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.
Fighting flared in several areas, political parties struck deal unblocking electoral process, and relations with Somalia, which claims sovereignty over Somaliland, remained fraught. In Sanaag region (disputed between Somaliland and Puntland), rival clan militias clashed in Duud Arraale and El Afweyn 7-8 July leaving at least 25 dead. Also in Sanaag, Somaliland forces clashed with those loyal to Colonel Arre, who defected from Somaliland to Puntland in 2018, near Dhoob 10 July leaving three Somaliland soldiers and one of Arre’s soldiers dead. After Arre’s forces 26 July took Karin village, clashes broke out there next day between them and Somaliland troops, reportedly leaving two Somaliland soldiers dead. Country’s three political parties 27 July agreed way forward to holding long-delayed parliamentary and municipal elections this year, including by increasing number of members of electoral commission from seven to nine. Govt early July filed complaint at UN following late June agreement between Somalia and international civil aviation authorities that sees Somalia take over managing airspace over Somalia and Somaliland from agencies neglecting previous agreement between Somalia and Somaliland to manage airspace jointly. After Somaliland President Bihi visited Guinea 2 July and received welcome befitting head of state, Somalia 4 July cut diplomatic ties with Guinea on grounds that invitation to Bihi violated Somalia’s sovereignty; Guinea apologised. Somalia President Farmajo 17 July formed committee to represent govt in renewed dialogue with Somaliland; Somaliland 19 July rejected it reportedly because it included members from Somaliland whose legitimacy it does not recognise.
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.
Recent developments have made the choice faced by the international community considerably clearer: develop pragmatic responses to Somaliland’s demand for self-determination or continue to insist upon the increasingly abstract notion of the unity and territorial integrity of the Somali Republic – a course of action almost certain to open a new chapter in the Somali civil war.
Originally published in openDemocracy
Originally published in D+C - Development and Cooperation