“Men may promise more in a day than they will fulfil in a year”. In the previous talks many pledges (secondary ones though) were taken but with discontented outcomes.

Rumours about the resumption of Somalia – Somaliland talks, stalled since 2016, are circulated and are feverishly causing anxiety among the political commentators. Mohamud Ahmed’s article “It is time for reconciliation: Somalia and Somaliland convergence“(Somalilandcurrent.com, January 16, 2019) on the future relationship of Somalia and Somaliland is a prime example.

As a rejoinder, in this article (based on my assessment report on the outcomes of agreements of previous talks between 2012 and 2016), I anticipate to pay contribution pertaining to what necessitated the talks to start in the first place, how they progressed and what sort of agreements were implemented or not fulfilled.

The historical, political and legal contexts of Somaliland are often dismissed and overlooked either by utter ignorance or by default. However, it has a pivotal role clarifying how Somaliland it differs from Somalia historically and politically. Unionists (‘Somaliweyn’ or Somali unity proponents) habitually dodge such information. Mr Ahmed chose not to present it albeit its importance for the talks between Somali and Somaliland. I cannot, therefore, afford to leave it. I will then proceed to briefly review and analyse the main agreements breached and finally conclude with suggestions for the future talks.

Historical and political context

The history of Somaliland is different from the history of Somalia. Somaliland officially became a protectorate (not a colony) under the British rule in 1887 after a series of treaties with tribal chiefs and Sultans that started in 1884. Somaliland protectorate was granted independence on 26 June 1960 when it became an independent country, joined the UN and recognised by 35 member countries.

Italy first signed a treaty with the Sultanate of Hobyo in the North and later on it expanded its rule to the rest of the Somalia via treaties with other sultanates and tribal chiefs in the South. The borders between Italian Somalia and British Somaliland Protectorate were defined between Britain and Italy (the 1894 Anglo-Italian Protocol). During World War II, in 1941 British military administration took over Italian Somalia until 1949. In 190 Italian Somalia became an Italian administered UN Trusteeship (Amministrazione Fiduciaria Italiana della Somalia – AFIS) until independence on 1 July 1960. On the fifth day of its independence, the independent Republic of Somaliland joined voluntarily without conditions with the independent state of Somalia on its first day of independence. The two independent Somali entities formed a loose union ‘Somali Republic’. The union resulted from an emotional rush from the people of Somaliland. The merger occurred without conditions and without ratification of the Act of Union and with no plans for integration of the two systems inherited from the colonial regimes. The union of the two was seen as the first stepping stone of bringing together all five Somali-speaking territories (Italian Somalia, British Somaliland, Somalis in the western territories of Ogaden and Hawd and Reserve Area under the Ethiopian Empire, Somalis in the north frontier district (NFD) of Kenya and the majority of Somalis in the French colony of Djibouti to achieve the Greater Somalia (unity of the five Somalis ‘Somaliweyn’). Unfortunately, however, right at the outset of unification, the Somaliland’s nationalistic and speedily sentiment-driven union back-fired. Early dissatisfactions and dissent among the people of Somaliland origin emerged due to largely injustice from unequal share of distribution of power, lack of development of the northern regions. The phantom goal, the ambitious dream of Greater Somalia and the brotherhood spirit, started to weaken the foundation until completely lost. Within three decades the Somali state collapsed. After a decade-long struggle (1988), the SNM liberated the northern regions from Barre’s brutal dictatorship and Somaliland regained its original status of independence it has lost to Somalia in 1960. Since then Somaliland chose to concentrate on peace building, stability as well as rehabilitation, reconstruction of the country, and soon afterwards embarked on democratisation, pluralism and good governance at a time when Somalia descended into chaos, warlordism, piracy and extremism by Al-Shabab linked Al-Qaeda.

Somalia – Somaliland talks (2012 – 2016)

For a considerable number of years, since Somaliland withdrew from the union, there were no talks between Somaliland and Somalia. Somaliland had a longstanding foreign policy ‘not to open talks with Somalia’. There was no need to engage with illegitimate non-elected transitional governments (TNG and TFG) formed from the outside and in chaos and crisis in Somalia. After withdrawal from the union and declaration of sovereignty and independence, Somaliland was deeply indulged in peace building, stability, rehabilitation, reconstruction and institutional development.

Before Silanyo administration, Somaliland has a long standing policy of not talking with Somalia. However, the stalemate was broken when the international community, in an effort by the international community to stabilize Somalia, held the ‘London conference on Somalia’ hosted by UK, Norway and the EU (after Britain convinced the rest of the European countries) at Lancaster House on 23 February 2012. It was the first of its kind since the collapse of the Somali state and consequent civil wars, warlordism and extremism. For the first time since withdrawal from the union Somaliland was treated as an independent entity to attend with special diplomatic privilege. The talks were particularly an offshoot of the final communique of the conference. Paragraph 6 of the communique stated “The conference recognised the need for the international community to support any dialogue that Somaliland and the TFG or its replacement may agree to establish to clarify their future relations”.

The drive for the Somalia and Somaliland talks did not actually come from Somalis themselves but was a foreign imposition and engineered from outside the Somali territories.

Somaliland’s principle and purpose to engage in the talks is to achieve a final settlement deal with Somalia, i.e., a means to retrieve its lost sovereignty and recognition as an independent state, but through friendly and brotherly negotiations. Somaliland has no second best option. However, Somalia staunchly envisages that as a process of tearing the Somali unity apart. On the other hand, the international community characterises the talks as an opportunity for Somalis to talk and observe whether or not Somalis are able to mend fences and reach a solution.

The first dialogue between Somaliland and Somalia was initiated on 21 June 2012, four months after the London conference on Somalia, was held at Cheveney House, UK. The overall aim was to sustain regional and international peace and to establish the future relations. Somaliland’s principal purpose was to achieve a two-state solution. The Chevening House conference produced an eight-point declaration. Of relevance to this discussion is that stated: “Agreed that the talks would take place between two sides – the TFG (or its replacement) and Somaliland in accordance with para 6 of the London conference on Somalia”.

The talks resulted from the undeniable expression and reclamation of independence and democratisation progress of Somaliland and Somaliland’s quest for international recognition. Somaliland loudly expressed that it is neither a separatist nor a secessionist but rightly wishes its independent status which is based on historical, political and legal grounds. Somaliland merits recognition through its efforts and achievements in establishing peace, security and stability and democratic processes. Somaliland also articulated a good will intention for Somalia and pledged its decisiveness to cooperate and contribute to building Somalia’s future as two independent neighbouring independent Somali countries.

There are quintessence principles and special requisites that are essential for the smooth running of the negotiations and to produce meaningful results, the conference set basic ground rules for discussions to establish a framework for next substantive talks. The two parties agreed and established a code of conduct; to maintain mutual respect; uphold confidentiality; maintain “peaceful relations”, to avoid creation of hostilities; to refrain from use of inflammatory language and statements, and to abstain from aggression and behaviour that may impinge and seriously impact on the smooth progress of the dialogue and, therefore, hinder the implementations of agreements and undermine the spirit of the negotiation. The success of any negotiation is again strictly linked to the how honest the parties are brokering as well as commitment to and have the capacity to implement any agreements, and make communication channels open for sharing information. Let us look at the results of to and fro meeting for a period of four years of talks (2012 -2016).

Assessment and analysis of outcomes of the talks

After the Chevening House conference a series of seven meetings were held in Dubai, Djibouti and Ankara and Istanbul (Turkey) and the overall assessment and analysis indicated that most of the major agreements were not implemented and the lack of their implementation was one-sided. Most of the agreements were broken by Somalia deliberately stepping over the limits of the guidelines of the agreements by frequently breaching them and taking unilateral decisions on most occasions making that the normalcy. The basic ground rules set at the first meeting set at Chevening House in 2012 were not respected.

“Broken vows are like broken mirrors. They leave those who held to them bleeding and staring at the fractured images of themselves”.

To substantiate Somalia’s disrespect for the talks, a sample of major agreements they (Somalia) wrecked by taking inappropriate actions, the following are typical examples:

  1. Agreement on air traffic management of Somali airspace

The agreement of Somali airspace management and control was deliberately and arrogantly flouted by Somalia. The management and control of airspace was reached at Istanbul meeting on 19 Jan. 2013 stated: ‘to return the air traffic management of the Somali airspace from the UN and a decision to establish a joint control body based in Hargeisa to lead the air traffic of both sides and propose a mechanism for revenue-sharing method’. After strong protests from Somaliland at the Istanbul meeting on 16-19 January 2014, Somalia promised to address by complying with the agreement. Unfortunately that never occurred. Somalia stopped cooperation with Somaliland. Somalia made a clandestine deal with ICAO and the UNDP (without inviting or informing Somaliland). Consequently, Somaliland suspended the talks until the egregious act was rectified by other partner (Somalia). In the light of the expiry of the UN mandate, Somalia took further unilateral decisions in dealing with ICAO. The Somali airspace office and its staff in Nairobi were finally relocated to Mogadishu.

On 28 December 2018 the government of Somalia made a grand ceremony and wide media publicity for the occasion mocking and scoffing Somaliland clearly violating the agreement by making arrangements without consenting with the Somaliland various agreements in accord with Somaliland in different meetings (Istanbul 2013, Istanbul 2014, Djiouti 2014 and Ankara 2016).

  1. Agreement on Somaliland Special Arrangements (SSA)

The SSA in place was challenged by the government of Somalia. Special Arrangements were originally set for Somaliland on 16 September 2013 when the international community signed contract with Federal Government of Somalia it as a separate and distinct part of the ‘Somali Compact’, a framework for engaging with Somaliland’s development process under a Deal partnership which was to expire in September 2016. The SSA lays out a way forward for institutionalising on-going Somaliland processes and initiatives within an over-arching and unique partnership between Somaliland government, its people and the international community. The arrangement was primarily to ensure distribution of donor assistance and charity to Somalis equally and in just manner.

Somalia opposed to the arrangement directly to moving to block the SSA with international partners. On 20 June 2018, the minister of Planning, Investment and Economic Development of the Somalia, Jamal Mohamed Hassan, wrote a letter to the international partners objecting the Somaliland development and urging to stop the SSA arrangements and the international aid and assistance by the international partners’ which was for support of Somaliland’s democratisation, security, enhancement of economy and good governance of Somaliland. This was done the knowledge that Somaliland is not a federal region state under the jurisdiction of Somalia government in Mogadishu. The minister condescendingly claimed that continuation of this arrangement will seriously impact on the efforts to deepen federalism and nation-building, a sign of Mogadishu’s weak-believe authority manifestations over Somaliland.

The international community decided to change position against the wishes of Somalia and on 13 June 2018 wrote to the president and prime minister of Somalia informing the renewal of the SSA for Somaliland against Somalia’s request.

  1. Agreement on politicisation of development

Though not recognised internationally Somaliland is an independent and autonomous entity and deals with the world deals with the rest of the world to sign contractual agreements on development with other countries. In 2016, Somaliland and the DP World port operator owned by United Arab Emirates entered an agreement to develop and manage the port of Berbera.

Somalia disregarded the agreement at Djibouti talks (2014) which was to avoid politicising development and investments in each one’s territories. Immediately after signing the contract Somalia had a knee-jerk reaction and a frontal opposition dismissing the development project and banned the Dubai ports operator, DP World, from operating in Somalia. Mogadishu’s parliament hastily in a session made a resolution overnight claiming Somaliland-DP World contract null and void. Ahmed Issa Awad, Somalia’s minister of foreign affairs, in his own words said “…. that the Dubai state-owned port operator DP World should reconsider its contract with Somaliland”. Paradoxically, however, Mogadishu authority never mentioned the involvement of DP World’s involvement in the development of the port of Bosasso in Puntland federal region, a contract between Puntland State and DP World. In response, Somaliland rightly suspended next round of the talks after as Somalia directly interfered in the internal affairs of Somaliland claiming Somaliland is part of Somalia.

  1. Agreement to avoid use of inflammatory language and statements

Agreement to avoid use of inflammatory language and persuade from interventions of territorial integrity and inciting hostilities and transgression was not honoured by Somalia. On 31 May 2018 Puntland vice president, Abdikarim Ahmed Amay, entered Somaliland borders at Buhoodle, Sool region and incited hatred and hostility. Again on 20 September 2018 Abdiweli Mohmaed Gaas, then president of Puntland federal region of Somalia crossed the border and entered Somaliland at Badhan with armed entourage when he incited the local population against Somaliland. On 2 January 2018 Somalia’s minister of Panning, Economic Development, Jamal Mohamed Hassan, crossed the border and entered Somaliland at Badhan where he also campaigned inciting the local people. These were all provocations that Somaliland dealt with political maturity.


The talks failed. Why?

The talks failed for a single reason. Somalia’s persistent breach of agreements was mainly due to lack of honesty, cooperation and communication in good faith. Nothing is more irritable and hurtful than breaking covenants over and over again. That is hypocrisy at the highest level. Broken covenants will certainly be questioned in the Hereafter. The government of Somalia used the talks platform as a talking shop, a public relations venue and as a show off project to the international community which supports and finances Somalia.

Somalia continuously indulged in tarnishing the credulity of Somaliland by spreading propaganda and cheap jibes about Somaliland and kept on inciting hostilities and polarizing the local populations in the Eastern regions of Somaliland (Sanaag and Sool). Somalia even attempted to invade (Puntland federal state) Sool region, the cause of Tuka Raq skirmishes on 18 May celebrations at a time when Somaliland was in celebrations of 18 May 2018.

There are some external factors that may have influenced the failure of the talks.

An impartial imposter as moderator

Turkey has recently showed a significant interest in trade expansion by politically and economically positioning itself in the African continent. Turkey displayed diplomatic presence in Somalia before any other country and built the biggest Embassy complex in Africa and the biggest military base in Somalia outside its country. Turkey trains the military force of Somalia. The political interest of Ankara in Somalia is self-explanatory. The start of the humanitarian intervention in Somalia in 2011 was the entry point for Turkey to Somalia. Turkey has a dominant political, economic and diplomatic presence in Somalia questioning the Turkish neutrality in the talks between Somalia and Somaliland. Therefore, there is  a conflict interest.

Back in 2016, Turkey’s ambassador, Olgan Bekar, to Mogadishu, expressed his country’s position in the unity between Somaliland and Somalia. Mr Beckar loudly regurgitated what the president of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, was exactly articulating them in the negotiation meetings.

More recently Turkey has been exposed undermining the independence of Somaliland. Through its ‘Mogadishu office of integration’ Turkey avails generous financial assistance to the Federal government of Somalia in projects aiming to isolate Somaliland. The office operates through its Consular office in Hargeisa mandated by the Turkish Embassy in Mogadishu to provide supports to Somaliland youth, artists, poets, and media reporters with the objective to speed work to the integration of the Somali people in Somalia and Somaliland.

The EU has recently urged the two sides to resume talks and several European countries (Switzerland, Norway, Sweden etc.) signposted interest in facilitation of the future rounds of the talks. On 31 December 2018 Turkey appointed a special (Turkish) envoy, Mr Olgan Beckar, for the future expected to resume talks. Mr Bekar is the former ambassador to Somalia who provided and confirmed his country’s positional statement as a pro-‘Somaliweyn’ and believes in the unity between Somalia and Somaliland. Turkey is commitment to continue conspiracy against Somaliland camouflaged as a neutral moderator.

Meddling the talks

Debates on the political fate of Somaliland are daily within the Somali communities and Somalilanders are at always at frontline in defending the sovereignty of Somaliland and campaigns on how it merits international recognition.

Notwithstanding, external organisations conferences and fringe meetings do not often necessarily help the dialogue but clearly undermine the talks. A case in point is a conference recently organised by a Mogadishu-based Heritage Institute and convened in Djibouti between 14 to 18 December 2018. A small of contingent of academicians, politicians and activists from Somaliland, as an integral part of the Somaliland society, participated in the conference.  However, their sincere arguments presented in good faith lacked preparation and coordination in advance between them enmeshed and overwhelmed by huge wave of oppositionists consisting of members of the government of Somalia (led by the Deputy Prime Minister of Somalia), parliamentarians, political pundits, and usual suspects of hard core unionists, (Somalweyn proponents) of Somaliland origin. Sadly, the main theme of the conference suddenly changed to a tangential political subject ‘Somalia and Somaliland talks’ (out of the Institute’s remit). Moreover, the discussion on the talks was completely derailed dismissing Somaliland’s political reality, history and reasons for its withdrawal shifting to vacuous constructs than the sanctity and legitimacy of its sovereignty. It merely represented a “wanting to re-live the failed union” and secession of non-palatable terms (confederation, association etc.) to bring Somaliland into the fold of Somali unity.  Abstract concepts like confederation (temporary or otherwise), federation, association etc. were fashionable in academic exercises in the 1990s and are not applicable for Somaliland Somali unity ideal is by the way subject to twists and turns by Somalia tantamount synonymous with the union between Somalia and Somalia.


The main thrust of the talks was to reach a peaceful settlement. However, Somaliland’s sentiments are none more than two-state solution, the kernel of the talks, while it is respecting the Somali identity, socio-cultural ties and mutual relationships. On the other hand, Somalia is unwaveringly stuck to the redundant ill-fated imaginary union. It is merely Somalia’s self-believe in the unity or union of the two (Somalia and Somaliland) as sacrosanct in retreat from the ‘Greater Somalia’ (Somaliweyn) concept, once an aspiring ambition for Somalis ended as surreal dream long ago. The Somali post-colonial unionist state is dead. The union of the two has lost bearings in 1991 when Somaliland withdrew from the botched union needing no mutual consent from the other partner because it (the union) did not fulfil expectations. But nevertheless, Somaliland’s democratically-based and consolidated state-building process, rare as it is in Africa, is an irreversible phenomenon. Today there is no political converging point.

No credible tangible results emanated from the meetings. The gist for the failure of the previous talks is rooted on Somalia’s dishonesty and arrogance. Somalia extraordinarily beseeched the international community cornering and pirating the international aid and donor assistance employing pervasive corrupt and discreet actions. That makes Somalia the real culprit of the failure of the talks.

At the start of the talks, the initial agreement between Somalia and Somaliland was to talk as two equal partners. That was the hurdle. Somalia, throughout the talks, did not see Somaliland as a legitimate equal partner but only as a region of Somalia. Somalia is adamant not to move an inch or to show a compromise. Yet it expects Somaliland to give up its cardinal pursuit and return Somaliland to the botched union that it had abandoned three decades ago. In a nutshell that only distances Somaliland.  The case of Somaliland is strong. It is stronger than those of Eritrea and South Sudan before their independences. Somaliland has legal precedents as there are unions that failed, with the core value of either nationalism or idealism after expectations of their unions, and subsequently dissolved. For example, the UAR between Egypt and Syria, Czechoslovakia (Czeck Republic and Slovakia Republic) , Senegambia (Senegal and Gambia) the federation  states of the Soviet Union ( Lituania,Estonia, Georgia, and others.

Some suggestions for the future talks

There are important lessons to be learnt from experiences of the mistakes of the talks.

To unlock the deadlock, the most logical common ground, as a starting point is to respect the historical and political contexts of the entities negotiating (Somalia and Somaliland). The future rounds of talks will simply be meaningless and would not achieve any fruitful outcomes unless Somalia changes attitudes and behaviour towards honouring agreements else they will certainly doom to failure again. Therefore, to break the stalemate the official talks and avert similar contraventions, I propose the following (in a pre-talks session):

1) That Somalia acknowledges the historical political reality, i.e. that Somaliland was an independent country before it forged union with Italian Somalia.

2) That Somalia acknowledges that Somaliland is not, at the present, part of Somalia’s Federal regions. This is an arterial centre and a bone of contention of the conflict and reason for holding the talks.

3) That Somalia acknowledges the massacre of hundreds of thousands of civilians and the destruction of the main towns and infrastructure in the north by the previous Somalia government in 1988. This is the turning point of Somaliland’s modern history and cannot be swept under the kept under the carpet for the sake of the talks. Subsequently and immediately only after agreement on the above issues, the talks can proceed. The following issues are inevitable are to be agreed:

  1. The review of all agreements breached in the previous talks. The party that broke them should accept responsibility and discuss how to take remedial measures without sugar-coating the mistakes.
  2. After clarifications of the issue above (a) an agreement talks should then be directed straight to the primary issue of the talks – the future relations of the two parties.
  3. The current facilitator or moderator (Turkey) to be replaced for lack of neutrality and due to the conflict of interest in Somalia. The new moderator is expected to come from a neutral country probably from Switzerland or Scandinavian countries.

If the future talks fail again, it will then boil down to the UN and AU obligations to conduct a supervised referendum for the Somaliland electorate to vote on reclamation of independence. Somaliland has also an option to resort to International Tribunal mandated or to its case to the International Court of Justice should the need be.

(Dr Hussein Nur, London)