In February 2008, the U.S. and Somaliland achieved a significant milestone with the visit of Jendayi Frazer, former U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, to Hargeysa. During a panel discussion in 2020, Jendayi Frazer expressed regret for not advocating more strongly for Somaliland's recognition during her tenure as assistant secretary. Unfortunately, the lack of attention to Jendayi's insights has led to an ongoing conflict in Las Anod between the Somaliland army and the Somalian Darood militia. Local clan elders, who have become warlords overnight, invited the invading military due to clan irredentism on the border between Somaliland and Somalia. Regrettably, the militia's refusal to engage in peace talks with Somaliland resulted in the losing 36 civilian lives. If the international community led by the U.S. had resolved this conflict in 2008, it could have laid the groundwork for peace between Las Anod and Hargeysa today. The people of Somaliland, including Las Anod, have waited for 15 years to have their country's status recognized under the Somaliland flag. However, the current U.S. administration has significantly deviated from the policies of its predecessors. The current U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Molly Phee, has introduced the "Single Somalia" policy, which treats Somaliland as a federal state within Somalia. This policy has rapidly damaged the close relations established by former Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Tibor P. Nagy and national security advisor Robert O'Brien. This article analyses the implications of this policy shift thus far and recommends that the Biden administration reverts to the original U.S. policy, which was driven by the African Union (A.U.) and based on shared values.
The recent statement by the United Nations Security Council regarding the situation in Las Anod, Somaliland, raises concerns about the approach taken towards this African nation. The administration's endorsement of violent expressions of political opinion and disregard for Somaliland's sovereignty and independence risk further destabilizing the entire region. It is crucial to address the missteps in their policy and recognize the legitimate claims of Somaliland for long-term stability, as emphasized by E.U. Special Representative Annette Weber.
For example, we can directly link the administration's conciliatory approach towards Las Anod clan warlords to the recent war in Garowe. In Garowe, another clan formed a militia that violently rejected constitutional amendments in Puntland. Acknowledging the unintended consequences of the "Single Somalia" policy is essential, as Somaliland and Puntland were more stable before its introduction. Furthermore, the absence of a diplomatic office in Hargeysa may have contributed to a lack of understanding by the administration regarding the response of the government and people of Somaliland to the situation in Las Anod. This response demonstrates their maturity and unity. Somaliland is more than just military or legal borders; it encompasses the police, schools, institutions, and human capital. People from all clans in Somaliland have contributed to the development of Las Anod and vice versa.
To better understand Somalilanders' resilience and achievements as the longest Somali-speaking country in history (32 years), Washington, DC, could follow the examples of the U.K. and Taiwan by establishing offices that directly observe and support Somaliland's progress. Somaliland has shown remarkable stability and improvement since declaring independence. It has effectively prevented piracy and terrorism within its borders, contributing valuably to regional peace in the Horn of Africa. Claims that Somaliland's pursuit of territorial integrity threatens regional stability are unfounded and ignore the reality of Somaliland's well-functioning governance and democratic institutions within Africa's internationally recognized colonial borders. It is the denial of the legal foundation of these borders that incites and fuels violence.
Somaliland has faced immense suffering in the past due to ethnic divisions. However, it remains committed to preserving peace and stability in the region. Protecting Somaliland from the imposition of ethnic boundaries is not only in its interest but also crucial for Somalia, Ethiopia, and the entire African continent. It is concerning that the administration still needs to follow up on the African Union fact-finding mission on Somaliland and its wisdom in maintaining colonial borders as reference points for resolving disputes.
Equally concerning is the reluctance to adhere to internationally established customary practices, which call for direct engagement with Somaliland as a recognized country without formal recognition. Over the past 32 years, numerous governments worldwide have engaged directly with Somaliland, treating it as a recognized entity. By disregarding this established norm as international customary law, Biden's administration undermines the rule-based international order it claims to uphold.
This disregard for international law raises concerns and contradicts President Biden's democracy-based policy that denounces leaders like Xi Jinping as dictators. The US-funded Freedom House report of 2023 regarded Somaliland as the most democratic country in the Horn of Africa. The inconsistency between the State Department's approach to democracies globally and its treatment of Somaliland is glaring. It is worth noting that the United States was the only Western embassy that did not extend congratulations to Somaliland on the dual elections of parliament and local offices held in 2021. The embassy has only mentioned Somaliland Elections in the context of its policy of sticks with no carrots. Somaliland, which derives 71% of its budget from internal resources, did not feel compelled to respond to what it perceived as misplaced arrogance.
Before the Las Anod conflict, alarmists associated Somaliland's recognition with wars and a less stable horn of Africa. As you can see, the worst scenario has already happened by following their Single Somalia policy. It is time for the Biden administration to return to its original AU-Driven and shared values policy towards Somaliland.
As highlighted in the NDAA 2023 bill, Somaliland can be a strategic partner in the Indo-Pacific region; a transparent recognition roadmap will ensure a stable Horn of Africa but also foster cooperation with democracies, both developed and resourceful.