Mustafe Barud Abdi
Since Somaliland’s declaration of its autonomous political ambitions in 1991, many Somalilanders and beyond are still confusing or are in a position of different opinions according to; what Somaliland has been achieved since then and also where it is heading? In other words; is Somaliland the right path to realize its longtime dream of statehood since its inception in 1991? Or is it the time to sit and rethink its future deeply?
Before we go through approaching these questions; it is more interesting to go back and have a short preview to Somalilands’ political background, chiefly during and post-colonial years. More than eighty years under British rule, Somaliland was a pastoral democratic society, where by a traditional cline system and a modern state affair were rivaling side by side. During these years Somaliland had different ideological political parties, free press, and Westminster like representatives elected from across the country. When Britons achieved Somaliland coastal areas, in late eighteens century, they immediately started to agree with tribal headmen on different locations and occasions chiefly in Berber, and those bilateral agreements created what is called Somaliland British Protectorate until 1960.
However; In 1960s the British protectorate becomes among the first nations in Africa, which got their independence from Great Britain, and right away started to unite with the rest of Somalia (Italian Somaliland) to generate greater Somalia, a dream which never realized. Unfortunately this unification was not politically calculated and legally settled, so it became the gridlock of Somalis dream of uniting the Somali people in the region under one flag. Nine years after political ambiguity, corruption and marginalization under New Somali government in Muqadisho, unexpectedly coup d’état took place in 1969, lead by communist party leader M. S. Barre, covering his palms the little hope that all Somalis had to resume their life dream of great Somalia. Mean while, everything went wrong, the brutality, oppression and dictatorial policies outshine. Good or bad, after longtime struggling Somaliland managed to say enough is enough in 1991, and announced its self-declaration, claiming to re-correct one major and historic mistake: going and uniting with Muqadisho.
Nevertheless; currently we may find some governments dealing with Somaliland as an independent country, by appointing ambassadorial ranking officers, opening consulate buildings in Hargeisa the capital city, officially welcoming Somaliland delegates on their capitals and reciprocally sending their high diplomats now and then, while also giving an entry visa to persons with Somaliland passports. Besides that, having bilateral economic agreements, like UAE and Ethiopia is another case showing Somaliland’s political positions in the region and a major political decision no one can denies. Yet; we do not have a sole state who deliberately acknowledges the political existence of Somaliland statehood and luckily or unluckily, we are not expecting it rapidly.
Though recognition may have different meanings to different people legally, politically, socially and even diplomatically, what is meaning here is the traditional recognition of states in international system (the formal acknowledgement of the status of an independent State by other existing states). Therefore; been recognized is a dynamic approach depends on situational and political aspects of different states, greatly, it is more about a home growing phenomenon, as many scholars believe, including me.
It is calculative and coherent national foreign policies, which are stemming from each country’s domestic policies, historical background, legal justification, regional and international stakeholders perspectives, and much more like. So that; we all know the importance of proving the rule of law, accountability, transparency and freedom of expression in the state are very key pillars to attract many other states and international actors.
Coming to the point, Somalilanders are all aware of that until now; there is no single country in the world which dares to say Somaliland deserves a formal recognition as a sovereign state. Ethiopia -a neighboring and a sympathetic state- is even reluctant to announce what is in its heart, recognizing Somaliland case openly. Instead of that, Addis Ababa favored its cordial and deliberate quiet diplomacy. On the other side; Ismail O. Gelle’s regime of Djibouti is also using fluid and more personalized policy, which is unclear pattern and outmaneuvering Somaliland foreign policy. Gelle and his government are ready neither to recognize nor to advocate Somaliland recognition, as we learned from last 27 years.
Besides the two hesitant neighboring countries, Somalia the metropolitan state, which shares with deep social, historical, economical and political bonds, is not yet prepared that kind of discussions, and not ready to answer the legal and political questions concerning Somaliland future, since it lacks freely elected president like Somaliland (universal suffrage). Many political commentators are saying, Villa Somali is bewildering its local security, peace restoration, and federalization processes, and not equipped and ready to negotiate Somaliland case of separation at the moment.
More over; Somalilanders are tired showing off themselves to the big fishes of democracies like US and EU; leave behind their Arab brothers and fellow Africans. Somaliland urgently needs international engagement; to exercise and behave as fully independent state, in order to receive debts, loans, aids, and foreign direct investments, and also to be part a modern globalized trade system, to utilize its strategic location. However; the twenty five plus years, are very long in social and economic wise, but may be very short in political and state building aspects, as history teaches us. Somaliland people are still wandering what their fate will be, after two and half decades of non-recognition, self-isolation and a foreign policy between a rock and a hard place, because of their failure to succeed a single nation in the world to recognize their right to disaffiliate from Villa Somalia, which they believe deserved to.
From elections to elective presidents, Somaliland is still missing the point, and exhausted of curing the symptoms instead of the disease. Somaliland is not lacking the fund, the intellectual, and the will of third party, but what it’s missing is a consistent and coherent foreign policy relating to its geopolitical needs. Somaliland regimes never had, and not yet seems to have a reliable and up to date strategic foreign policy which openly discussed, routinely updated and purposively executed.
For example; the youngest nation on the earth, South Sudan is suffering because of its sudden recognition from other states, after very long devastated conflict with Sudan, which engulfed many lives and economic destructions. Similarly; the self isolated east African state, Eretria has identical political history with Somaliland, as it is the childbirth of Eritrean freedom fighters, and continuously quarreling with Ethiopia since then, causing a bloodshed war between. Twenty seven years down to the nation’s birth, Somalilanders seems losing their mounting emotions and self aspirations. This extremely poor, multi-tribal, resource-rich state was in a civil war, bloodshed, and deep political turmoil, before it started its unique and home growing democratic process and everlasting peace and political stability, but no one is not rewarded and not showing to be ready to rewarding it.
At the present; Somaliland cannot remain this status quo, and politically is not ready to be recognized abruptly. The cold hard truth is that Somaliland needs change and Lessons learned from other states, in order to approach this recognition sentiment: Are Somalilanders; waiting cheerfulness or are heading to a promised road like their fellow brothers in South Sudan and Eretria. Somalilanders are not doubtful about their pass terrible experiences and wounds stretched from 1950s until 1990s, and they are not hopeful what tomorrow is promising to them. Let we ask ourselves, the question we are all asking each other: Where Somaliand is heading and for how long it can survive without its international engagement?
Somaliland needs deeper and speedier foreign policy reforms.
Mustafe Baroud Abdi;