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.
Tensions rose between govt and opposition party Waddani over elections delay, and Al-Shabaab for first time briefly captured village in Somaliland. Parliament’s lower house 12 Nov approved new electoral commission (NEC); opposition parties Waddani and Justice and Welfare Party (UCID) same day rejected new body over its composition. Following calls by Waddani leadership for peaceful demonstration at its headquarters in capital Hargeisa, police 17 Nov arrested two Waddani officials including its party leader and 18 Nov occupied Waddani’s headquarters and barricaded roads leading to it. Parliament’s upper house 24 Nov extended term of upper and lower houses until 2022 and 2023 respectively; Waddani and UCID said term extensions were illegal. Following mediation by traditional elders, President Bihi 26 Nov ordered release of Waddani officials. Near Borama in west security forces 15 Nov clashed with armed group led by local militia leader Suldaan Wabar; unknown number of casualties. In Sanaag region in east, Al-Shabaab 17 Nov claimed it captured Gacan Maroodi village, first time armed group temporarily held control over village in Somaliland. Clashes over gold between two rival clans late Nov left at least three dead near Waqdariya. Authorities 10 Nov assaulted and briefly detained two journalists covering traders’ protest in Hargeisa; 18 Nov closed private television station and arrested its chief editor.
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