Thursday, May 19, 2022
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President Bihis Visit to Washington DC: Content vs. Substance

By Faisal A. Roble

On the surface, so far things seem to go well for President Bihi’s visit to DC.  Whether such a visit at this particular time brings the pancake home is far from over. However, the impressions Mr. Bihi appeared persuasive especially when he was engaging with his host one-on-one.

President Bihi of Somaliland at Heritage Foundation

On March 14, 2022, President Bihi was hosted by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. It is the same entity that employs Michael Ruben who together with Peter Pham advocate for Somaliland.  Heritage Center is hawkish in foreign policy and is known for its tough foreign policy and often pushes the US government to follow a forceful policy engagement with China and Russia.   

Although the US State Department is fully consumed by what is happening in Ukraine and has no time for any other issue, still Mr. Bihi’s visit cannot be taken lightly. He came to Washington at an opportune time when Eritrea offered Assab and Masawa to Russia’s Putin.

Certainly, Somaliland has a strategic commodity that America needs at this juncture when the changing nature of the world’s geopolitics is the hottest conversation in Washington. The question is how Washington would choose to utilize Somaliland’s strategic asset – the Port of Barbara which is a high value red sea port upgraded to a valuable military base by the Soviet Union in the 1970s.

At the Heritage reception, Somaliland was paired with Taiwan, a region that has officially seceded from Communist China. Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China  (ROC) became home to those Chinese nationalists who came to this Island escaping from Communist China led by Mao Zedong. Since then Taiwan has been an ally of the US but never received from any country official statehood recognition. Whether Somaliland would join ranks with Taiwan or receive its recognition like Southern Sudan did remains to be seen.

In the case of Southern Sudan, the American Evangelical churches in the South, a powerful voting bloc in US elections, have persuaded the former President W. Bush to work towards securing the statehood of South Sudan in exchange for their followers’ votes. Whether Somaliland has such a powerful ally within the US political blocks is uncertain. 

So far, Washington seems to have the appetite for the utilization of the Berbera port. This was expressed by a call made by “U.S. Senator James Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” who” introduced last year an amendment to the fiscal 2022 (FY2022) National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA to establish a security and defense partnership between the United States and Somaliland which is separate and distinct from any security and defense partnership with the Federal Republic of Somalia.”

Nonetheless, the official stance of the US state Department is that Somalia’s sovereignty as one country is unchanged. With regards to Mr. Bihi’s indomitable search for statehood, the US state department directs him to Mogadishu and to the African Union. Both of these entities have so far refused to Give Mr. Bihi what he wants.

Having said that, even a US military cooperation with Somaliland without the consent of Mogadishu could inch Mr. Bihi and his mission towards the realm of possibility. In other words, with the renewed bi-polar based geopolitics of the super power. 

Mogadishu cannot stay in its long slumber lest it will soon wake up to a full recognition handed down to Somaliland. Taken together Mr. Farmajo’s flirtation with autocrats such as Isaias Afework or Ethiopia’s Abiy, the constant failure of Mogadishu to establish a functioning government for over 30 years, Somaliland’s successful exercise with Western style elections, and eradication of terrorism in its territory form an aura of positive image for Hergaisa which could bear fruites soon. 

Mr. Bihi seems to have come to the States well prepared. Although his reading from a pre-prepared text was not as good as one might expect, his one-on-one conversion with his host was witty, superb, and appealing to Americans. 

His language was careful, precise, and full of humorous phrases and concepts an American can appreciate. For example, his likening  of Somaliland and America as people who freed themselves from the British Empire earned him Kudos. Also, his empathy with the suffering unleashed against the Ukraine people must strike a chord with his American host. 

It still remains a subject of much speculation whether he will receive an official reception from the state department as well as from the Foreign Relations Committee where Senator James Risch (R-Idaho) is a ranking member.

Faisal A. Roble
Email: [email protected]
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Faisal Roble, a writer, political analyst and a former Editor-in-Chief of WardheerNews, is mainly interested in the Horn of Africa region. He is currently the Principal Planner for the City of Los Angeles in charge of Master Planning, Economic Development and Project Implementation Division.


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