Somaliland: Scores Big Against Federal Government at Istanbul Talks [Analysis]


Dr Omar and Mr Guleid: chief negotiators

Somalilandsun – The Communiqué on the political talks between Somali Federal Government (SFG) and Somaliland’s separatist administration indicates a big political score for Somaliland, as the SFG surrendered too much in the early stages of political negotiations, in hopes of achieving bigger goals.

SFG Interior Minister Abdikarim Hussein Guled and Somaliland Commerce Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Omar signed the document, entitled “Communique of the Somaliland and Somalia Dialogue Held in Istanbul on 7-9 July 2013”. The talks were hosted by the Turkish government for the second time since April.

Turkish Foreign Minister sits between SFG and Somaliland delegations, Istanbul July 7, 2013

While referencing prior agreements – Chevening, Dubai and Ankara – the document highlights that SFG and Somaliland delegations engaged in three days of deliberations at the Istanbul talks and concluded with a three-point agreement.

While Clause 2 “Committed to the continuation of talks” and Clause 3, “The next meeting will be held in Turkey within 120 days” emphasize political rhetoric, it is Clause 1 that issues practical declarations that catch everyone’s eye:

“Agreed to the return of the air traffic management from the UN and decided to establish a joint control body that is based in Hargeisa to lead the air traffic control of both sides. It is also agreed that this body will propose a mechanism for equitable revenue-sharing,” the agreement read.

Political score for Somaliland

Leaders of the SFG (and former Transitional Federal Government – TFG) have met with Somaliland President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo since the talks began in June 2012 in the U.K., the former ruler of colonial Somaliland.

This marked the first time Somaliland’s leaders met with officials from Mogadishu, underpinning a new policy and shifting political tone taking its root in Hargeisa.

In Dubai, on June 28, 2012, President Silanyo met with then-TFG President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, and signed a softly worded communiqué to be followed by the April 13, 2013, agreement signed in Ankara that slightly built on the progress of the Dubai agreement.

But the Istanbul communiqué jumped exponentially on the political scale, with the SFG inexplicably awarding Somaliland control over airspace of the Federal Republic of Somalia, while the SFG received nothing in return.

The “two-state proposition”

Over the years, political pundits have floated an idea of the aptly titled “two-state proposition” and there remains the persistent speculation that the U.K. supports a “two-state” solution for Somalia’s political anarchy, pointing to the fact that the talks originated at the London Conference 2012.

Under this proposition, Mogadishu and Hargeisa would negotiate a political settlement on equal footing, in accordance with colonial-era boundaries of British Protectorate of Somaliland and Italian colony of Somaliland.

Somalia adopted a federal constitution in 2012 and the country is transforming into a federal republic, with state governments in the periphery and a national federal government in the center.

Under this arrangement, the country’s existing administrations and a myriad of political institutions are expected to merge into a coherent national political entity – built from the foundation-up, with political and economic balance that generates national consensus, and power is effectively exercised as close to the people as possible.

But detractors of federalism say that federalism, as a political arrangement, is unfit for Somalia due to the Somali people’s homogeneous nature of sharing religion, language, culture, and a national heritage, but this argument fails to explain how the homogenous society torn apart by hatreds and wars, re-trusts a centralized system after the state collapse of 1991.

Moreover, others argue that the federal system “balkanizes” Somalia and creates “clan states” in a country of 10 million citizens. This latter notion dismisses the demographic nature and historical reality of Somali clan settlements ( deegaan, in Somali), with majority-minority proportions in any region of the former 18 regions of Somalia.

However, many anti-federalism commentators remain open to the concept of a Somali Federal Republic, with only two state governments of: Mogadishu, and Hargeisa. Such a system is diametrically opposed to the Somali federal constitution and the existing states, namely Puntland and Jubaland.

Risking new disorder

The SFG enjoys international recognition and has received international funding to rebuild the semblance of a federal government. The endowment of international recognition comes with its share of opportunities and burdens, and the SFG has manipulated its opportunities to re-design the political context in Somalia, thereby creating for itself new burdens and formidable challenges ahead.

Equipped with the international comSomaliland negotiators return home  triumphantlymunity’s call for dialogue, in line with the London Communiqué of February 23, 2012, the SFG and its predecessor TFG have pursued a dialogue process with Somaliland, aiming to achieve a political settlement that is satisfactory to both parties, to include an advantage over Puntland.

But political reality in Somalia indicates that the SFG is trekking on political fault lines, with potential catastrophic consequences for national political order in Somalia.

The talks between SFG and Somaliland marginalize Puntland, the third giant in the room, and Puntland feels it has constitutional duty to partake in consultations for matters relating to federalism and national security.

Moreover, Puntland’s administration is irked by the lack of response from SFG leaders in Mogadishu, regarding the tampering of the Somali Provisional Federal Constitution (PFC), signed in Nairobi on June 22, 2012, by the UN-endorsed Signatories of the Roadmap to End the Transition in Somalia.

Puntland says the Somali Federal Parliament is using a tampered copy of the PFC and threatens to cut cooperation with Mogadishu. Puntland is now leader of a shifting power configuration in Somalia and Mogadishu looses in failing to effectively engage with Puntland on critical national matters that require cooperation.

The SFG is risking a new national political disorder in silently promoting the two-state proposition, whilst ignoring the federal constitution and manipulating the rights of Puntland, Jubaland and the emerging states. Furthermore, the SFG has lost a major political point for surrendering a national asset to Somaliland – effectively awarding separatism, while gaining nothing in return.