Somalia: Bihi accepts Farmajo's apology, rules out planned visit to Hargeisa


HARGEISA, Somaliland - Muse Bihi Abdi, the president of Somalia's northern breakaway region of Somaliland, has on Tuesday acknowledged an apology tendered by Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, in the latest unfolding diplomatic drama at the Horn of Africa.

At Parliament building, Bihi, whose 3rd annual address had been impatiently waited for, termed the apology "timely and acceptable" while addressing legislators.

Last week, Farmajo has apologized atrocities committed by the previous central government led by Mohamed Siad Barre in Somaliland in 1988.

Farmajo, who has been under siege over his alleged "unaccommodating" administration, asked for forgiveness, saying "these were not clan wars, rather, uncivilized acts by the government".

The unprecedented good gesture by Mogadishu was seen by many as the start of the long, unpredictable reconciliation with Hargeisa.

"The apology is quite welcome and it helps us to all own what happened," Bihi told legislators. "Our people have been yearning for this".

Somaliland seceded from Somalia in 1991 following the skirmishes which were orchestrated by the disgraced regime of Siad Barre, who was toppled at around the same period.

But despite announcing self-rule, Hargeisa authorities are yet to be recognized by the international community, a move that has attracted spirited efforts to reunite the region with Mogadishu. 

Bihi rules out Farmajo visit to Hargeisa

Although he accepted the apology, Bihi was however quick to water down a proposed visit by Farmajo to Hargeisa, which has been in the offing.

Multiple sources intimated that Ethiopian PM Ahmed Abiy was lobbying for a joint visit with Farmajo to Hargeisa, as part of the reconciliation process.

But Mr. Bihi dismissed such plans, further denting a blow to efforts to arbitrate the frosty relationship between the two factions.

He said: "There is such a request (to visit) but Somaliland will never at any point accept Farmajo's trip to Hargeisa. It's just ridiculous."

Tuesday's remarks by Bihi put to rest speculations about the historic trip, which had been engineered by Mr. Abiy Ahmed, a renounced negotiator.

Such developments could also sabotage unity meetings that have been in place since 2015, under the reconciliation committee selected from either side.

While Somaliland remains autonomous, subsequent Mogadishu administrations have never appreciated the move, insisting that the region remains part of Somalia.

Trip aroused mixed reactions

Even before Tuesday's public declaration by President Bihi, politicians and pundits expressed mixed reactions to the planned visit, partly informing Bihi's decision.

For instance, Suleiman Mohamoud, the Guurti chair, on Sunday said "Ahmed has been pushing for a trip to Hargeisa with Farmajo. We are only going to welcome him alone."

And Liban Osman Somaliland's deputy foreign affairs minister termed Farmajo's proposed visit to Somaliland as "a daydream and mission impossible" further establishing that the proposal will flop.

But. Mr. Rashid Abdi, a security analyst in the Horn of Africa, while lauding Mr. Ahmed's mediation attempts, says that "he was too fast" given that he brokered a meeting recently.

"If you push Somalia, Somaliland too fast you break them. The idea of taking Farmajo to Hargeisa is fine, but best if it comes in later stages of negotiations," he tweeted.

Aw Hirsi, a former Jubaland planning minister, accused those demeaning Farmajo's efforts to visit Hargeisa, arguing that such a mentality is "ill advanced".

What triggered the planned visit to Hargeisa?

Although both sides have been depending on stagnated unity talks under the reconciliation committee, the ideas about the trip started emanating last week.

During an AU meeting in Ethiopia, both Farmajo and Bihi met for the first time since assuming office in 2017 under the stewardship of Mr. Ahmed.

Multiple sources intimated that the meeting was sort of "impromptu" since one party was informed late and there was no agreeable agenda after all.

President Musee Bihi said February 11 meeting at Ethiopian PM office in Addis Ababa discussed how Prime Minister Abiy could mediate between Somaliland and FGS to end the long-running animosity.

"I have hurriedly and joyfully arrived at Ethiopian PM's office after receiving a call on February 11. After handshake and joke, Abiy Ahmed told me that Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo is coming to the office and he entered a few minutes after. We held a tripartite meeting discussed how Abiy could mediate a lasting solution to the long hostility between Somaliland and FGS," said Bihi.

The president said he accepted Abiy Ahmed's plan for the mediation, but ruled out any agreement over a joint visit by Farmajo and Ethiopian PM to Somaliland capital during the closed-door meeting.

But it's since that meeting in Addis Ababa last week that Farmajo has struck reconciliatory tone perhaps to entice Hargeisa, with Ahmed definitely playing an indispensable role.

The meeting in Hargeisa, had it gone through, would have been Ahmed's major victory in his bid to reunite Somaliland with Somalia.

However, the latest development in Hargeisa could further throw Mr. Ahmed into limbo, given that the meeting would have given another platform to showcase his arbitration skills.

Tuesday's pronouncement in Hargeisa could also trigger a flurry of diplomatic activities in Addis Ababa and Mogadishu given Abiy's unbowed determination to emerge victoriously, says Dr. Vincent Moracha.



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