Gulf states are competing for influence in the Horn of Africa to control the Red Sea, transposing internal rivalries onto a fragile region. Horn governments should increase their bargaining power with their powerful neighbours, who should recognise the risks their policies pose to regional security.
Unidentified assailants carried out targeted killings in disputed Sool region in east. Car bombing in Sool’s regional capital Lasanod 2 March killed region’s top judicial official; also in Lasanod unidentified gunmen 16 March shot and killed lead investigator of earlier bombing. Somalia, which does not recognise Somaliland’s claim to sovereignty, 19 March closed airspace over Somalia and Somaliland for international flights to curb spread of COVID-19; govt 21 March said Somalia does not have jurisdiction over its airspace. United Arab Emirates early March reportedly cancelled plans to establish naval base in coastal city of Berbera. Following EU mediation late Feb that had unlocked stalemate over long-delayed parliamentary and municipal elections, parliament 28 March rejected nominees to electoral body of opposition parties Wadani and Justice and Welfare Party (UCID); President Bihi and leaders of Wadani and UCID denounced parliament’s decision.
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.
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