Global Policy Forum

Can Somaliland Cure Somalia's Woes


By Rachelle Kliger

The Media Line
March 28, 2010

Somalia is suffering on many fronts. The transitional government is engaged in an ongoing conflict with radical Islamists who risk turning the country into a haven for Al-Qa'ida inspired groups. The Horn of Africa nation is afflicted by a dire food shortage, inflation and a spate of piracy.

But as Somalia continues to wallow in violence, some eye a solution in Somaliland, a relatively quiet and stable autonomous region in the north of the country which, while it has not been recognized internationally as a country, is considered a de facto state.

The Media Line spoke with Somaliland's Foreign Minister Abdullahi Duale during his trip to Washington, where he was meeting with U.S. administration officials.

"We are basically a very stable and peaceful country," Duale told The Media Line. "We have secured our sea coasts and we're free of piracy. Somaliland has fought terrorism over the years and we have institutions that work. We're at peace with ourselves and we have great relations with our neighbors, such as Djibouti, Ethiopia and Yemen."

Somaliland has been clamping down on a spate of piracy that is plaguing the region by seizing pirates and putting them on trial.

"In piracy, we're helping extremely well," Duale said. "We have an 850-kilometer coastline and up until now we've been very lucky. We have a very vigilant and small group of coastguards. Although their capacity is very limited - we don't have the infrastructure for combating it - we've been lucky and our people are supporting us."

But beyond that, Duale implied that in the current political and economic climate, Somaliland's powers are limited in curbing the violence in the region.

"There have been successive attempts by the international community - by the U.S., the Arab League and the African Union - but thus far it hasn't been a viable success, simply because they're not serious," he said. "This is a serious thorn in the side for the entire region and throughout the world. A stable Somalia will contribute a great deal to us and to the region."

Al-Shabab is the dominant radical Islamist group, which controls large tracts of southern Somalia and parts of the capital Mogadishu.

Duale argued that the lack of strong relations between Somalia and Somaliland also reduces the administration's power of influence.

"We do not have relations or a dialogue with them," he said. "We have no security arrangements with them. We're trying to make sure our borders are intact and that our security is not compromised. There are no viable institutions that one can deal with [in Somalia] and we have never participated in their conferences, so it's a serious problem. There's fragmentation and problems and we don't want to get drawn into this."

"We have been advised by friendly countries to stay out of that, but we wish them luck and hope that what comes out of this process is a serious government that takes control of the nation and provides security and governance to the people of Somalia who have suffered for so long."

Mohamed Amiin Adow, the chief correspondent of the Shabelle news agency, had a different take on the matter.

"If Somaliland relinquishes its stance of breaking away from the rest of Somalia, then the seat of the Somali government can be relocated from Mogadishu to Hargeisa and law and order can spread from the more stable parts of the north to the chaotic parts of the south," he told The Media Line. "Somaliland has been enjoying peace and stability since it declared independence from the rest of Somalia."

"No one is safe in Somalia when it comes to security, whereas Somaliland is a little bit different due to the functioning self-administration," Adow said. "It's more stable as opposed to Somalia, but doesn't have the established security which can fully guarantee the safety and security of its people."

"Many people believe the security situation in Somaliland is very fragile and can vanish at anytime unexpectedly, because Somaliland has no border security system and illegal weapons are brought in regularly," he added. "Also, there are more and more Al-Shabab sympathizers in Somaliland, so violent activities can happen, like the one in 2009, when a suicide bombing killed a lot of people in Hargeisa."

The foreign minister said he is engaged in efforts to secure recognition from countries around the world to make Somaliland an official independent state.

"We established a nation state using a bottom-up approach," he said. "It's been characterized as one of the most successful, if not the successful nation-making processes that has taken place in Africa and elsewhere. It's a pity that thus far we haven't had the attention of the international community."

"We are a poor nation with close to four million people, a budget of less than $40 million, 50,000 security forces including the military and coast guard and close to 7,000 civil servants," Duale continued. "We're operating a whole nation the size of England and Wales with 40 million dollars."

"We're appealing to America and the international community and to countries that promote democracy to assist Somaliland in building its infrastructure and capacity," he said. "We have been threatened by terror for quite some time and been victims of terrorism numerous times, and we overcame this."

"We're in a neighborhood that's extremely volatile and extremely difficult and we have contributed greatly not only in the regional geopolitical case of security but also in good governance and in the democratization process."

Andrews Atta-Asamoah, a Kenya-based researcher at the Institute for Security Studies said Somaliland could play two primary roles in bringing more stability to the region.

"One, it can present an example and sharp demonstration of what peace and stability can achieve, so that warlords, saboteurs and spoilers of peace in the central and southern parts of Somalia will begin to consider the effects of their actions," he told The Media Line.

"Secondly, it can make use of soft power, particularly diplomatic lobbying and engagement with other states to draw a sharper attention to the Somali crisis. Unfortunately, however, soft power has been denied to Somaliland since it is yet to gain recognition by any state in Africa and beyond."

For this reason, Atta-Asamoah explained, the best way for Somaliland to be an effective player is to grant it official international recognition.

"Without recognition, it will be very difficult for Somaliland to play any leading role in the resolution of the crisis," he said, "since they can't effectively influence other independent states or directly mingle in the complex situation of clannism on the ground since they risk being dragged into the mess around the issue of clan politics. Particularly, any uncalculated intervention could be misconstrued as an Issaq clan agenda to dominate the other clans."

Britain withdrew from British Somaliland in 1960 to allow its protectorate to join with Italian Somaliland and form the new nation of Somalia. A 1969 coup ushered in an authoritarian socialist rule for two decades. The regime collapsed in 1991 and Somalia descended into turmoil, factional fighting, and anarchy.

In May 1991, northern clans declared an independent Republic of Somaliland. It is considered a de facto independent state but no sovereign states have recognized its independence, even though many governments maintain informal ties with Somaliland and there are delegations and embassies in its capital, Hargeisa.

As for Somalia, the country has not had a stable government since 1991.

A Western-backed Transitional Federal Government was set up in 2004 but Mogadishu remained under the control of a coalition of sharia courts known as the Islamic Courts Union.

Originally the militant wing of the Islamic Courts Union, Al-Shabab began an insurgency in late 2006 with assassinations and suicide bombings targeting aid workers and transitional government officials. The group has since made significant gains and now controls much of southern Somalia.

The Western-backed Ethiopian military invaded Somalia in 2007, but many analysts believe this augmented Al-Shabab's military campaign against the transitional government.

The Ethiopians withdrew in January of last year after over 16 months of Al-Shabab attacks on its forces.

The Islamists soon regrouped, began seizing strategic areas and launching daily attacks on security forces, civilians, aid workers and peacekeepers. The dominant Islamist group today, known as Al-Shabab, wishes to topple the current Western-backed government and impose Islamic law.

The transitional government is preparing a major military offensive to retake the capital Mogadishu from Al-Shabab and various other militant groups in the coming weeks.




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