amb. Raychelle Omamo) commenting on the president of Somaliland, Musa Bihi Abdi’s recent trip to Kenya, “Somaliland did not ask for any recognition and, at the same time, we did not receive any official request for recognition,” adding that, “they up to now consider Somaliland as part of Somalia.” Before the readers ask, then why did the president travel there, or talk about the budget spent on foreign offices and the recognition fund estimated at about 5 million dollars per year (national budget 2022), or consider the president’s report on the purpose of the trip, let us first ask, does Somaliland even have a viable plan for seeking international recognition?
Does Somaliland have a firm foreign policy?
Since Somaliland declared reclaiming of its independence more than 30 years ago, Somaliland never had a well-defined foreign policy. Every president and his cabinet ministers chosen to lead the country’s foreign affairs always follow their own road which they see fit for gaining recognition. They mainly concentrate on embarking on foreign trips and seeking governments that are close friends of Somaliland who more or less are convinced on Somaliland’s independence. This creates that the high expectations of the public being a heavy burden on the ministers who in turn prepare empty political messages to entertain popular sentiment, each of them pushing a different narrative. Whether one says, “We put Somaliland in the world’s computer”, and another saying “the recognition is almost here” and yet another claims that “We were received on a high-level reception,” or the Muse Bihi administration describes the last trip, “They asked USA ‘what can we mutually achieve together?”, they are all only trying to relief the moment’s pressure but Somaliland still sits on square one!
This is absolutely not the right way. It is better if Somaliland puts in place a viable foreign policy with defined goals and based on reliable pillars eventually becoming the guiding light for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the political parties, and every citizen’s endeavor to seek recognition for Somaliland, while at the same time not affected by change in the ruling party or ministerial portfolio. For instance, the US government’s Department of State, in order to achieve its objectives, stands and functions on defined objectives and principles including protecting the United States and its citizens, promoting
democracy, human rights and other international interests, raising the international standard on understanding American values and policies, helping American diplomatic corps, government officials and all other individuals in the US or overseas (U.S Department of State). Also, every administration and political party has its own policy for foreign affairs but takes reference from the same general principles in which every administration in power and political party is kept accountable when presenting their election platforms. They all draw, in their own perspective, from the national foundation and central pillars that govern the national interests devised by a pool of reliable and unified experts representing different political camps, legislative, representatives, intellectuals, and every citizen who may contribute to the wellbeing of such system.
On the contrary, what is happening in Somaliland today can lead to the tragedy of every administration starting over from scratch coupled with hollow foreign trips undertaken by whichever administration is in power at any given moment and then dressed as a victory, since such is the only plan at hand.
Foreign trips and the task of seeking recognition:
It was in March, last month, when the president of Somaliland, Musa Bihi Abdi, visited the United States for the first time, the most powerful country in the world. The president did not yet visit the United Kingdom, a country Somaliland has a long historical relationship. This comes four and half years when after he took the reign of Somaliland presidency. The presidents before him each visited the United States once which shows that Somaliland’s official foreign recognition-seeking trips ignored targeting the United States. There were only low-level visits that seem to be tailored as testing grounds for potential partnership in which all Somaliland presidents made only four long in between trips to the United States.
Therefore, if Somaliland does not show the will to put considerable diplomatic investment into cultivating a deeper relationship with the United States, does it have other powerful world partners that can fill the potential role of the United States? The answer is definitely no. Instead, the current Somaliland administration seems be thinking that even the support of world powers can be done without by sending undiplomatically threatening messages to China and Russia. Also, no contact has been made with France and, at the same time, the Somaliland representative in France has been recently put out work! Such behavior is a total anathema to cultivating effective diplomacy. Same are the European Union countries that Somaliland gets it most foreign aid and at the same time hosting many of Somaliland citizens. No president has so far visited and there is minimal political and economic contact between Somaliland and these countries. This seems that we are waiting till the world serves us the recognition on a silver plate without any plans and effort put forward.
Also, Somaliland did not yet succeed in convincing and establishing meaningful diplomatic ties with the Arab League in which the Somalis belong, except the United Arab Emirates opening office in Hargeisa, while DP World is engaged in developing the port of Berbera. Furthermore, the world is still at the mercy of the African Union when it comes to recognizing Somaliland and up to now, Somaliland did not receive any welcoming message from the AU headquarters.
A governance system that could attract the world’s positive opinion:
It is really the state of domestic affairs that attracts better world relation and international admiration. Somaliland sells itself to the world by claiming peace and democracy. It is true, as stated above, that it differs on both from Somalia, but that alone cannot paint a better Somaliland to the world when, for instance, elections are not held on time. All the last eight national elections were delayed beyond reasonable time thus leading to politicians remaining on their portfolios by either extension or without any mandate. One wonders about the predicament it represents when the track record of the members of houses of representatives/elders and the local government show the duration of sitting without being elected equals their record of serving with election. Even the current president is suspected to be seeking a term extension without an election! The main ruling government’s own image looks like this, in addition to the members of the house of Elders never being up for election while at the same time very few of them are properly educated, though relative usefulness cannot be denied. What I mean by uneducated parliamentarians is that many of them are either uneducated or undereducated, although the new house of representatives includes well-educated members. Whenever an election is held, it became the norm to start with a clean slate all over again. For example, after the election of 2005 only 13 members of the house of representatives were re-elected, a mere 15.8 %, while after the election of 2021 only one representative was re-elected. This takes out and forever eliminated much-needed expertise and political capital inheritance (Compare with re-elected MPs for the latest elections in Kenya 42%, the UK 76%, and the USA 86%).
Worse than that are the members of the house of elders who have been sitting without election for close to 30 years and when the first generation died out their children inherited the parent’s position! Also, previous members of the house of representatives kept sitting without an election for the 16 years before the last election, and the members of the local council sat for 20 years without any election. They were elected for two five-year terms but exceeded their mandate for 10 more years!
Therefore, why are we selling Somaliland to the world as this democratic country with a modern system of governance? Elections are one of the main pillars of democracy but there are other standards for evaluating democracy including transparency of the government institutions, good governance, upholding human rights, and the fundamental rights and freedoms of media in which Somaliland has no good record that could attract world opinion.
Worse are the latest serious counterproductive actions including kidnappings and arbitrary detentions in private houses operating outside legal police stations and jails! These actions undue the peaceful coexistence which has been the second pillar attracting praises for Somaliland. These actions accused with the very son of president Musa Bihi are both horrendous and detrimental to the good image of Somaliland. Besides all above mentioned and many more that are beyond this article, before Somaliland is recognized there are domestic obstacles to be solved, including finding a durable solution to the political grievances from some regions, equitable sharing of resources (both political and economic), and listening to the voices many districts that feel neglected and those whose voices were never heard, and also the existing reality of some Somaliland citizens who are against the independence and recognition of Somaliland. Furthermore, there are outside obstacles including that Somalia and Somaliland have yet to reach a mutual legal separation, the African Union being still not convinced on the independence of Somaliland, lack of interest from the five major world countries with veto power, and the convention on maintaining existing borders (Jacquin 1999, AU Act) as they are which could affect Somaliland negatively. We need recognition from others but it is the people of Somaliland’s pejorative to safeguard their development and future existence.
There is an old Somali wisdom that says, “A bad shoemaker blames only his hammer.” This reflects on the above-mentioned mistakes and many more we have made are often blamed on the lack of international recognition. This is nothing but tactical avoidance of responsibility. An article published on the Africannews (September 2021) stated that, “Somaliland’s leadership blame their lack of progress and unemployment on the lack of international recognition and Somalia. This far from reality.” Somaliland can achieve more without international recognition. We can improve our economy, and raise the quality of the health system and education; we can develop our agriculture, industry, technology, welfare for our citizens, human rights, and many more.
Economic oriented diplomacy:
Politics and economy are two dependent variables. It is even emphasized that one cannot exist without the other. Economy carries much weight in diplomacy by making the state resources available for promoting national interests each country pursues from the world which in turn can be grounds for mutual political understanding and thus increasing trade between diplomatically connected nations. It also increases foreign investment, creates deeper cooperation between willing partners, and multifaceted beneficial trade agreements. Therefore, effective policy coupled with strong diplomatic activities can be the bases for national growth, both politically and economically.
Negotiations between Somaliland and Somalia and the regional integration:
As I have previously written (July 29, 2019, Wadahadallada Somaliland iyo Soomaaliya), I believe that these negotiations are very important for Somaliland, Somalia, and the whole regional population of the Horn of Africa who mostly share ethnicity, culture, and religion. It is possible to create some kind of fruitful negotiating system by focusing on the point of mutual understanding which can easily lead to studying the main root of the conflict.
When it comes to Somalia and Somaliland, their disagreement is rooted in two points: one is Somaliland’s grievance stemming from the heinous genocide inflicted in which Somalia did not yet address properly, except nominal recent apology which got politicized, and seems that the message was not heard by the majority of Somaliland population. The other point is legal and the absoluteness of the two constitutions which allow no room for negotiations. The most difficult aspect is Somalia’s attitude dominated by lack of acknowledgment and outright dismissal of Somaliland’s claim while at the same expressing national unity as a principle by which Somaliland must abide. On the other side, Somaliland’s problematic behavior of not facing the reality on the ground and acting as though they have nothing to do with Somalia and in denial of the fact that negotiating with Somalia is inevitable. Somaliland tries to seek recognition from far countries but avoids seeking it first from next-door Somalia. Dismissal and denial are the root of the problem and righting such attitudes should usher the solution. It happened before, the former president of Somalia, Mohamed Siyad Barre, when was about to open reconciliation negotiations with the former president of Ethiopia, Mengistu Haile Mariam, (1988) it was reported that officials including the minister of foreign affairs advised him, “Instead Mengistu Haile Mariam, we should reconcile with the SNM.” He refused and the rest is history.
The integration of the Horn of Africa region is also as important as reconciliation talks and negotiations. Mutual understanding, exchanging goods and services, and technical and scientific expertise can lead the region to develop and prosper. Furthermore, integration and cooperation between the peoples of the countries of the region can avail the possibility of the Somalis leading the way and becoming the anchor for the region’s leadership. Such integration and cooperation can lead to Somaliland’s internal development and gaining much-needed friendship with the countries of the region. Also, this can afford the other Somalia opportunity for deeper cooperation and political alliance or mutual understanding and agreement on the future relationship between the two sides.
Somaliland attracts world admiration with the culture of peace, the democratic system, and the elections that determine who rules the country. The more these two attributes are improved and maintained the more the world’s admiration for this country and its resources increases. On contrary, the current administration does not respect the rule of law, freedom of speech is lost, power between government departments remains unbalanced, media personnel are jailed, and the current president denies the legibility of political parties and interferes with the work of the Election Commission while promising the public a never arriving ship carrying the recognition and planning to stay on the presidency without an election. When these images become the real face of the state, it is highly possible that Somaliland could forever lose the interest of the world, let alone become recognized as an independent nation-state.
I would like to remind those who are interested in politics that the former Somalia state which once was the most powerful nation in the Horn of Africa got destroyed by the exaggerated admiration for the revolution and neglect and dismissal of its people’s demands. The dream of greater Somalia which was once a pan-Somali aspiration was lost due to over-enthusiasm for self-determination met by complete dismissal by the other side.
History will judge between the good and bad deeds of today’s politicians. I pray to Allah to be on the positive side of history and that my country and people reach their potential goodness and prosperity. This is an opinion article and I only represent myself and those in agreement with me.
Hersi Ali H. Hasan, the Chairman of the Waddani Party.
May 05, 2022
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Hersi Ali H. Hasan, the Chairman of the Waddani Party.
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