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.
After five-year hiatus, President Bihi and Somalia President Farmajo revived talks over Somaliland’s claim to sovereignty which Mogadishu does not recognise, while tensions increased with Somalia’s Puntland state. At meeting in Djibouti under auspices of Djibouti President Guelleh and Ethiopian PM Abiy, Bihi and Farmajo mid-June established joint technical committee to resume talks over Somaliland’s claim to sovereignty which broke down in 2015; in following days, committee failed to make significant headway, but both sides agreed to form joint subcommittees to discuss technical issues in July. President of Somalia’s Puntland state, Said Abdullahi Deni, 15 June said he would reject any outcome from talks as Puntland – which has a longstanding territorial dispute with Somaliland over Sool, Sanaag and Ayn regions – was not consulted; Deni 21 June called on Somaliland to “withdraw its troops” from Puntland, and threatened to “use military force”. Prior to Djibouti meeting, Somalia FM early June accused Emirati shipping line DP World of violating Somalia’s sovereignty by its operations at Somaliland’s Berbera port. In response, Somaliland immediately urged Mogadishu to stay out of its internal affairs. In Sanaag region, govt early June signed peace agreement with rebel group “Xaqdoon”. In Togdheer region in centre, inter-clan violence around 11 June reportedly left one dead in Gocondhale district. Parliament’s lower house 28 June approved two opposition members of National Electoral Commission, paving way to organising long-delayed parliamentary and local elections. In capital Hargeisa, police 25 and 27 June reportedly shut down two independent television stations.
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