HARGEISA, 12 August 2009 (Somalilandpress) – If its government does not enact meaningful reforms and reach out to all clans, Puntland may break up violently, adding to the chaos in Somalia.

Somalia: The Trouble with Puntland,* the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, warns about the rise in insecurity and political tension that the semi-autonomous north-eastern region has been experiencing for three years. At its roots are poor governance and a collapse of the cohesion, particularly within the Harti clan, that led to its creation a decade ago.

“Most of the blame rests squarely with the political leadership”, says Daniela Kroslak, Deputy Director of Crisis Group’s Africa Program. “If a wide variety of grievances are not urgently tackled in a comprehensive manner, the consequences could be severe for the whole country and even for the Horn of Africa”.

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Puntland’s creation in 1998 was an ambitious experiment to build from the bottom up a polity that might ultimately offer a template for replication in the rest of the country, especially in the war-scarred south. But the dream has faded, and the regime is in dire straits. Intra-Harti friction has eroded the consensual style of politics that once underpinned a relative stability. In a major policy shift from the traditional unionist position, an important segment of the elite is pushing for independence.

Puntland needs to return to its original consensual style of politics. This requires reforming the electoral system, restarting the constitutional drafting process, tackling corruption and rebuilding clan trust.

The Puntland government must take advantage of current international attention resulting mainly from the explosion of piracy in the nearby waters to mobilise funds and expertise to carry out comprehensive political, economic and institutional reforms. These should address the fundamental problems: poor governance, corruption, unemployment and the grinding poverty in coastal villages. Donors need to refocus on long-term measures without which no sustainable end to piracy or true stability is possible.

“The piracy problem is only a dramatic symptom”, says Ernst Jan Hogendoorn, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director. “If the deeper problems are not addressed, they could ultimately lead to Puntland’s disintegration or possible overthrow by an underground militant Islamist movement”.