Somaliland is going through considerable political turmoil. The government and opposition disagree over the sequencing of two forthcoming high-stakes elections, and both sides are digging in. International partners should push the two sides to reach consensus, while standing by to mediate if talks fail.
Situation in Las Anod worsened dramatically, with clashes between Somaliland forces and local militias killing over 100; violence could escalate further in coming weeks if fighting spreads in Sool region or draws in Puntland, Somali or even Ethiopian actors.
Violence in Las Anod left over 100 dead. Conference of Dhulbahante clan representatives 5 Feb concluded in contested Sool region’s administrative capital Las Anod; participants said they did not recognise Somaliland’s administration and wanted to be part of Somalia, demanding withdrawal of Somaliland forces from wider area they inhabit in Sool region. Clashes same day broke out between Somaliland armed forces and Dhulbahante militias in Las Anod. Violence 6 Feb killed at least 34 people and wounded another 40, next day left at least 24 people dead and 53 injured. Hargeisa 7 Feb asserted fighters from neighbouring Puntland state of Somalia were fighting alongside local militias in Las Anod, which Puntland denied. Hargeisa 10 Feb announced unilateral ceasefire, which promptly broke down amid fresh fighting, and violence continued throughout month with mortar shelling in town itself. Somaliland 25-26 Feb withdrew forces from important military base in Tukaraq village east of Las Anod.
Regional and international actors called for calm. Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud 7 Feb called for negotiated settlement between Somaliland administration and clan elders of Las Anod, said “solution is in our pursuit of united Somalia”. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk same day urged Somali authorities “to carry out a credible and impartial investigation into the clashes to determine who is responsible and to hold them accountable in fair trials”. UN humanitarian agency 14 Feb said violence since early Feb had displaced over 185,000 people from Las Anod.
What Somaliland is probably trying to do by saying there are terrorists involved in the fighting is to discredit their opponent.
Somaliland took an important step toward stable democracy with parliamentary and local council polls on 31 May. To keep moving in this direction, authorities and the opposition should build consensus on how to run future voting and how to make the government more inclusive.
This week on The Horn, Alan Boswell welcomes Dr. Mohamed Farah Hersi to discuss Somaliland’s evolving role in the Horn of Africa as it works to legitimise itself on the global stage following an unexpected outcome in a recent parliamentary election.
Ethiopia, the U.S. and the EU have brokered surprise talks between the Somalia and Somaliland administrations, which are historically opposed, though progress has stalled while both sides prepare for elections. The parties should cooperate on technical issues, pending a shot at deeper dialogue.
Somalia and Somaliland have been at odds since the latter’s 1991 declaration of independence, which the former rejects. The dispute has cooled after heating up in 2018, but lingering tensions could threaten regional stability. To restart dialogue, the two sides should meet for technical talks.
A dispute between Puntland and Somaliland over the contested areas of Sool and Sanaag risks escalating into open war. The UN, supported by states with influence on the two sides, should renew diplomatic efforts to broker a ceasefire and press both to enter negotiations.
Somaliland’s clan-based democracy has consolidated a state-like authority, kept the peace and attracted donors. But the territory now needs to reform its political bodies, judicial institutions and international engagements to protect itself from continued fragility in neighbouring Somalia – which rejects Somaliland’s independence claims – and civil war in nearby Yemen.
The stalled electoral process has plunged Somaliland into a serious political crisis that presents yet another risk of destabilisation for the region. If its hard-won political stability collapses under the strain of brinkmanship and intransigence, clan leaders might remobilise militias, in effect ending its dream of independence.
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