By Abdiqani Muse Hassan
The Big Question?
In the recent months, the United States has been engaging with Somaliland with the aim to join forces in the fight against terrorism and piracy. However, given the global trend of decreasing piracy and terrorist threats, it raises the question of whether these two issues are the sole reason for the US’ engagement with Somaliland, or if there are underlying motivations as well. Latest report from the Global Terrorism Index 2022 shows declines in the terrorism impact globally where the US has recorded the lowest score in terrorist attacks since 2012 and Somaliland has not had any major terrorist incidents since 2008. On the other hand, the annual piracy report from the ICC International Maritime Bureau indicates a historical low in piracy and armed robbery at sea since 1994. Besides the US has already established security ties with neighboring countries and has been combating terrorism and piracy in the Horn of Africa without closer or formal relations with Somaliland. Given these circumstances, it raises the question of what greater interest the US has in Somaliland compared to the past?
China’s Influence and US negligence
The answer to the above question may be found in the United States – China rivalry in Africa and global dominance. Despite US claiming to form mutual interests with Africa, the US’ true intention seems to be counteracting China’s growing trade and security ties with African nations. The US has a history of neglecting Africa, leading to a lack of clear objectives in its policies, which have fluctuated between exploitation, neglect, and limited efforts towards democratization and aid. According to survey done by Ichikowitz Family Foundation, the majority of Africa’s young population, constituting 60%, sees China as the most significant foreign player in Africa, with 76% perceiving its impact as positive. In contrast, US influence has decreased by 12% since 2020 and only 72% of African youth hold a positive view on US influence, which is lower compared to China. This result signify that America is losing the hearts and minds of the future of Africa, which may make it difficult for the United States to influence African countries soon. The shift towards a pro-China stance is driven by Beijing’s investments in African infrastructure development, and job creation opportunities in African countries.
China’s Horn of Africa Initiative
According to Chinese Government, China has implemented major infrastructure projects in Africa, including over 10,000 km of railroads, up to 100,000 km of highways, close to 100 ports, and numerous hospitals and schools. The key projects, such as the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway and Mombasa-Nairobi Railway, are now operational in the Horn of Africa region. China has used debt diplomacy to strengthen its influence in Djibouti, where it has established its first overseas navy base in a country that also host U.S. military forces. China is also broadening its security and economic presence in Somalia, which is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Chinese government has launched over 80 infrastructure projects in Somalia, including a national stadium, Banadir hospital, and a north-south highway. Somalia has also granted Beijing fishing rights for 31 Chinese long line vessels to fish for tuna and similar species for a year, with the deal automatically renewing annually, at a discounted price. In 2021 December, the Chinese embassy and Somalia’s ministry of information signed an agreement (MOU) to modernize the nation’s media organizations. The MOU laid out plans to upgrade the Somali National News Agency (SONNA), National Theater, and Radio Mogadishu. Previously, the Chinese government gifted Somalia with military vehicles and equipment, including ambulances, water trucks, landmine detectors, and other military hardware. Despite denials from the Chinese Embassy in Somalia, the Commander of U.S. Africa Command, General Stephen Townsend, stated that China and Somalia had discussed building a Chinese military base in Somalia. All these developments can indicate China’s strong presence in the Horn of Africa region, which forces US to seek a strategic location independent of China’s influence, and Somaliland is a potential candidate.
Somaliland’s Interest: Economic Development
Somaliland has been independently governing itself for the past 31 years, making significant progress in promoting democracy, free speech, and free market values. It is considered the most democratic nation in the Horn of Africa and one of the most democratic in all of Africa, ranking second only to Ghana according to a recent Freedom House Report. To revitalize its efforts in Africa, the U.S. should develop a comprehensive strategy that sets broad goals for the entire continent and tailor specific strategies to each region. This includes expanding mutually beneficial economic investments, leveraging U.S. strengths, and prioritizing economic over military strategies in competition with China. Instead of security cooperation and military resources Somaliland needs economic consultation and cooperation, trade and investment opportunities, and support for economic infrastructure and education for its young population. The nation needs U.S. support in joining international organizations and bodies to thrive in a globalized world.
About the Author:
Abdiqani Muse Hassan is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in International Business at Asia University in Taiwan. The author received his undergraduate degree from the University of Hargeisa in Somaliland. In 2019, the author graduated with an MBA degree from Asia University in Taiwan. The author served as the Head of Development Cooperation in Somaliland Diplomatic mission in Taiwan and is currently a research assistant at Asia university.