SOMALILAND RECOGNITION: TROUBLED WATERS AHEAD
By JAWAHIR YUSUF H. ADAM1
Somaliland was an independent State
Somaliland has been seeking independence for 18 years. Peace and stability are now threatened by both internal and external forces.
Somaliland received its independence from Britain on 26 June 1960 and was immediately recognized by 35 states. Mr. Mohamed Ibrahim Egal became the first Prime Minister of Somaliland and headed the first Cabinet of Ministers which comprised of four elected Ministers including: Garad Ali Garad Jama, Ahmed Haji Duale (Keyse), Hajji Yusuf Iman and Haji Ibrahim Nur. According to historians Prime Minister Mohamed Egal was hit with a Pepsi cola bottle on his neck by a person when he requested for a delay in the unity process with Italian Somaliai. Consequently, to prevent internal disturbance the political leaders handed over, unconditionally, Somaliland?s independence to Italian Somalia.
Five days after its independence, Somaliland joined Somalia on 1st July 1960. The union between Somaliland and Somalia was never ratified by the two partners and thus there is no legal binding between them. Soon after the union was formed, dissatisfaction of Somalilanders in issues such as power sharing was growing and was clearly demonstrated when in December 1960, a group of young Somaliland military officers attempted a failed coup to withdraw from the union and reclaim Somaliland?s independence.
Thirty years later, and after a bloody civil war between Siyad Barre?s brutal military machine and the Somaliland National Movement (SNM), the people of Somaliland chose to withdraw the union from Somalia on 18 May 1991. This was reconfirmed when a national referendum in Somaliland held on 21 May 2001 revealed that 97% of the population voted to remain independent. Today, Somalilanders are furious that they joined, voluntarily, a union soon after independence in 1960 which did not work in their favour. They know, too, that under international law, they have the right to abrogate that union. Sadly, however, the international community is still ignoring Somaliland?s legitimate case for recognition. Somaliland has taken strong steps to Independence Since declaring independence, Somaliland has taken a number of steps that demonstrate all the attributes of an independent state. It has a functioning constitutional democracy where the president, the parliament and the local councils are elected through a process of fair and free elections.
It also has its own currency, passports, a vibrant private sector, functioning and profitable airlines, and excellent relationships with its neighbours. In addition, the people of Somaliland have maintained peace and stability – a dramatic contrast to Somalia where carnage, mayhem, bloodshed and instability have been the order of the day for the last 18 years.
Independence Denied despite Sound Claim. The lack of recognition of Somaliland by the international community as sovereign state is a serious obstacle to its economic survival and development. Although Somaliland has a legitimate right to independence, the international community still refuses to accept the recognition the nation deserve. Indeed it represents a missed opportunity. This article attempts to examine why the world ignores Somaliland?s right for recognition.
So why? There are three main reasons that explain Somaliland?s predicament in securing recognition:
First, at the Africa level, the second OAU summit conference in Cairo in 1964 passed a resolution that stated in its preamble that „the borders of African States, on the date of their independence, must not be redrawn?;. Thus the African Union and its member states have not so far been willing to accept independent status for Somaliland for fear of undermining this policy. Ironically, however, Somaliland?s quest for recognition is exactly what the AU Charter specifies i.e respect for the colonial boundaries. Further, the AU’s position with policy is contradicted by its consent to the separation of other African nations that were once united. For example, Gambia and Senegal (joined in a “Senegambian Confederation”, 1982-89), and Ethiopia and Eritrea (joined 1952-93) and serve as precedent for recognition of former independence.
Second, at the United Nations level, the UN wants the African Union to take the first step in recognizing Somaliland and has made this a key condition. Unfortunately this is a double standard since many countries including the former Soviet Union, former Yugoslavia etc have all been split into many countries and immediately and unconditionally recognized by the UN and the international community.
But third, and now the most disturbing reason why Somaliland has not been successful in achieving recognition in recent years, is its lapse into what may be termed the African problem – power, leading to a grab for money, then wealth followed by even more power. Thus, instead of vigorously seeking recognition, Mr. Riyale, the current President of Somaliland, is busy manipulating the Somaliland population to try and hold onto the reins of power. By hanging onto power beyond his current term, he has lapsed into behaving like a typical Dictator. Riyale?s term was constitutionally over on 15th May
2008 when his 5 years term ended but he refused to step down and has since managed to extend his term of office twice.
There are serious worries that the President will delay again the elections that are now scheduled for 27 September 20009. This will again prove to be in violation of the constitution which allowed him only 5 years term and a blatant lack of respect for the people of Somaliland who elected and trusted him in the first place. It also signals an alarming message to the few international sympathizers of Somaliland?s struggle for independence. Thus, those few in the world who care are watching the latest developments and are disturbed by the continuous delays in promised elections as has been highlighted in numerous press reports.
The Human Rights Watch?s report, “Hostages to Peace” released on 13 July, 2009 stated: “The autonomous region of Somaliland is in danger of losing its democratic and human rights gains if its leadership does not soon mend its waysii”. The Human Rights Watch report also warned that the repeated delay of Somaliland’s presidential election threatens the foundations of its emerging democratic system. President Riyale is fully aware that Somalilanders are indeed hostages to peace and will, at any cost, try to keep their stability. He is clearly taking advantage of their patience. His disrespect for the constitution and democratic processes seriously damages Somaliland?s precious democracy and hope for independence.
Strategy for a recognition:
What can be done? Clearly President Riyale needs to mend his ways. Then, Somaliland needs to dispatch experienced and well educated Somaliland government representatives who can articulate the case of recognition. A number of important players that can be targeted in support for recognition are suggested below:
- The African Union is a major obstacle to Somaliland?s pursuit for recognition. The Somaliland authorities should make a serious appeal to this organization and articulate the case for recognition.
- The British government, as a former colonial power, will likely have a sympathetic ear and some sense of responsibility towards the people Somaliland. Somaliland should be active in securing support from the UK foreign policy advisors and the Parliament.
- The neighboring countries, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya have a clear interest to have an independent state in their backyard that is stable and free of anarchy, with a viable economy and a functioning constitutional democracy. Somaliland should exert more efforts in getting
The US Congress and State Department, in its new re-invigorated form, can help enormously. With President Obama?s support for peace and stability in the world, in particular Africa, and given the numerous past failed foreign policy of President Bush towards Somalia, there is an ample opportunity in lobbying for Somaliland?s recognition in the US. The Somaliland government should consider hiring a Public Relations firm that could vigorously campaign on its behalf for recognition. Many current Nation States have achieved their goal by hiring US Public Relations firms in the United States, especially in Washington DC.
External threats are deeply troubling In the meantime, the threat of an escalation of the conflict in Somalia to Somaliland is real. A serious fear is that the conflict in Somalia will be dragged to Somaliland and destroy the peace and stability that Somalilanders have been building for the last 18 years. Somaliland has an excellent chance to get attention from the International community who have given up on any peace prospects in Somalia. President Riyale and his government should seize this opportunity and campaign aggressively for recognition, followed by peace and stability. And, who knows, such inspirational leadership would have rewarded him, democratically and popularly, with the power he so cravenly seeks.
Thus, President Riyale must respect the law of the land, allow the democratic process to take place and organize a peaceful, fair and free election no later than those currently promised on 27 September 2009, for not doing so will likely evaporate the hope of recognition and destabilize Somaliland.
Unfortunately, it seems that only catastrophe moves the world to act. So, Somaliland must watch its peaceful existent collapse into power struggles by corrupt politicians followed by invasion by the „liberators? – the so called Islamists from the South. When Al Shabab has a strong foothold, only then will the world react. History then repeats itself as Somlailanders will no doubt fight for their liberty and an armed insurrection will start to keep the „invaders? away. At this point the international community may wake up with moves for peace with promises of independence if fighting could stop. When after 20 years, the country is again in ruins, its population displaced, women?s rights vanished, education dilapidated and human rights violated – will independence then be achieved? Unfortunately, this is the scenario that could present itself if a fair and free election does not take place on 27 September 2009
- Abdulaziz Al-Mutairi, Buzzle.com 7/2/2008 2 Human Rights Watch, Hostages to Peace, 13 July, 2003
- 2 Human Rights Watch, Hostages to Peace, 13 July, 2003