EDITORIAL: Why Somaliland question must be priority for Somalia’s new government
EDITORIAL | Somalia’s electoral programme, if all goes well, should deliver a new president by October 10. But whether the President is elected on time or the calendar is frustrated again may not change the tasks ahead for the new administration.
This week, Somalis witnessed a spectacle at Afysioni, the famous venue for meetings inside the Aden Adde International Airport. Delegates ostensibly from Somaliland arrived to vote for senators. But they covered their faces as though they were on some mission that requires balaclava costumes.
To be fair, these were delegates conducting what is a divisive and potentially risky issue: They traveled from Somaliland to vote in Somalia. The northern region of Somalia inaccurately considers itself independent of Somalia and has in the past punished those who choose the union as opposed to separation. There were also fears that the group could be targeted by the Somali militant group al-Shabaab, which has vowed to sabotage elections at any chance.
The elephant in the room though is Somaliland. How does Somalia want to address it? Successive leaders, including outgoing President Mohamed Farmaajo, have touched it and left the matter unaddressed, leaving us with suspense. Somalia may rightly insist that Somaliland is part of its territory, but the continual neglect of the issue by officials in Mogadishu, as far as the relations should go, has only added to uncertainty.
Somaliland announced secession in 1993, claiming it was severing a union deal both sides reached at independence in 1960. * To date though, no sovereign state has ever recognized Somaliland as independent, even though countries routinely see it as a de facto republic. Of course, proponents of the union warned that Somalia could disintegrate were we to recognize Somaliland.
Also, there are a significant proportion of Somalilanders who yearn for the union of the old Somali republic. Mogadishu owes this latter group a big deal: To create a better country where they can feel welcome as Somalis, not just northerners.
Ahead of senate elections this week, there had been wrangles on who should supervise the elections. And it got worse because Deputy Prime Minister Mahdi Gulaid and outgoing senate Speaker Abdi Hashi had chosen divergent lists. It took the intervention of PM Hussein Roble to sort out the mess.
Therein lies the lesson: We wouldn’t have these wrangles if the status of Somaliland was an agreeable thing. We would have delegates gathering in Hargeisa to vote for their senators. We would have no delegates looking over their shoulders or covering their faces for fear of reprisals back home.
But we are here because Mogadishu swept the issue under the carpet. When Farmaajo met with Somaliland leader Muse Bihi last year in June, they agreed on technical committees to start the dialogue. The problem between the sides has been a lack of compromise. And Somalia did not help by simply punishing anyone who engages with Somaliland.
In reality, Somaliland people may argue strongly that they have established working systems for the last 30 years. They have voted in regular elections under universal suffrage and can control their economy, have a military and a central bank. How do you reward this success? A good leader would convince them to return to the fold of a federated Somalia. A good leader would do that by showing that he supports federalism and that he can work with all regional leaders.
Instead, he chose to throw cats among doves; tried to supplant those opposed to him, and failed to organize universal suffrage.
We think the long-term route for Somalia to resolve this impasse is to first do what Somaliland has done; which is to run affairs under the law, have some semblance of systems, and ensure that there is better security.
The priority for the new government should be to build a stronger federation, based on working institutions and respect for the separation of powers. Only then will Somalia properly be able to seduce Somaliland to play a full role in Somalia.