Tuesday, November 28, 2023

The proxy war over the geostrategic position in the Horn of Africa ─ Somaliland and Somalia Proximity and incompatibilities rendering the substances

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The geopolitical importance of Somaliland and Somalia triggered huge contestation of regional and international powers which, eventually, compromised the international community’s impartiality, neutrality, and genuine engagement. The parallel and paradoxical competition among external actors who rightly or wrongly perceived a stake in both or either country can perpetuate long-lasting solutions if only altruistically harnessed. But, in the light of non-traditional international community actors such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Turkey, and China vying for control of natural resources, and exploitation of the strategic importance of Somaliland and Somalia, objectivity on their part remains a pipedream. Lastly, the traditional international community has focused more on strengthening governance and security.

Defining Traditional and Non- Traditional International Community         

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The traditional international community refers to countries that had been providing development aid and humanitarian assistance to both Somaliland and Somalia or the erstwhile Somali Republic ─ since the post-colonial period.

Notably, the western countries such as European member states, Norway, the United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada, Australia, and some multilateral and bilateral development institutions qualify as a model of traditional international community/donors. Traditional community is mostly cognizant of prevailing contexts and adroitly fitting development assistance to existing situations and scenarios notwithstanding the criticism that development assistance is too bureaucratic and not receptive to fast-paced growth.

Non-traditional international community alludes to countries who are fairly new to the fora of international community engagement and history of development and humanitarian assistance commitment with Somaliland and Somalia, and these countries who fall into this category are not that far back. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, and China come readily to mind.

Equally, the mounting division and vast interests of traditional, largely indifferent, international community actors such as European Union member states, Norway, United Kingdom, and the United States of America have understandable misapprehensions of how to avert a certain head-on clashes between the parties in the absence of a strong commitment on their part or on the part of countries bankrolling major facets of Somaliland and Somalia development and political agendas. Truly speaking, the political context of Somaliland and Somalia is complex in the sense that the two sides are asymmetric in their political stability and historical personas.

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Therefore, the divergent stances of the international community over the issues of Somaliland and Somalia inflame outright competition among them. Only consolidated standpoints among major international actors can provide a way forward; divided and fragmented, the lackluster interventions of the international community will only exacerbate an overlaying, adverse impact.

Some commentators now argue that the international community’s faith to safeguard international and universal values is presently compromised because of, largely, the decay in international community cooperation on matters of monumental import. The defense of shared values and norms have, consequently, deteriorated to such an extent that leading international actors consistently failed to stand up to uphold justice and betraying signs leading to projected, nation-building, democracy, development, peace, and stability.

In the meantime, the expulsion of the UN envoy to Somalia, Nicholas Haysom, in early January 2019 was a gesture to test an international community on clear deviating tangents over fundamental issues of Somalia including the conduct of an ethical,  democratic process in Somalia ‘selections’ a.k.a. elections. Haysom reported election misconduct in the South West federal state of Somalia presidential ‘elections’ and alleged human rights violations upon which the Somalia governmentsummarily expelled him.

In addition, the African Union (AU) yet remains more dormant over the issues of Somaliland and Somalia apart from the African Union troop’s deployment in Somalia which role is mandatorily enshrined in the organization’s core principles.  AU has also sent fact- fining mission to Somaliland 2005 and 2008. The report produced proposed that Somaliland’s s case was legally and politically justifiable and should be treated as a special case.

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Ironically, despite all indications to the contrary, the AU still assumes that Somaliland and Somalia are yet under a configuration of one jurisdiction contradicting both its moral obligations and institutional existence. Due to this intransigence spanning over nearly three decades, the AU can no longer escape its obligations or credibly defends its untenable stance on the Somaliland and Somalia political dispute.

Power Influence

Some critics allege that non-traditional partner countries are more preoccupied with a mindset to influence politics in order to strategically control Somaliland and Somalia geographical locations and economy to benefit theirs. Particularly Somalia is more vulnerable than Somaliland because of the absence of peace and security which engender low accountability aggravating and/or creating situations where blank checks are the norm. Almost every so-called MOU between Somalia and the non-traditional partners invariably and preponderantly benefit more of the latter than the host.

Irrespective of UN, AU and every other international regulation on the issue of arms proliferation and the arms sanctions imposed on Somalia and Somaliland, the rivalries of countries such as Turkey and Qatar, on the one hand, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, on the other, adversely jostle for firmer purchases over Somalia and Somaliland to the detriment of good governance, accountability and regional stability. Consequently, and in addition to the equally self-serving interests of traditional and non- traditional partners, Somalia has become host to hordes of military personnel outside of AMISOM none of whom are accountable to it.

Hence, mortifying these nascent political systems can pose more risks especially in Somalia, where paradoxical, non-traditional actors have had a long trajectory and reception.  During the last presidential elections of Somalia in 2017, the amount of money that improperly spent was estimated US$350 million on, largely, vote-rigging, or vote-buying in order to influence the outcome. The rivals, who had been kicked out of Somalia’s inner confluence are said to be angling for former purchases on local power-makers to oust the axis out of Somalia in the upcoming 2020 elections.

On the Somaliland side, the situation is totally different due to its 28 years of statehood and the political culture that exists. The Republic of Somaliland is not a place that is receptive to adverse external interventions to manipulate the outcome of elections. Democratic elections held in Somaliland were reported as popular, one-man-one-vote exercises based on international standards rated free and fair elections.

As a result, Somaliland has developed a more accountable system within the constitutional obligations where neither the government, the parliament nor the political parties can enter into any pact with an outside party/ies. Existing institutions, including a formidable civil society and the general public, provide an effective, sentinel check and balance mechanism.

The concessions given to UAE at Berbera port and military base can be a typical example of how the debate on this pact stimulated lively debate across political actors and the general public where the members of parliament, ultimately, approved the agreement. In contrast, the Turkey concessions at Mogadishu Port, Airport and military base had never been debated and approved by the parliament of Somalia.

On the other hand, China which is now the second-largest economy in the world has invested a lot in Africa through the China belt and road initiative.  The Belt, with its inherent debt traps, ostensibly, contributes to infrastructure development as ports, roads, railways, and airports but has been widely criticized as deficient of moral responsibility and the preservation of human rights. China is indifferent to whether the political system is corrupted, dictatorship or democratic and its economic development trajectory is trapping the poor countries in Africa with everlasting debt.

Similarly, the motive behind the China Overseas Fisheries Association to acquire a long-term fishing license for a fleet of 31 ships in 2018 by Somalia government is categorically exploitation in the maritime resources of Somalia.  Some commentators signify that Somalia leaders bought the concessions for supportive Chinese votes in the Security Counciland accessing illegal arms from China. Somaliland notified China government to avoid its maritime boundary in the Red Sea.

Turkey now is one of the frontline countries that lead the talks between Somaliland and Somalia. Although Turkey has very little experience in its contemporary history of Somaliland and Somalia, it has had a long history as the Ottoman Empire which occupied some coastal towns in the 16th or early 17th century leaving behind historical sites in the region. However, Turkey’s current growing role in Africa has streamlined its greater penetration in the Horn of Africa especially in Somalia and Somaliland.

Besides Turkey’s broader engagement in Africa,   the religious ties as Turkey is one of the Muslim leading countries is more instrumental to fascinate many Somalis from Somaliland and Somalia to have more empathy and feel at home with Turkey than others. To optimize its hold more, perhaps, Turkey readily granted visas on Somaliland and Somalia passports for entry into its country.

Nevertheless, Somalilanders are more apprehensive of Turkey’sapproaches to both the political and developmental spheres. Successive Somaliland Governments had not made a secret of reservations on Turkey’s impartial engagement of the talks and its neutrality. Political confidence was battered, too, by the failure of Turkey to influence Somalia to honor the outcome of the 2012-2015 talks it hosted. Turkey is still committed to the talks between Somaliland and Somalia and had even appointed an envoy to the talks, but political circles in Somaliland have a number of relevant questions and reservations relating to its continued engagement of the talks.

Political Context  

The two countries had very divergent colonial histories alike many other African countries and Asia. The experiences of unity and later on separation is not a unique notion or miracle either in the African context or elsewhere.

Nevertheless, as Somalis share the same ethnic, homogeneous societies, the unification was more favored at the time in order to create a greater Somali Republic in the Horn of Africa.  The consequences of this unification, however, became counter-productive and destructive for both Somaliland and the region as the dream of the Greater Somali Republic gradually faded leaving two incompatible partners forcibly patched to one another.

For Somalilanders, the unbalanced unification only brought injustice and gross human rights violations. Regionally, the unification of Somaliland British Protectorate and Italian Somalia had instigated instantly a great hostility and war between Somalis and Ethiopians, Somalis and Kenyans. Eventually, the Somali state in Ethiopia became part and parcel of that country following the devastating 1977 war between the Somalia dictatorship and Ethiopia─ Somali NFD settled for Kenyan identity in 1964. Djibouti went its way in 1977 following its independence. Thus, the five-pointed star on the Somalia flag became an anachronism nobody knew what to do with.

But, illogically, Somalia still insisted that Somaliland was part of a miscarried union that was never born, and the world humored it ─ for one reason or another – to the detriment of the people of Somaliland.

Somalilanders ‘ reinstatement of its independence in 1991 was not only of benefit to Somalilanders but also, a welcome, regional prospect for Ethiopians, Kenyans, and Djiboutian. This political decision that Somaliland people took, was a rational choice which, subsequently, created firm, mutually respected friendships between Somalis and Ethiopians, Somalis and Kenyans. Djibouti, although it played the rogue on occasion, maintained close ties with all.

Somaliland gave up 40,000km2 in Hawd and Reserve Area recognizing it as Ethiopia. It was not an easy decision but this was to reaffirm regional and international peace with the conformity of brotherly relations as Somaliland Constitution encourages to halt “the long-standing hostility between the countries in the Horn of Africa.” From this viewpoint, Somaliland stands for peace and mutual respect with all neighboring countries; and, it has sacrificed much with its national budget to keep Somaliland borders safe, and secure which made life easier for Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia, itself.

On the other hand, the political dispute between Somaliland and Somalia is more complex compared to many other cases that took place in Africa and beyond, because of three reasons (a)Somaliland’s pursuit of independence has unique characteristics of political history and its contemporary statehood (b)Somaliland is not a breakaway region or secessionists as international media frame it but Somaliland has fulfilled all criteria qualifying it for statehood before merger with Somalia (c) Somaliland case cannot be referred back or compared with the Ethiopia and Eritrea case, Sudan and South Sudan case or even East Timor and Indonesia but is more likely identical to Gambia and Senegal and that of Syria and Egypt.

Current Dilemma for International Security ─ the War in Yemen and its Potential Ramifications     

The Saudi Arabia oil facilities’ destructions through drone attacks signaled out the magnitude of the threat with the absence of an international community consolidated voice and action against such folly attacks. This attack has also sent a message to the rest of the world how dangerous the situation is. The proxy war is deeper than ever in this region. The multilateralism and polarization among the international community seem impotent to adopt quick, unequivocal responses to mitigate or stamp out regional and international growing threats.

The war in Yemen imperils peace and stability in the whole region. The distance between Berbera, Somaliland, and Aden, Yemen, is the only 261KM. Likewise, any other war in the Middle East, equally, is ruinous to the region bordering the Red Sea and the Gulf including its trade routes

Establishing Somaliland as an authority that can extend its unique security formulae to the Red Sea by merit of its Somaliland, then, would be able to ensure the smooth passage of commercial trade across the maritime passageway with an effective patrol of it’s in the Red Sea.

The Houthi rebels supported by Iran are a threat to Bab al- Mandab Strait and without Somaliland participation, the recently formed alliances of the Red Sea Alliance and IGAD Red Sea Task Force cannot take a vital role for the protection and safety of this most vital trade route.

The Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab strait provide passage to $US900billion worth of trade a year─ that crosses 35,000 commercial vessels a less than a year. Somaliland’s track record of the fight against piracy and international crimes in the sea deserves recognition and rewarding. Somaliland is a potent player in the creation of a peaceful atmosphere with its waters in the Red Sea than the much-touted Somalia which has no jurisdiction whatsoever over the 1200 – kilometers─ long of coastline and maritime boundaries ─of Somaliland. The geostrategic importance of Somaliland cannot be dismissed, instead, it should be exploited to benefit world peace and trade.

Violent Extremism and Vulnerability in the Horn of Africa

The Horn of African region has been both underdevelopment and conflict-ridden since its post-colonial emerging history. The intra and interstates conflict diminished the international reputation in the Horn of Africa. The region is attributed as a source of violent extremism, terrorist groups, piracy and the route of the influx of refugees, human trafficking, and other international crimes. In addition, some areas were mired in ethnic conflicts hampering development and stability in the region.

Nonetheless, the volatility of the region poses more threats to the rest of the world, particularly, since Somalia has become the safe haven of violent extremism, terrorist groups, and piracy over the last three decades. The proxy war of the international powers, inter-state conflicts, Nile waters dispute, Red Sea lawlessness, among others, contribute to prolonged persistence of conflicts in the Horn of Africa. These outstanding security matters are underpinned periodically by severe droughts, climate change and a cycle of poverty which exacerbates the overall human security and development indicators in the region.

Currently, a number of IGAD countries are under intense situations of conflicts and political rivalry i.e. Somalia–Kenyan maritime dispute which has been submitted to the ICJ for deliberation. Djibouti–Eritrea has a longstanding border conflict.  Ethiopia and Eritrea conflict of the border is now slowing down since the new Prime Minister of Ethiopia took Office in April 2018. The Sudan and South Sudan political crisis. There is a lingering, undemocratic political system for many decades in Uganda. Somaliland and Somalia’s political disputes existed since post-colonial independence but worsened since Somaliland reasserted its independence in 1991.

Somaliland also shares long borders with Ethiopia and Djibouti that are internationally hailed as more secure than ever by virtue of Somaliland’s allocation of manpower and resources.Somaliland has proven to be more receptive to work with international and regional actors to fight against violent extremism, terrorism groups, piracy, and other communal crimes than its neighbour, Somalia.

The vital role Somaliland plays in the region in the eradication of crimes is indispensable. Somaliland has never been known to be ambivalent to matters adversely affecting regional security and stability. This role is more accentuated by the fight against organized crime in human trafficking, piracy, drugs, money-laundering, illegal fishing and terrorist elements targeting, particularly, the young and impressionable in societies. The threat of these elements cannot be more start than they are in these years.

Regional Economic Integration and Transnational Trade 

For Somaliland to take a leadership role at regional economic integration is unescapable, historically, Somaliland was a getaway to Africa, Middle East, China, Europe, and North America  even before the pre-colonial era., Both Zeila and Berbera had geostrategic proximity of trade routes in the world and without Somaliland’s full participation, a full regional economic integration is neither feasible nor practicable.

The Berbera corridor which is now one of the largest corridors in the region is envisaged to play a lion’s role in opening Africa to the outside world through a highly developed Berbera port and a free zone.

The African Summit Niamey, Niger in July 2019 was on landmark occasion that endorsed “African continental free trade”. The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) block is behind to the extent that the aspiration of regional economic integration is constrained by either insalubrious competition in the region or the lack of political cooperation among member states.

The political status of Somaliland as a de facto state and its rights to access regional blocks on commerce and international trade can no longer be side-lined.  It is disadvantageous, at best, to the whole of Africa and, especially, to the Horn of Africa, if this anomaly continues.

Most regional and international actors are more optimistic that the Berbera corridor will have more contribution to the realization of regional economic integration, transnational trade and diversifying economic opportunities in the region. But without the Republic of Somaliland playing a central role, vital development programs planned for the region will remain only as a figment of the imagination.

About the Author 

Mohamed A. Mohamoud (Barawani) is a Ph.D. candidate andexpert in the Fragile States, Governance, and Elections

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