Following the highly touted February 23, 2012 London talks, the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG) and the Somaliland administration in Hargaysa accepted a non-binding accord to start talks on the vexing question of Somaliland’s statehood. The talks were supposed to begin this past April or May, preferably in London as the venue. However, due to ideological and procedural mishaps, the prospective talks died on arrival.
Following is an appraisal of the factors that were responsible for the premature death of the talks.
A major culprit in the demise of the talks was the absence of a comprehensive reconciliation in place. Despite multiple local and international efforts, Somalia has yet to have a genuine and comprehensive peace and reconciliation on the ground. Fowsia Abdulkadir, who is completing a research paper on transitional justice, maintains that politicians all over Somalia are still mistrustful of each other because of pains caused by recent past history, thus causing unnecessary wrangling basically on anything political. Hargeysa, in particular, does not seem to have much faith at present to enter unconditional talks with the TFG. Neither is Hargeysa in good terms with its neighboring state, Puntland.
Moreover, Hargeysa rightly or otherwise complains that there is no end in sight to the deadly war between the Al-Qaeda affiliated radical group, Al-Shabab, and the weak TFG. It is precisely because of this that Hargeysa shows no appetite to return to the fold of Mogadishu in its current situation. Who in their right mind, argue supporters of Hargeysa, would meaningfully negotiate with Mogadishu, where even now pockets inside the city are still controlled by Al-Shabab.
A more serious factor that precipitated the speedy demise of the talks is the ostensible ideological divide between the two sides and their respective expectations from the failed talks. Somaliland preaches to its constituents that the talks would have been nothing but a forum to rubberstamp its objective. It was within this context that Ahmed Silianyo, President of Somaliland, told his parliament that he was exploiting the opportunity afforded to him by the weak TFG, and will get favorable results from Mogadishu. In the same vain, Somaliland’s esoteric insistence that anyone from Puntland or from what it considers to be its lawful territory (Khaatumo being a case in point) was, in addition to being unflattering, one of the most damaging factors to the talks.
The last and perhaps most weighty factor that threw a wet towel on and hastened the demise of the talks was the absence of clarity as in what capacity would the two sides have participated in the talks. Somaliland leaders seem to believe that they would have gone to the talks as delegates of a state that is equal to the TFG. On the other hand, TFG leaders and the masses of Somalia genuinely believe that the talks are the beginning of the end - bringing their brothers back into the fold.
The TFG Prime Minster, AbdiWali Mohamed Ali "Gas", a former economics college professor, insisted that Somaliland be treated in the talks as nothing more than a region that enjoys the same status given to other regions (Puntland, Galmudug) by the draft constitution. It is reported that the PM was adamant on this position and refused to waiver his stance. It is plausible to argue that the sudden rise of Khaatumo and its instant fame as a renewed fire of force for Somalia unity must have given the PM enough political capital to stand firm on this matter.
Additionally, there were key several technical factors that contributed to the demise of the proposed talks. Had the two sides approached the matter with certain tools of conflict mediation at hand, we could have had a healthy start of talks by the end of this spring.
The first smashing procedural blow of the talks was dealt by the way President Sharif Ahmed selected five unknown ministers on April 14, 2012 to represent the TFG side. Among the five, there wasn’t a single individual who seemed to show a command of the issues at hand; neither did any of the five ministers showed a paper trail to inform their constituents how qualified they would have been to partake these important talks. Blame this incompetence on the now infamous 4.5 power-sharing at the TFG and the President’s informal way of delegating without any vetting process. Adding insult to an injury, the President made such a selection of the five delegates without input from the Prime Minster (who is much closer to the issue). The President’s unilateral selection was enough cause for an early squabble within his government and the beginning of the derailment of the talks.
On the contrary, Somaliland put together a powerful delegation headed by its foreign Minister, Dr. Mohamed Abdullahi Omer, who possesses both academic and practical familiarity of the issue. If it went ahead with the talks, Somaliland with its solid delegation would have possibly dominated the talks with its hands down.
Then there is a lack of systemic approach to the talks by both sides. The fact that the talks started at ministerial level without any technical committee paving the way before getting to the more meaty issues was an indication of inaptitude on both sides and an eventual death sentence of the talks.
A more prudent management and sequencing of the talks would have started with a joint technical committee to:
If this simple sequencing (four-step process of managing) of the talks was followed, confidence building between the two belligerent sides could have been fostered and the divide between the two could have been narrowed prior to the talks.
Therefore, (1) without any confidence building to serve as the anchor for the talks; (2) without a serious and meaningful reconciliation within the TFG-controlled areas of South Central Somalia and/or between Somaliland and Khaatumo; and (3) without managed expectations at the prospective talks, the highly touted post-London hopes were dashed with the speed of light, of course to the dismay of all us. In the meantime, it is plausible to say that nagging issue of the Somaliland’s secession would haunt the Somali peninsula much after the transitional period ends this coming August. To borrow yester years’ wailing words of Dr. Said Samatar, Somalia is too far from God and too comfortable to a perpetual statelessness.
Faisal A. Roble
Faisal Roble has been a longtime advocate for talks on the Somaliland question and an avowed student of the politics of secession in the HORN of Africa region. Faisal’s scholarly work in this field includes: “Local and Global Norms: Challenges to “Somaliland’s Unilateral Secession,” Volume XXV of the Horn of Africa Journal.
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