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The African Union has been slow to play a significant role in the Somaliland case at a time when it has been instrumental in stabilizing the Italian Somalia, as it is the authority that oversees AMISOM – which is of great value to Somalia’s security.

The mission of the African Union is to make possible a prosperous and peaceful Africa that is led by the will of its people – a picture that Somaliland represents for the last 29 years and recognized by the world.

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From the start, the AU was involved in the processes and initiatives aimed at resolving the civil war in South Sudan in order to achieve lasting peace and security. It has repeatedly called on its member states to be part of the resolution for that political disagreement by providing a platform for the parties to the conflict in South Sudan. Sudan itself when the military overthrew Omer Al Bashir, after the Sudanese uprising, the AU put pressure on the caretaker government to return the country to civilian rule immediately by suspending Sudan’s membership in the AU

Earlier this year, following a coup in Mali led by rebel soldiers who overthrew the democratically elected government of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in 2018, the AU suspended Mali’s membership and demanded the return of the elected government. These are just a few examples that are clearly indicative of how the African Union conducts itself on the issues of interest or at least tries to express its position. On the other, it is clear that the AU has treated the Somaliland case for sovereignty differently from others in Africa, without giving any justifiable reasoning.

The last time an AU delegation came Somaliland was about 15 years ago when they were doing the fact-finding mission, and yet they failed to implement the findings revealed in the report of the delegation.

The African Union is determined not to make the Somaliland case a priority, but the Somaliland government must keep up the pressure on as well as maintain constant contact with the body, through the countries that are close friends such as South Africa, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the organization this year.

“Unsung African Marvel: The Case for Somaliland’s Recognition” by Slivie Aboa Bradwell argues the African Union should have played a major role in the Somaliland case, that has been dragging since 1991.

Following is a collaborative work by a few authors pointing out the failure of the African Union in regard to the Somaliland people’s aspiration:

“Somaliland — the way forward is a collaborative effort of several authors to document the recent advances in Somaliland in peace, development, good governance, and economic revival. The two volumes have the ambitious goal of exploring a number of critical issues, including the state of law and order, justice and rights, national planning, democracy, and political maturity, built on the centuries-old traditions of nomadic Muslim society.

The legal rules that were applied to the Gambia when it was recognized as a state after its secession from Senegal in 1989 should also be applicable to Somaliland. The argument that the Horn of Africa’s territories should be treated differently because of the volatility of this region does not stand up to scrutiny.

The international recognition of Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia in 1993 did not lead to an avalanche of applications for statehood recognition from neighboring territories. The AU itself acknowledges that sticking to the ironclad maxim of the inviolability of borders inherited from colonialism would be neither wise nor appropriate in the case of Somaliland.

The report of an AU fact-finding mission to Somaliland between 30th April and 4th May 2005 states that this territory’s “case should not be linked to the notion of ‘opening a Pandora’s box’.

As such, the AU should find a special method for dealing with this outstanding case”; and adds, “The lack of recognition ties the hands of the authorities and people of Somaliland, as they cannot effectively and sustainably transact with the outside to pursue the reconstruction and development goals.” The obvious question is why, almost five years later, the AU has not yet acted upon these bold and judicious recommendations.

Some Somalilanders use this as a basis to argue that strictly speaking, Somaliland did never become part of a country called Somalia but instead, there has been a merge of Somaliland and Somalia to form the Republic of Somalia as the first stone of “Greater Somali Nation” which is a failed project.

Despite its acknowledgment of the special circumstances of Somaliland, as well as the negative impact of the lack of recognition on the people of Somaliland, the AU has not yet attempted to end the status quo because it is still hell-bent on pursuing its long-standing policy of following the diktat of the international community or rather, more accurately, the diktat of Western nations. In 2006, the AU agreed to support the Western-backed invasion of Somalia by Ethiopian troops in order to oust the Islamic Courts (IC) and strengthen the control of the country by the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). This was not an action demanded or approved by the Somali people. It was mainly triggered by the United States’ perception of the IC as hostile Islamic terrorists. The subsequent splintering of the IC into several armed factions opposed to the TFG, the emergence of the radical organization Al-Shabaab, the continuous meddling of the United States, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and other countries, are only some of the factors that will make peace and stability elude Somalia for years, if not decades.

When negotiating with Somalia, the AU should stress that it is absolutely not motivated by a desire to divide the Somali people. The AU should make it clear that it is driven by the wish to end the suffering of Somali communities. Somalia should be convinced that clinging to Somaliland against the wish of most of this territory’s inhabitants is very likely to exacerbate tensions and divisions amongst Somali people in the long term. Granting Somaliland independence will provide a way of settling disputes that if left unsolved now, will inevitably plunge Somalia and Somaliland back into chaos in the future.

The AU should take the lead, and seek to convince Somalia that maintaining the status quo and carry on opposing the independence of Somaliland is not only merely postponing the unavoidable but also holding the people of Somaliland hostage to the uncertain fate of Somalia. Furthermore, it is akin to inflicting a cruel, short-sighted collective punishment on Somalilanders, who are not responsible for the current sorry state of Somalia.

Some may argue that instead of seeking statehood recognition, Somaliland should merely administer itself while waiting for Somalia to be stabilized. But they are missing a crucial point that the AU has already grasped: lack of recognition is preventing Somalilanders from exploiting their natural resources. Somaliland is ostracized, unrecognized by potential trade partners and investors, and unable to deal with institutions such as the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank.

Consequently, though surveys have revealed that their country has mineral deposits, as well as many offshore and onshore oil and natural gas reserves, Somalilanders are forced to live in abject poverty and rely only on livestock and remittances from the Diaspora.

The AU should seek to convince Somalia that consenting to the independence of Somaliland would not be a sign of weakness, but a wise move that would benefit not only Somalilanders but also all Somali people in general. For the ties bounding Somali communities transcend mere borders, and the benefits from economic prosperity enjoyed by Somalilanders are likely to trickle down to other Somali people.

There is a pressing need for the recognition of Somaliland. The most common objection to the acknowledgment of this territory, namely that such a move would jeopardize the integrity of African as well as other states, does not stand up to scrutiny.

Opposing the independence of Somaliland is merely postponing the unavoidable, as an independent state is now a non-negotiable part of the identity of Somaliland’s young generations and future leaders.

Against all the odds and expectations, Somaliland has managed to deliver peace, security, and several democratic governments to its people. The African Union, Western nations, and the international community should show their admiration for these accomplishments and seek to safeguard them by recognizing Somaliland as an independent state. This will prove immensely beneficial not only to Somaliland people but also to African nations as well as the international community as a whole. Recognition will enable Somaliland to increase the exploitation of its resources and offer economic prosperity to its people.

Somaliland enjoys all the legal attributes of an independent state. It is not recognized as such because the international community lacks the political will. I would like to appeal to the world, and especially our brothers in Africa, to set aside their reservations and recognize Somaliland as an independent state and welcome it as the 55th member state of the AU. An internationally recognized Somaliland would contribute to the stability, security, and prosperity of the Horn of Africa as well as helping to defeat evils such as piracy in the Indian Ocean. The true interests of the international community would best be served by recognizing Somaliland now.”

Written by The Somaliland Intellectuals Institute (SII)

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