Somaliland: Did the AU Sanction Proposed and Iii-fated Somalia President Farmajo’s Visit that Bred Rumpus in Hargeisa and Mogadishu?

Eight Priorities for the African Union in 2020

Somalilandsun – In the sidelines of the 33rd AU summit in Ethiopia a meeting between the presidents of Somaliland and Somalia took place in the offices of Ethiopian Premier Abiy Ahmed offices in Addis Ababa.

The brief meeting which was first face to face between Somaliland president Muse Bihi Abdi and Somalia counterpart Mohamed Abdillahi Farmajo whose agenda remains mysterious a fortnight later seems to have ensued with two very  outcomes that have become very controversial in both Hargeisa and Mogadishu.

First the apology extended by president Farmajo on behalf of the Federal government of Somalia for atrocities committed against citizens of Somaliland by the government of late Somalia dictator Mohamed Siyad Barre during the civil war of the 1980s and early 90s.

The military operation by the Somalia army dubbed KILL ALL BUT THE CROWS resulted in thousands of Somaliloanders killed mercilessly, hundreds of thousands maimed and displaced both internally and externally not to mention massive destruction of public and private property.

The second was the announcement that President Farmajo accompanied by the Ethiopian Premier shall visit Hargeisa the capital of Somaliland.

In Hargeisa the apology was termed as too little too late and one lacking substance for it did not address the core issue of Somaliland’s recognition as a sovereign nation.

Somaliland a former British protectorate withdrew from its 1960 voluntary later turned fateful union with Somalia a former Italian colony three decades ago and despite the fact that it was briefly a UN recognized country Somalia has continued to claim it as its Northwestern region, to the chagrin of Somalilanders.

The issue of the Farmajo visit to Hargeisa was equally met with refusal by citizens from all walks of life with the chairperson of Guurti, Somaliland’s upper chamber of parliament Suleiman Mahmud Aden stating clearly that Farmajo was a persona non grata thence not welcomed.

For president Bihi whom many had thought agreed to the visit during the meeting in Addis Ababa came out strongly during the constitutional annual state of the nation address to a joint session of parliament on the 18th Feb stating that

“On the Rumoured visit of the Somalia president to Hargeisa, it is impossible and will never happen considering the atrocities undertaken by his country towards citizens of Somaliland. If it shall ever happen, the only avenue open for the president of Somalia to visit our country is for him to acknowledge the sovereignty of Somaliland after which he or she shall receive a red carpet welcome.”

Also Read Somaliland is neither a Secessionist State nor a Regional Administration” Information Minister Reminds Somalia

In Mogadishu the seat of the Federal Government of Somalia things were no different as pertains the controversial proposed Farmajo visit to Hargeisa with two past presidents of the country terming such as an untenable move.

Addressing a political parties symposium in Mogadishu former Somalia presidents Hasan Sheikh Mahmud and Sheikh Shariff Ahmed were categorical that the question of Somaliland viz ‘a’ viz Somalia that  that has prevailed for three decades cannot be solved by a mere apology and visit by president Farmajo.

Speaking to the media, Hassan Sheikh said that the Somaliland issue has been in the spotlight for 30 years, and that talks between Somalia and Somaliland cannot be resolved in a short time or otherwise.

Adding that “The situation in Somaliland has been going on for 30 years, and that the two peoples who have been in conflict are yet to reconcile thence boarding a plane and visiting Hargeisa isn’t a solution”

According to Sheikh Shariff who led the Somalia Transitional Government the matter of Somaliland and its withdrawal from union with Somalia requires saner minds and caution as opposed to apologizing and then boarding a plane for a visit.

“This matter must be approached through dialogue without preconditions” said Sh Shariff adding that haste shall not work as he stressed on the opposition to the proposed visit to Hargeisa elicited from Somalilanders.

Now that this visit which would have been surely historic has seen its doors closed in Hargeisa and Mogadishu what of in the corridors of power in Addis Ababa where it germinated from?

A day after the president Bihi annual address to the nation in which the visit became officially dead, the prime minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed who aspires to reconciling the two formerly united countries dispatched a high level delegation to Hargeisa led by his right-hand man and finance minister Ahmed Shide.

Before, during and after the one day stay in Somaliland by this Ahmed Shide led team neither Somaliland nor Ethiopian authorities uttered a word, a very unusual occurrence indeed thus leaving all only to guess.

What can be alluded to as a an incognito message from the Ethiopians came via the latest Week in the Horn bulletin published by the ministry of foreign affairs in Addis Ababa that read

Quote-Somaliland President Muse Bihi has welcomed public apology by President Mohamed Farmajo over atrocities committed by Siad Barre. President Bihi lauded the move as a special and historic one. The announcement by Farmajo last week on February 13 is among the latest moves that has seen rapprochement between the two. Last week, the two held, for the first time, a closed-door meeting in Addis-Ababa. Unquote

Though it did not mention the visiting delegation it was released as the finance minister led team was in Hargeisa where the Geeska Afrika unraveled the mystery shrouded visit as one that saw secret talks with president Bihi revolve around the port of Berbera in which Ethiopia has a 19% stake in the $422m contract held by UAE’s DP World.

Other talks as revealed by Geeska Afrika sources pertained to the now in visit by President Farmajo to Hargeisa said to be very dear to PM Abiy Ahmed the Nobel peace laureate known to aspire to reconciling the entire Horn of Africa region thence regional Security, political and economic cooperation.

But the swift manner in which PM Abiy reacted to opposition and ultimate rejection of the planned visit to Hargeisa by the Somalia head of state in which he, PM, was to have towed him all the way from Mogadishu raises other concerns

Was the visit sanctioned by the early February AU 33rd summit held in Addis Ababa? Considering that president Farmajo had also pursued and similarly denied a visit to Garowe capital of the Somalia administrative region of puntland?

While the official communiqué of the 33rd  AU  summit has become impossible to access sources indicate that President Farmajo had been covertly forced to visit all regional administration’s capitals to resolve all outstanding difference prevalent with his federal government before elections are held at the last quarter of 2020.

In Somalia there are five regional administrations that are under the federal government namely Puntland, Galmudug, Jubbaland, Hirshabelle and Southwest states said to hold acrimonies against the federal government which they jointly accuse of interference albeit  the constitution, in their internal affairs especially elections more so since Farmajo came to power.

While the AU is be so, can covertly or overtly force President Farmajo to visit the five Somalia regional states for reconciliation, the said cannot be for Somaliland which is neither a member of the Somalia federal government nor one affiliated with authorities in Mogadishu in any way and for the last 30 years.

Back to the AU where the final communiqué of the 33rd heads of state and governments is hard to find sources indicate that recommendations made by the International Crisis Group were actually put to work

The ISS upon acknowledging that the African Union has been taking a larger role of late in addressing questions of peace and security on the continent added that its annual survey identifies eight situations where the organization’s timely intercession could help resolve, mitigate or ward off conflict.

Also read President Farmajo Urges Somalia Somaliland Reunification

The eight ISS situations were

  1. Press for Compromise Ahead of Elections in Somalia
  2. Seek a Compromise with the UN Over Co-funding of Peace Operations
  3. Prepare to Support Ethiopia’s Election
  4. Avert Violence Fuelled by Leaders Changing Rules to Hold on to Power
  5. Keep South Sudan’s Beleaguered Peace Agreement on Track
  6. Help Burkina Faso Contain its Rural Insurgency and Avoid Electoral Violence
  7. Stay the Course on Sudan and
  8. Push for Inclusive Dialogue in Cameroon.

On the AU to Press for Compromise Ahead of Elections in Somalia, the ISS recommendations  are reproduced below verbatim

Eight Priorities for the African Union in 2020

Quote- Somalia is due to hold parliamentary and presidential elections in December 2020 and early 2021, respectively, but fraught relations between the federal government of President Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” and Somalia’s regions, or federal member states, threaten to blight the ballot. These tensions will likely increase as elections draw closer. Al-Shabaab, Somalia’s Islamist insurgency, may well take the opportunity to step up its violent campaign. AMISOM, the AU’s counter-insurgency mission in Somalia, can play a key role in minimising such violence during election season. More immediately, the AU should step up efforts to reconcile Mogadishu and federal member states ahead of the vote.

Al-Shabaab remained a potent threat across much of East Africa in 2019, conducting attacks both inside and outside Somalia. On 28 December, a bomb blast near a crowded checkpoint in the capital killed approximately 100 people, more than 90 of them civilians. The January 2019 raid on the Dusit complex in Nairobi, along with last month’s storming of an air base used by the U.S. military on Kenya’s north coast, illustrate the group’s enduring audacity and agility outside Somalia’s borders. Al-Shabaab’s resilience stems in part from its ability to navigate complex clan politics provide basic order and services in areas it controls, and raise funds through taxation and extortion.

The militant group’s endurance also stems from the federal government’s tenuous grip on security, which is loosened further by competition among elites. With an eye on the forthcoming elections, Farmajo has been trying to install allies at the head of key federal member states, despite local resistance. In Jubaland, the federal government refused to recognise state president Ahmed Madobe’s re-election in August, amid concerns about the conduct of the poll and government claims that the candidate selection process violated the constitution.

As a result, relations between Jubaland and Mogadishu are essentially frozen. The situation is not much better in Galmudug, where leaders from across the political spectrum have rejected Mogadishu’s interference ahead of scheduled local elections.

At their core, tensions between Mogadishu and the regions centre on unresolved questions about federal versus state powers and the distribution of resources, overlaid with fundamentally divergent visions of what federalism means in practice. Recently, some member states have complained that the federal government has not consulted them adequately in putting together new legislation, such as a bill to regulate the petroleum sector and another on the electoral system.

” The AU should press Mogadishu to improve relations with federal member states. ”

Tensions are likely to deepen as elections approach. The polls are due to be held under universal suffrage for the first time since 1969 (past elections have been indirect, using an electoral college – involving only about 14,000 voters – based on the clan system). The government maintains its commitment to providing all Somalis the franchise. Voter registration is expected to begin in March, but sizeable parts of the country under Al-Shabaab control will be inaccessible. In addition, federal member states are unhappy with the new electoral law, in particular one article which could pave the way for an extension of Farmajo’s term in office if elections cannot be held as scheduled. A May 2019 meeting between the government and federal state leaders aimed at resolving this dispute, among others, collapsed without resolution.

The AU should press Mogadishu to improve relations with federal member states. A starting point could be fresh talks between Farmajo and the regional presidents in a format similar to the National Leadership Forum, which met regularly ahead of the 2016-2017 elections. Such a dialogue would seek to forge agreement on voting procedures. The federal member states might agree to work with the federal government to ensure that elections run smoothly, and in return Mogadishu could agree to greater consultation with the regions on electoral rules. It may be necessary to delay passage of the electoral law in the upper house even if that affects the electoral calendar. The AU could seek to broker such a compromise. AMISOM, which can reach dangerous areas of the country that are off limits to the UN and other partners, will be vital to maintaining security during the ballot, especially if the government does attempt to extend the franchise to Somalis across the country. Unquote

So is the proposed and flopped Somalia president Farmajo visit to Somaliland a continental matter or is it a quest by PM Abiy to reconcile the two?

For PM Abiy who is surely determined to put his mark in the annals of history as a peacemaker it is worth remembering that the Somaliland  Somalia equation is very difficult to crunch if the international sanctioned and now stalled after five phases talks is any measure to go by.

Well one thing is for sure the opposition to the visit both in Mogadishu and Hargeisa is a pointer that great thought and care needs to be taken considering that haphazard intervention might result in further turbulence in the already volatile Horn region.