Since the collapse of the Somali Republic, nearly every intervention on Somalia by the international community has failed. It started with Operation RESTORE HOPE in 1992 by the US army and it continues now with delayed elections and the prolonged war to eliminate the Al-Shabab terrorist organization. However, there were success stories such as ending the piracy off the shores of Somalia.
The only issue that didn’t invoke an intervention is the unilateral declaration of independence by the Somaliland people. This is despite the inviting 2005 African Union fact-finding mission that recommends finding a special method of dealing with Somaliland’s outstanding case.
In this article, I will explain why Somalia will never recognise Somaliland and for very good reasons. Then, I will explain why one last intervention is necessary for both countries.
In February 2012, the UK government hosted an international conference on Somalia where for the first time, Somaliland and Somalia agreed to start peace talks to address Somaliland destiny. As we mark its 10th anniversary, these talks have failed miserably since not only their relations has deteriorated but also the question of sovereignty has never been mentioned. In a smaller time frame, the world managed to end harder conflicts such as Scotland, Brexit, South Sudan and Kosovo to a certain degree.
Contrary to the common stereotype, the failure of the Somaliland talks is not due to the incompetency of either party. The question that the international community delegated to Somalia is one Somalia will always say NO.
Unlike the UK and Scotland, the union of Somaliland and Somalia has not been ratified. This is not to start the usual legal arguments of Somaliland leaders but to highlight that Somaliland in the new structure of Somalia is not a result of the union of equals or even unequals. While Somaliland still considers itself a founding country of the Somali Republic, Hargeysa is viewed as a region and a non-founding federal member state. If Somalia grants self-determination rights to one federal member state, it is setting itself on the path of Yugoslavia or close to home, Ethiopia. Therefore, Somalia cannot sincerely look into Somaliland recognition even if it was headed by David Cameron. The latter didn’t have a risk of Wales or Northern Ireland following the steps of Scotland. Again, their act of union was legally signed and it is a living document that serves in the handling of the Scotland question.
One of the goals of Somalia’s federal system is to address Somaliland’s quest for independence. Recognising Somaliland is a negative return in investment which leaves Somalia with a heavy legacy by maintaining a complex divisive structure compared to Somaliland’s stable central government. Furthermore, federalism in Somalia is slowly turning into a de facto confederal system thanks to the geopolitical pulls on Puntland and Jubaland. Accepting Somaliland by Somalia itself will only decompose it further.
Ironically, if Somaliland recognition comes as an intervention by the international community through a fair process, the Somalian government will be stronger in its engagements with the federal states after the dissolution of unity with Somaliland. With a guilt-free position, Somalia can reflect on what system of governance is needed and possibly move to a more centric form of that. It is also guaranteed that no one state in Somalia can dream of independence since no state possesses Somaliland’s unique attributes such as historical independence, genocide and vibrant democracy.
To the Somaliland government:
Accept the reality and stop wasting time by continuing the talks with Somalia. The situation is different from 1960. Somalia has moved on. No straight face or negotiation skills will convince her to become another Yugoslavia. After understanding this, continuing the talks only means a desire, maybe, to reunite with Somalia! Your efforts should be similar to the works of late president Riyale but with greater magnitude and wider outreach. Apart from western and African lobby groups, your new parliament should establish an international club of parliamentarians active all year worldwide keeping Somaliland on everyone’s mind.
To the International community:
The deliberate delay in addressing Somaliland quest for recognition is slowly damaging both countries. Somalia’s government structure is turning into a confederal and you have tasted some of that already in the latest election fiasco. In Somaliland, a prolonged lack of recognition could decay Somaliland’s social contract and replace it with extreme or tribal ideologies leading to a new wave of terrorism, civil wars or both.
Acting on the AU fact-finding report, members of the international community should explore all options of interventions: A legal case in an international court, a referendum on dissolution or even better, taking the bold action of what is best for the region similar to these great regional and world leaders.