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U.S. Ambassador to Somalia visits the Republic of Somaliland

President Muse Bihi Abdi of the Republic of Somaliland welcomed a delegation led by the United States Ambassador to Somalia, Mr. Richard H. Riley, at the presidential palace today. The meeting focused on strengthening bilateral relations and addressing regional security concerns.

According to statements issues by Somaliland Presidency, the discussions centered on the robust relationship between Somaliland and the United States, the overall security situation in the Horn of Africa, electoral processes in Somaliland, and the recently signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Republic of Somaliland and the Government of Ethiopia.

President Bihi provided Ambassador Riley with a thorough briefing on the current security situation in the Horn of Africa. He elaborated on the recently signed four-part agreement between Somaliland and Ethiopia. Regarding this bilateral accord, President Bihi emphasized its sovereign nature, asserting that the specific terms negotiated between Somaliland and Ethiopia fall within the purview of their respective governments. The President underscored the importance of respecting the autonomy of regional partners in forging mutually beneficial diplomatic and strategic relationships.

In an interview with Financial Times in May 2024, President Bihi dismissed Washington’s concerns that the agreement threatens to disrupt the fight against Islamist militancy, Bihi Abdi dismissed such claims as “baseless” and reaffirmed Somaliland’s commitment to securing stability and fostering international cooperation.

President Bihi provided Ambassador Riley with a comprehensive briefing on the upcoming elections in Somaliland, scheduled for November 13, 2024. He emphasized the significant efforts being made to ensure the elections proceed smoothly, acknowledging the challenges these elections pose for the nation. The introduction of a Biometric Voter Verification System (BVVS) aims to prevent electoral fraud, though it has sparked debate over its accuracy and potential voter disenfranchisement, particularly in conflict-affected areas.

Ambassador Riley, who has a distinguished career in foreign service, expressed the United States’ readiness to enhance cooperation with Somaliland, applauding the progress and democratic strides made by the Republic of Somaliland. The Ambassador reiterated his government’s commitment to supporting Somaliland’s development and democratic initiatives.

The Chairman of the main opposition party, Waddani, also met with Ambassador Riley, stating, “This afternoon, we had a fruitful meeting in Hargeisa with US Ambassador Richard H. Riley regarding the importance of holding Somaliland’s upcoming combined elections on time on November 13th, emphasizing the importance of political stability and security in the region. We also talked about regional political dynamics and Somaliland’s future development demands.”

Ambassador Riley reiterated the United States’ longstanding commitment to supporting prosperity and democratic institutions in the region. He encouraged regional cooperation and dialogue to resolve diplomatic and security challenges and emphasized the importance of adhering to election timelines.

Somaliland’s upcoming elections are marked by the introduction of a biometric voter registration system aimed at ensuring transparency and fairness. This high-tech approach, however, has sparked debates and posed logistical challenges, underscoring the political realities and complexities of Somaliland’s electoral landscape.

Ambassador Riley’s visit and engagement with Somaliland’s leadership may signal a nuanced shift in U.S. policy. Historically, the U.S. has adhered strictly to the “One Somalia” policy, recognizing Somalia’s territorial integrity, as repeated reiterated by Riley’s predecessor, Larry André, in 2022. André emphasized that the U.S. does not recognize Somaliland’s independence and supports a unified Somalia. However, Riley’s visit to Somaliland, despite the lack of formal recognition, indicates a potential shift towards a more flexible and pragmatic approach that prioritizes the United States national security interest, focusing on regional stability and cooperation.

During an exclusive interview with Somaliland Chronicle, Dr. Issa Kayd, Somaliland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, was asked about the seeming contradiction in Somaliland’s approach to diplomacy. Specifically, the question addressed why Somaliland continues to engage with ambassadors accredited to Somalia, who do not recognize Somaliland’s independence, potentially undermining its claim to sovereignty. In response, Dr. Kayd acknowledged the complexity of the situation, explaining that while Somaliland asserts its independence, it must also navigate the practical realities of international diplomacy. He emphasized that these interactions are necessary for Somaliland to maintain and expand its international relationships, even as it continues to pursue formal recognition. This pragmatic approach, while potentially seen as contradictory by some, reflects Somaliland’s efforts to balance its aspirations for independence with the need for diplomatic engagement on the global stage.

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