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 The West Pushes For Somaliland Recognition by Defense and Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, 2-3, 2006.

THERE IS GROWING EVIDENCE that the European Union (EU) and the US Government are preparing to sidestep the Egyptian Government and work directly with the African Union (AU) in bringing about the recognition of the Republic of Somaliland, possibly within 2006.

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Egypt had used its strong position within the AU and the Arab League to block international recognition of Somaliland because of fears that a sovereign, recognized Somaliland would have greater freedom to act as a transit port for Ethiopia and could possibly provide strategic basing support to Israel and the United States at the mouth of the Red Sea.

The basic premise of international recognition of states is that they first be recognized by regional bodies – such as the African Union in the case of Somaliland – before the United Nations and the international community at large recognizes the state. However, despite the fact that Somaliland was a sovereign, independent state in its own right before joining in a union with the former Italian Somaliland to create Somalia in 1960, Egypt has used all of its efforts to stop Somaliland rejoining the international community since the collapse of Somalia, and Somaliland’s declaration of resumed sovereignty in 1991.

The strong steps, being taken by the United Kingdom, Germany, and the US show how far Egypt’s influence has fallen – to the point where it is seen as disrupting Western influence in the Red Sea -and how critical the mouth of the Red Sea is seen as a security zone. Moreover, there are significant signs of offshore oil and gas deposits in the Red Sea/Gulf of Aden area, off the Somaliland coast.

The rulers of the autonomous Puntland region of Somalia, to the immediate East of Somaliland, had been “selling” oil leases in Somaliland waters to foreign investors, notably to an Australian oil search company. The Puntland deal was repudiated by the nominal Government of Somalia – which has proven unable to establish its writ even in the official capital, Mogadishu, let alone Puntland – but the Somaliland Government began moves immediately to ensure that the sovereign waters off the Somaliland coast would not be claimed by Puntland or Somalia.

At the same time, during 2005, an African Union mission to Somaliland produced an extremely favorable report on Somaliland, and several African states particularly South Africa and Nigeria, the two biggest powers in sub-Saharan Africa – have indicated a readiness to recognize Somaliland, which petitioned 2005 AU Chairman and Nigerian Pres. Olusegun Obasanjo directly on the matter.

The case has now been established that the break-up of the Somalia union did not violate the basic tenet of maintaining colonial borders. Unions between Senegal and Gambia, and Egypt and Sudan, among others, had been broken without affecting the recognition of these countries. And former British Somaliland (now the Republic of Somaliland) and former Italian Somaliland had been independent entities in 1960 when they created a voluntary union. The AU mission accepted this, stating in its report that Somaliland’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.

The report noted: “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. Furthermore, given the acute humanitarian situation prevailing in Somaliland, the AU should mobilize financial resources to help alleviate the plight of the affected communities, especially those catering for the internally displaced persons and the returnees. Finally, given also the high potential for conflict between Mogadishu and Hargeisa, the AU should take steps to discuss critical issues in the relations between the two towns. That initiative should be taken at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Subsequently, the US has begun, for strategic reasons, to take a strong interest in Somaliland’s status, largely as a result of strong diplomatic liaisons in Washington by Somaliland’s de facto ambassador, and fueled by the fact that the impending military conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia jeopardizes the US military presence in Eritrea. At the same time, Djibouti’s growing restiveness has also given pause to the US, which has, since September 11, 2001, attacks on the US, stationed forces there. Djibouti, concerned about the prospect that Somaliland will take away its near monopoly on Ethiopia’s import-export trade, has supported Somalian claims against Somaliland.

With regard to the opening of Ethiopian trade through Berbera – the great concern of both Djibouti and Eritrea (once the principal import/export route for Ethiopia) – a report in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis on November 24, 2005, noted:

Government officials from Somaliland and Ethiopia came together on November 16, 2005, in Berbera’s old State House building to celebrate the first Ethiopia-bound cargo to be imported through the port of Berbera. The cargo of electric goods ordered by the Ethiopian Government-owned Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation arrived aboard a Singapore-registered liner which docked at Berbera on November 9, 2005. The shipment was brought in 55 40ft. containers and forwarded to Ethiopia by 50 Ethiopian-registered trucks, traveling through the border crossing point at Togwajaale. After protracted negotiations, Somaliland and Ethiopia had formally concluded in May 2005 a trade agreement allowing Ethiopia to use Berbera Port for its import and export of goods. The agreement called for the formalization of trade between the two countries and the establishment of customs offices at main border crossing points, such as Wajaale, and improvement of road infrastructure. Significantly, Togwajaale had, by late November 2005, been transformed from a small border village to a major town, with security forces from both countries, banking, and governmental infrastructure, to facilitate the import-export trade.

Ethiopia’s export to Somaliland had consisted mainly of khat (a hallucinogenic plant) and vegetables, while Somaliland re-exported sugar and rice, but high tariff rates and lack of formal bilateral agreements between the two sides had, until the new agreement, limited the scope of trade exchange to the informal sector.

Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy 34, no. 2/3 (2006): p. 7

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