After two days meeting in Djibouti, from December 28 and 29, an agreement to restart talk on Somaliland secession between the federal government of Somalia and the secessionist region have set in motion a crisis in the Horn of Africa.
This meeting, held at the behest of the British ambassador to Somalia, was hosted by Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh, who wields great influence over Somali leaders in Mogadishu and Hargeisa. It was essentially aimed at saving Somaliland at a time it is failing and empowering secessionist leaders.
Let us look a little at these points to understand the audacity of the secessionists to punch above their weight, now they believe they are entitled to act as an independent country.
Somali president put up no resistance to Somaliland demands
The two initial key points of the agreement were general and still worthy as they stressed the need to return to a dialogue that will create a solution acceptable to both parties and the need to set up a technical teams that will work within an agreed road map.
Point three, however, raises eyebrows because the federal government is giving in to Somaliland’s demands to honor previous agreements they signed with the current Somali president during his previous term. The terms of these agreements were advantageous to Somaliland, as the breakaway entity was in a better position than it is today.
Furthermore, these past agreements no longer have any merit since the federal government is not a heavily indebted state, diplomatically isolated and subject to international sanctions. Somalia has been virtually debt-free since last November and has a renewed economic borrowing power that dwarfs cash-strapped and unrecognized Somaliland. The recent lifting of the UN arms embargo also places the Somali government in a position of strength.
In this context, it is strange that President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud put up no resistance to these outdated demands. Even his predecessor, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, without Mogadishu’s current strong position, rejected them in a similar venue in June 2020.
Unlike Hassan Sheikh, Farmajo enjoyed much higher approval ratings nationwide, including in Somaliland, and undivided control of Somali airspace previously controlled by foreigners based in Kenya. In one of these outdated agreements, Somaliland wanted the air traffic control to eventually be relocated to Hargeisa.
Somaliland wants the cake and eat it too
In point 4, Somaliland has dictated the terms of the current agreement. The Somali government thus acknowledged that the northern regions were abused by the central government during Mohamed Siyad Barre’s military regime. It is expected that this frivolous acknowledgment opens the door to reparations and compensation.
Farmajo acknowledged and apologized for the abuses committed by the former regime’s security agents against civilians in their zeal to end indiscriminate attacks carried out by separatist rebels led by Musa Bihi and Mohamed Kahin. After the collapse of the central government in 1991, some of the regime’s executioners and supporters settled in Somaliland and had successful political careers there.
However, Farmajo also called on the separatists to acknowledge their own crimes and ethnic cleansing against other clans based in the north, mainly in Awdal, Sool and Sanaag. Secessionist leaders not only refuse to acknowledge these crimes, but repress anyone who mentions them in the territories under their control.
In Djibouti, President Hassan Sheikh and his Interior Minister, Ahmed Moalim Fiqi, have not only failed to reject Somaliland’s dubious claims, but have also failed miserably to speak on behalf of the SSC-Khatumo population against whom Somaliland forces have committed the worst atrocities since the height of the civil war over 30 years ago.
Finally, to add insult to injury, a controversial point in this sketchy agreement is that the separatists want the federal government to help bring the SSC-Khatumo region back into Somaliland. Some say that the government rejected this request but yet point 6 speaks precisely of reconciling Somaliland with this region which joined the rest of Somalia after its young people defeated the separatists.
The agreement does not meet the expectations of the Somali nation, as Somalia’s territorial integrity and protection of its rights to live in a unified state have been downplayed. The Somali president bowed to pressure from Ismail Omar Guelleh and the British ambassador to virtually give Somaliland a blank check and some semblance of legitimacy.
Today, it is in tatters since an emboldened Musa Bihi unilaterally ceded a strip of Somali coast overlooking the Red Sea to Ethiopia. He would have made his impending meeting with the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, who coveted the Somali sea, known to the Somali President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, but the latter did not dissuade Bihi from changing course.