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Puntland’s Boundary Issues: What Will Abdiweli Gas’s Call for Unity Really Mean?
Puntland’s Boundary Issues: What Will Abdiweli Gas’s Call for Unity Really Mean?
How will the Taliban Victory Impact Other Conflicts Involving Jihadist Militants? (Online Event)
How will the Taliban Victory Impact Other Conflicts Involving Jihadist Militants? (Online Event)
Commentary / Africa

Puntland’s Boundary Issues: What Will Abdiweli Gas’s Call for Unity Really Mean?

Puntland’s new president, Abdiweli Gas, was a prominent mourner in Mogadishu last week at the graveside of Abdirizak Haji Hussein, a former prime minister of Somalia (1964–67). It was Abdiweli’s first visit to the national capital since his election on 8 January, though he had previously served as a minister (2010-11) and prime minister (2011-2012) in the then Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG). The twitter account of the newly established Somalia Federal Government (SFG) presidency (@theVillaSomalia) hailed the late Abdirizak as a “lion and patriot of Somalia” and highlighted his contribution to “national unity”. The wording will not be lost on Abdiweli Gas. Not only is he of the same lineage and region as the late Abdirizak, but he also now leads the regional state authority that has done the most to promote federalism in Somalia –which, for many Somalis, has dug the grave for national unity.

Abdiweli’s election – by 66 members of parliament selected by councils of clan elders – was peaceful, but he won by the narrowest of margins (33 to 32, with one invalid ballot) and inherits a politically divided and economically weak state. Moreover, as a diaspora politician, originally parachuted into the TFG in Mogadishu, Abdiweli has to prove his commitment to Puntland and beat back any impression that he wants merely to use the Puntland post as a platform to run for Somalia’s presidency. (He already made one failed bid in August 2012.)

The new president’s initial pronouncements have been encouraging, focused on the immediate task of getting Puntland government to work – not least in terms of public financial management, a big concern for donors. He has also made public commitments to restart the democratisation process abandoned – probably with justification – at the eleventh hour by his predecessor, Abdirahman Farole, in July 2012. (See our Dec. 2013 report Puntland’s Punted Polls.)

Further, he has made it clear that he wants to heal divisions within Puntland that have festered for many years. (See our 2009 report The Trouble with Puntland.) In his first speech to parliament on 4 February he said, “Puntland’s unity is paramount and sacred and can only come when all Puntland land comes back to the hands of the government” and called for a Puntland-wide reconciliation conference. Laudable aims indeed (and reflective of previous Crisis Group recommendations), but they should be viewed with some important caveats.

Talk of unity implies the cohesion of the Harti-Darood clan-family, whose local distribution in north-east Somalia is also the basic territorial expression of the Puntland state. Bringing back “all of Puntland to the hands of the government” also means the Harti-Darood-inhabited provinces of Sool, Sanag and Ayn, which the self-declared republic of Somaliland also claims (see map). Since 2004, Somaliland and Puntland armed forces have periodically clashed over these districts; more recently, local militias – associated with the self-declared Khatumo state and based on one sub-clan of the Harti-Darood, the Dhulbahante – have put up resistance to the intrusion of both the Somaliland and Puntland forces.

Map of Somalia Crisis Group

The Dhulbahante clan and Khatumo were critical issues in Puntland’s presidential election; Abdiweli has subsequently appointed two ex-Khatumo leaders as ministers in his new government.

It is certain that Somaliland’s own presidential and parliamentary election, scheduled for 2015, will embroil these same borderlands, both as an all-Somaliland issue and in the competition for clan votes. Concessions for oil exploration in these areas, granted by both Somaliland and Puntland governments (and whose authority to do so the SFG firmly rejects), will only increase the tension.

Welcome though Abdiweli Gas’s peaceful election is, and as sound as his priorities are for his new, 47-member cabinet, his calls for Puntland’s “paramount and sacred” unity need closer attention. In common with all Somalia’s national politicians – including secessionist Somalilanders – he still needs to appeal to his wider clan constituency to gain political momentum. Abdiweli must realise that challenging Somaliland’s territorial claims is no panacea for Puntland’s internal clan divisions, just as Somaliland must acknowledge that it cannot rule its eastern borderlands with an army perceived as an occupying clan. Marginal though the Somaliland-Puntland dispute may seem, it is in precisely these disputed gaps in Somalia’s governance that wider progress can be lost to violence and an extremist group like Al-Shabaab can find its opening.

Contributors

Former Project Director, Horn of Africa
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Analyst, Somalia
Former Researcher, Horn of Africa
a_abdille
Event Recording / Asia

How will the Taliban Victory Impact Other Conflicts Involving Jihadist Militants? (Online Event)

Could the seizure of Afghanistan by the Taliban just before the twentieth anniversary of al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks be a turning point for jihadist militancy worldwide? (Online Event, 28th September 2021)

Could the seizure of Afghanistan by the Taliban just before the twentieth anniversary of al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks be a turning point for jihadist militancy worldwide? Two decades after those attacks, the U.S. administration withdrew its forces from Afghanistan and the Taliban quickly took control of the country. This followed direct talks between the U.S. and the Taliban and an agreement they reached in February 2020 for the U.S. to pull out troops from Afghanistan in exchange for – amongst other things – guarantees the Taliban would not allow transnational militants to use Afghan soil for plotting attacks abroad.

As part of our series The Legacy of 9/11 and the “War on Terror”, please join us for this online event which will explore the impact of the Taliban takeover on other wars involving al-Qaeda and ISIS-linked groups. Crisis Group analysts will discuss the perceptions of jihadists and their enemies in the Sahel, Somalia and Syria of the dramatic events in Afghanistan and what they might mean for those conflicts in which they are fighting. The panel discussion will be followed by a Q&A with the audience.

Panelists:

Dareen Khalifa, Senior Analyst, Syria
Omar Mahmood, Senior Analyst, Somalia
Ibrahim Yahaya, Senior Analyst, Sahel

This event is moderated by Jerome Drevon, Senior Analyst, Jihad and Modern Conflict

How will the Taliban Victory Impact Other Conflicts Involving Jihadist Militants? (Online Event, 28th September 2021)