Somaliland: Which way forward?
Somalilanders abroad feel cheated by the international community. By successfully attending the London conference on Somalia many of them thought that their unrecognised nation was finally taking the diplomatic steps needed to be politically visible after more than two decades of unofficial dealings with the world in dark corners. The hope always was, by taking the mature step of attending and engaging in the conference, their cause would also be advanced as their progress would be obvious when compared with war ravaged Somalia’s.
The hope has started to fade now with the election of the new Somali President and his Prime Minister. Somalia has been changing faces and bringing new leaders for the entire period it was at war with itself but this new one unsettled the nerves of a few “Somalilanders.” He is not linked to the warlords and tribal cronyism usually associated with the Somali leadership and nor has he been specific about his plans for their land. He appears to be playing a waiting game to see what happens as oppose to rushing to make territorial claims. However, what should be worrying for the Somaliland leadership is that some of its people are worried about this as it indicates a lack of faith in the Kulmiye administrations ability to keep their nation together.
The worry of Somalilanders is warranted to some extent as the world’s focus has been fixed on resurrecting the Somalia state from its near fatal position of absolute collapse and not on their slow but painful progress towards stability and democracy. Much of the resources and expertise directed at the Somali peace process inevitably have taken much needed attention away from Somaliland’s own developmental challenges which cannot be advanced without donor support. Despite their worries, Somalilander’s ought to know that self-confidence is a key component for Statehood. Yes, Somaliland has complied with global security and economic priorities by building Pirate prisons and tackling Al-Shabaab within their borders but this is not all that is needed for nationhood. Favours alone will not bring the much desired independence of most Somalilander’s as only their own government’s actions can drive this forward.
Even if the Somali government was to appease Somalilanders with many ministerial posts and ask them to join them once again to form a unified republic, most would be put off by the 4.5 system that still haunts the political process. Why would any group with autonomy and peace want to go under a system dominated by larger Southern tribes who themselves fight for control over the State? The new Somali leadership is refreshingly different to the warlords and cronies of the past but they still represent two of the major tribes in the South. Very few politicians hailing from the Somaliland regions who went to compete for positions in government have been selected even though many were more qualified than the current leaders. This is a sign for most Somalilander’s that things will not change in the near future and that their arrangement is better for the overall interest of the tribes that live in their region. However, the fact remains; Somaliland today is living in the shadow of Somalia and most of the world’s most prominent powers want a united Somalia for many different reasons associated with their own personal interests.
In the absence of obvious and clear international support Somaliland can no longer just rely on its silent friends who sweet talk it into doing favours for them to advance their cause for independence. If Somaliland wants its flag to blow in the wind with the rest of the international community’s at the UN building in New York, it must go at it alone as much as possible. Good government at home always leads to a far more confident foreign policy and Somaliland leaders of all political persuasions, if independence is their goal, must firstly work out at home what their key priorities are to make the country stand out in the Horn of Africa. This requires more than just talking about peace and security at international conferences which is a continuing success but now no longer a new achievement as it has been there for over two decades. At the next international gathering what would impress the world more is a Foreign Minister from Somaliland who speaks of internal commitment to equality, better public services and regional integration. Of course funding will be an enormous obstacle to implementing any of these but with better tax collection systems and a new emphasis on effective public participation in the policy process as well as a co-ordinated strategy for aid implementation in partnerships with NGOs, the Minister will have a better chance of moving his nation from under the shadows of Somalia.
The Kulmiye Party’s policy of allowing new Political Parties to form is a commitment to democracy itself. However, what might have been innocently aimed at creating greater political choice and plurality is starting to look like a return to the dark ages of tribal politics. In addition to this the administration has been unsuccessful at promoting and spreading equality as well as overseeing the largest inflation increases on key things like food in their short time as a result of an inability to prevent monopolies and tax dodging by the largest companies in Somaliland. In many ways the government looks absent from the affairs of the State which are dictated by NGOs, tribesmen and Corporate fat cats.
If Somaliland wants to be respected in the world, its government must once again re-appear with real force, purpose and presence into the affairs of the State and take charge.
Even with Al-Shabaab’s retreat Somalia is still politically fragile and there is very little for the Somaliland government to worry about at present. However, if and when Somalia does find its feet, then the pressure will be turned up a notch by the international community for the two to join. This may be unthinkable now but international pressure and aid sanctions can make this a necessity. So, instead of Ministers waking up every morning to see what’s happening in order to determine what they need to do for the day, they need to be more proactive, efficient and effective. They must communicate their hopes of progress and the steps they are taking towards achieving it to the people. More importantly, they must keep the people on side with better public services, greater equality and regional integration and development. Assuming that all Somalilander’s are born loyal to the ambition of self-determination is a costly mistake. If the new Somali government or any other future one is able to offer them better services and support, they would most likely opt to join with them again in a referendum. Waiting for Somalia to fail to become noticed by the international community is also not a good strategy as this shows political immaturity and ill will in your brother’s hour of most need.
The Somaliland Foreign Ministry has an enormous task going forward. The Ministers in this department must find a way of remaining in the limelight without having the army to rent out for favours for donor nation causes like its neighbor Ethiopia. Even if they could and were willing, a military confrontation with the likes of Al-Shabaab would have made their small unrecognised land even more unstable and prone to violent attacks it cannot defend itself against. More importantly they have to show different tribal families in their vicinity that they are better off with them than Somalia. This tightrope can only be successfully walked in the future with a greater commitment to equality, better public services at home and an understanding that those that the State most needs to engage with and impress are not the foreign ambassadors but their own neglected people.