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Friday, July 12, 2019

Somalia-Somaliland: The Perils of Delaying New Talks

(ICG)- 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.
What’s new? Relations between Somalia and Somaliland, while back from the brink after a difficult 2018, remain tense. International actors are leading efforts to revive dialogue between the two sides.

Why does it matter? Absent progress toward dialogue, the parties’ relationship is likely to deteriorate in ways that could endanger regional stability.

What should be done? The two sides should agree to technical talks as a step toward negotiations on more sensitive political subjects. These talks should focus on security and economic issues where tangible gains can build mutual confidence. Discussing Somaliland’s political status could create counterproductive dynamics, including with Gulf states, and should happen later.

Executive Summary
Tensions between Somalia and Somaliland remain high. The core bone of contention is still Somaliland’s political status in light of its 1991 declaration of independence, which Somalia rejects. Relations frayed in 2018 when troops from Somaliland and Puntland, a semi-autonomous regional state in Somalia notionally loyal to the federal government in Mogadishu, clashed over disputed territory. Somaliland’s deal with an Emirati conglomerate and Ethiopia to manage its main port – which Mogadishu saw as challenging its claim to sovereignty there – deepened antagonism. But frictions have eased in 2019, and outside pressure has created some momentum toward renewed negotiations between the two sides, which last gathered to talk in 2015. The two sides should meet for technical talks, focusing on security and economic matters of mutual concern, and avoiding for now the polarising issue of Somaliland’s political status. A neutral party such as the African Union ought to convene the talks, so that none of the many states vying for regional influence sees the mediation as threatening its interests.

Getting back to talks will likely not be easy. In addition to historical grievances and decades of separate rule, efforts to restart dialogue face political opposition on both sides. With parliamentary and presidential elections approaching in 2020 and 2021, respectively, Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo” is particularly susceptible to pressure from his nationalist support base to shy away from talks and the give-and-take they may entail. Somaliland leader Muse Bihi, a former rebel commander who fought against the government in Mogadishu in the late 1980s, is less open to compromise than his predecessor. He will also face political pressure from hardline separatists, including other former insurgents, for whom any concession to Somalia is anathema.

Moreover, Gulf states could very well use their influence with leaders and others in Somaliland and throughout Somalia (including in its federal member states) to play the spoiler if talks are not carefully designed to take their interests into account. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) in particular enjoys close relations with the Somaliland government in Hargeisa and is unlikely to welcome a negotiation in which Somaliland is pressed to yield decision-making power to Mogadishu on issues that affect its interests. The Emiratis would likely prefer to engage on weighty matters with Somalia after its next elections in the hope of dealing with a federal government more sympathetic to their concerns.

But there are issues short of Somaliland’s political status that the two parties could meaningfully tackle to the benefit of both. Some relate to security. Defeating Al-Shabaab’s Islamist insurgency will require Mogadishu and Hargeisa to share intelligence and pool resources. And calming the volatile military standoff between Somaliland and Puntland over contested territories along their border will require Hargeisa to commit to de-escalation and Mogadishu to support, as it did in 2018, UN-led mediation efforts.

Read the document here


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