I have attended numerous Somali Twitter Space debates whose agenda was to find a solution to the factors impeding Somalia–Somaliland negotiations from making tangible progress.
With all their good intentions, panelists invited to these forums have not only neglected to analyze this issue holistically, they also regurgitated the same talking points of British/Italian Somaliland and genocide claims, which have lost currency in recent years.
Given that I was unable to contribute to these online debates due to local time differences, I want to share my thoughts on why Somalia–Somaliland talks has made little to no progress. I will look at it on three important dimensions: local people, political elites and regional/international actors.
First, local people across the Somali peninsula loathe current status quo and express a desire to reunify their country under single federal polity that responds to their exigencies and that provides them with much needed services. Hence, local people’s concerns are pretty much bread and butter.
I have conducted thorough Social Media analysis and held informal inclusive/representative focus group discussions in Mogadishu, Hargeisa and Melbourne between 2017 and 2018 period.
I found out that Somalis from South and North have buried their hatchets, have moved on and have seamlessly reintegrated at the communal levels through inter-migration, intermarriages and commercial activities. They desperately want leadership with vision that unifies them.
Second, as far as political elites from South and North are concerned, it appears that they both benefit from the status quo. For Southern elites, the absence of Hargeisa elites provides them with an opportunity to reinforce a duopoly political system where only two clans in the South rotate between the two highest offices: President and Prime Minister.
By comparison, loathe him or love him, the last two prime ministers appointed by Siad Barre before 1991 were from the Hargeisa region. In total, Somalia had had three PMs from that region until the outbreak of civil war.
Likewise, Northern elites benefit from the political economy that the current status quo presents. While most financial aid is channelled through Mogadishu, northerners enjoy special privilege under the current arrangement. They are accountable to no one. Northern elites are fully aware that secession is an elusive goal, yet they pursue it for the sake of it and for the sake of enriching themselves at the expense of their own people.
Third, regional/international actors benefit from the current status quo too. Remember Africa and to some extent Gulf countries are the engine of global economies. Without their oil, gas and critical minerals’ exports, the global economy would have been in a dire situation.
Needless to highlight about Somalia’s geostrategic/economic importance in this global political economy. It sits at the junction of the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, which is the gateway to Bab-el-Mandeb and the Cape of Good Hope.
Somalia’s immediate threat comes from our immediate neighbors. Ethiopia, which has become a landlocked country after Eritrea gained its independence in 1991 – and strategically speaking, which is our historic peer competitor – relies heavily on imports from Djibouti and Berbera.
Despite recent tripartite bromance, Ethiopia feels insecure should Mogadishu government gains complete domestic sovereignty over its entire territories. Given this, it stands to benefit from maintaining the status quo due to strategic and economic imperatives.
Likewise, Gulf countries (especially the United Arab Emirates) have grown increasingly worried in recent years about the potential relocation of global logistics and supply chain distribution hubs to Somalia as it is the gateway to Africa. UAE’s concern stems from China’s BRI infrastructure investments across Africa.
In sum, the issues I discussed above would provide readers with insights into the factors impeding Somalia – Somaliland talks and I believe will help them challenge political elites benefiting from the status quo and force them to respond pressing issues affecting them: climate change, migration, youth-bulge and massive unemployment.