Somaliland’s Foreign Policy After Twenty Years: A Success or Failure?
Somaliland has impressively managed to create democratically elected governmental institutions, political stability, and more importantly, a bottom-up peace building program throughout the last two decades. The wonderful performance of the private sector in Somaliland reflects what we can do as a nation. However, this article is not intended to discuss neither the historic events that we have gone through as a nation nor the achievements of our Private sector, it will rather try to highlight the key issues in the case of Somaliland’s long-waited recognition.
After two decades of hard work it is true that we did not yet register our name in the international system. Therefore, academics, intellectuals and indeed the ordinary public of Somaliland are all raising a fundamental and acute question which sets out as following – why Somaliland has failed to achieve an international recognition? As the issue is too complex, it is hard to provide a definitive answer. But however, this article argues that there is a combination of factors that contributed to this failure. I will therefore, first look at two different dimensions, the legal and political perspectives, then expand further to highlight the various challenges in our way and then, I will conclude this paper with some key recommendations.
According to Heywood (2004) the state is a political association that establishes sovereign jurisdiction within a defined territorial borders and exercises authority through a set of permanent institutions. On the basis of that definition Somaliland has already acquired many tangible features of statehood. Those features include governmental institutions, flag, army, people, currency and defined territory. In addition, the crucial five days that Somaliland had full independence in 1960 is legally significant argument for the case. Furthermore, the historical roots which distinguished Somaliland from Somalia, and the more varied developmental experience, because Somaliland has not shared colonial experience with the South, and as a result that can contribute to a viable opportunity for Somaliland. Therefore, we understand that Somaliland has satisfied the legal perspective of statehood, but the problem lies with the political part of the story.
However, as the legal outlook of the issue cannot alone guarantee international recognition for our nation, it is clear and rational that Somaliland should persuade individual states whom their recognition to Somaliland could probably contribute to their economy, security or any other issue that concerns their national interests. We must be aware that the nation-states are not charitable organizations that have neither implicit nor explicit agendas, but instead, every country takes decisions on the basis of their national interest. This is one factor that explains the complexity of the foreign policy which needs very competent policy makers who work behind the seen and sorry to say, we are currently in short supply of such a people. Because we need to employ tools and mechanisms to understand the making of the foreign policy of each state that we want to develop relations with, and Somaliland does not grasp those mechanisms so far.
However, there are a number of factors that enlighten why the different Somaliland governments failed to persuade the international community to recognize our nation as a sovereign state. First, as highlighted earlier, countries focus on their own interests, and generally there are no practical moral principles that guide the foreign policy of any country in this modern World. Therefore, Somaliland has a little to offer to satisfy the interests of those countries, and we can understand further if we investigate the power resources of Somaliland, such as geography, natural resources, population, military capabilities and economy. Some people may argue that Somaliland is geographically strategic owing to the Berbera port; which is located at the entrance of the red sea. However, that argument was viable at the case of Cold War era, but all the other power resources are relatively weak, for example, the population is small in number and an unskilled, there is no commercially proved quantity of natural resources and there is no attractive economic boom.
On the basis of that reality, it would be difficult to create a momentum for the case of Somaliland in the eyes of the other states. However, it is possible someone to make a viewpoint that Somaliland could be an important partner for dealing with security challenges in the 21st century IE, the so called terrorism and piracy, but however, this kind of partnership could be successfully achieved without recognizing Somaliland; and this has been the case already. We have played our cards by cooperating with regional and international powers without any feasible returns.
Second, Somaliland governments did not only fail to persuade the international community for their case ,but also they failed to build strong institutions that can develop and implement coherent strategies for the different sectors, and this is true for the foreign ministry. For instance, there is no consistent foreign policy strategy which is available for the public, and there is no sufficient expertise in the subject who advice the minister. In addition, while I was doing a research for this article I found it interesting that the foreign ministry web page is a display of pictures, and the section of strategy and policy is under construction after twenty years, and that is explaining the institutional weakness that contributed to this failure.
Furthermore, the explanations that the government gives the public to inform them about the foreign policy activities, such as the new relations with Djibouti and the involvements of the Somali reconciliation meetings, such as the very recent Nairobi conference, reflects the lack of strategy in our Foreign office, because we have never seen tangible changes both from our immediate neighbors and the international community. For example, another blatant issue, which directly concerns us, is the Ethiopian foreign policy towards Somalia as a whole. They exercise what they call a “damage limitation” approach and they outlined a particular chapter concerning Somaliland and other regional autonomies in Somalia as following: “The question could be raised regarding the recognition of Somaliland as an independent state. Taking this initiative is not preferable to Ethiopia because it would create negative feelings on the part of Somalis living in the rest of Somalia and others would be suspicious of our intent.
Therefore, our cooperation with these regions should not include recognizing the regional administrations as independent states. But we should continue to assist these regions in maintaining peace and stability, as it is to our advantage”. (The foreign policy and national security strategy of Ethiopia), while this highlights the official stand of Ethiopian foreign policy regarding Somaliland, and other countries showed similar policies, our government failed to inform the public about the reality or to respond effectively, and their explanation is always on the contrary. It seems as if our rulers are trying to tell us what we fancy to know only, not what we need to know! This kind of strategy is often functional when we sometimes employ it to manage our children’s behaviour, not when we are dealing with a vital issue which concerns whole nation’s aspirations. I strongly suggest for the current administration not to continue following that old trail.
Finally, there are concerns of internal political division and tribal politics in Somaliland particularly in the regions of Sool , parts of Sanaag and sometimes in the Awdal region which surfaces from time-to-time although the latter has different concerns compared to that of the first two. This has created further negative implications to Somaliland’s bid for international recognition. For example, when President Silanyo was recently delivering a speech at the Chatham house, during his visit in London, one of the questions raised by the participants was about the conflict in Sool and Sanaag, and that is an indication of the significance of that conflict. Thus, the current administration must speed up a comprehensive peace process to win the hearts and minds of the people live in those regions. In addition, the current administration must not re-empower the clan based politics, and instead they should set out policies that create and promote national identity.
However, this does not mean that Somaliland recognition is beyond our reach, but this paper aims to highlight some of the challenges and complications regarding the recognition of Somaliland, and the systemic technical and strategic weaknesses in our foreign policy which the government needs to address. Nevertheless, to put it in a nutshell, I will conclude this brief article with a set of recommendations:
First, democracy should go beyond the elections and we should establish effective and transparent public institutions; independent judiciary where all citizens are equal before the law regardless of their social status, and operative legislative unit to establish checks and balance in the system.
Second, the government should develop a strategy which provides a clear road map and policies which suit for the different countries and regional associations, such as the European Union, African Union and Arab League. In addition, the government should reorganize the foreign ministry and employ the necessary subject expertise, and also provide the essential financial needs for the ministry. Above all the government should competently explain why Somaliland wants to be recognized, and what does the sovereignty of Somaliland can contribute to the world community. Those explanations and academic arguments should be available at the libraries and academic institutions across the world.
Third, a national commission which sets the policies and provides the strategy and policy guidance for the Foreign Ministry should be established, this commission would contribute significantly to the national efforts related to this vital objective. Because Somaliland is not yet recognized, therefore, we need to show national unity, and such commission would create national image. The members of such commission should, in my view, come from all social sectors, political parties and must also have a regional representation throughout the country.
Lastly, but not the least, the government should, (I must stress this point), hire a high-flying international lobbying company as the business of lobbying is increasingly becoming significant in the circles of strategic analysis, decision making processes and political influence. The funds to finance this program should be collectively raised by the government, business people and Somaliland expatriates. But, however, I should reiterate this: government should have the initiatives as well as the leadership role in all these. It outrageously seems that we are, as a nation, have been seriously affected with the syndrome of self-contentment and decided to sit back until recognition comes to our doorsteps without paying the effort needed.
The way that our governments have handled the recognition issue in the past, and indeed to the present day, and the overall perception that we have as a nation towards this important issue is very elusive and far shorter than what is actually needed. This situation always reminds me of a remarkable excerpts from one of the poems belong to that particularly outstanding poet; Abdilahi Sultan (Timacade), who once articulated the following verses: “Ninkii aan u doog-dhaban, biyaha looma soo daro!” meaning that at the time of water scarcity, whoever fails to pay extra effort to obtain some for himself, will not be supplied by others. However let us remember the remarkable words of Nelson Mandela “I hope the world will support the vision of hope” (Nelson Mandela), and that is what we also hope.
This writing will not lay the debate over the recognition issue into rest, but it aims to initiate a realistic and informative public discourse over this issue and I hope other writers will further contribute those vital areas of interest.