The Republic of Somaliland can give Moscow much more than a simple logistics center if officially recognized. Writes Alexander Karpov
The Horn of Africa is one of those regions of the world that has traditionally been in the focus of attention of both neighboring states and large powers located in other parts of the globe. The attractiveness of this area is easy to understand just by looking at the map. Open access to the Indian Ocean, proximity to the countries rich in natural resources of Central and East Africa, as well as access to shipping routes of the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea – all this causes enormous interest in many subjects of world politics today. In this vein, Somaliland, counting on its official recognition, is ready to share its geographical opportunities with interested parties.
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At the end of the 19th century, the British Empire received a protectorate in the northern part of the Horn of Africa, which later until 1960 was called British Somaliland. In June 1960, for several days, the former British colony of Somaliland gained independence, which, by the way, 35 sovereign states officially recognized. In early July of the same year, according to a plan previously developed by Great Britain and Italy, the British and Somali parts of Somalia merged into a new independent state, the Somali Republic. However, not all residents of Somaliland finally resigned to the unification.
By the beginning of the 80s of the last century, representatives of the North Somali clans formed the Somali National Movement (SNM), opposing the government of General Siyad Barre, who took power in Mogadishu as a result of the coup. During his reign, Barre, who comes from the South Somali clans, was faced with serious opposition in the North of the country. To suppress the protests, the general used military methods, which led, according to the UN, to the death of about 100 thousand civilians belonging to the Isaac clan. This significantly expanded the social base of the CIS and contributed to the growth of separatist sentiments in Somaliland. In 1991, under the onslaught of the SND and the rebel forces of other regions of Somalia, the regime of General Barre was overthrown. The Somali national movement refused to recognize the authority of the new interim government,
Even though at the beginning of the 90s Somalia de facto ceased to exist as a single state, plunged into a long war between the specific principalities and Islamic groups, Somaliland retained the main signs of independence, including relative domestic political stability. In 2001, the constitution of the Republic of Somaliland was adopted at a national referendum.
It is worth noting the phenomenal success of the Somaliland authorities in the fight against the Islamic group Al-Shabaab and piracy in their territorial waters. Not having the financial infusions from Washington that the government in Mogadishu regularly receives to fight terrorism, the unrecognized state with much fewer means effectively confronts threats to national security. Two key factors contribute to this – reliable intelligence and a well-functioning public administration system. The government has managed to establish close contact with local communities, especially in coastal areas. The state directly pays money to its citizens, notifying authorities of the presence of terrorists or maritime gangs. Besides, from the very beginning, the Somaliland authorities showed their interest in ensuring the security of even remote settlements, which is fundamentally different from the security structure in neighboring Somalia, where the authorities control the largest cities with varying degrees of success, not to mention the countryside. In this vein, the authorities of the unrecognized republic have created a favorable image of a stable state, based on the support of its citizens and capable of ensuring security without billions of subsidies and high-tech weapons.
Despite the fact that such key actors of international relations as the USA, Great Britain, France, and the EU have repeatedly praised the Somaliland authorities for their significant contribution to the fight against terrorism and cross-border crime, while noting the success of democratic procedures in the country, it is still up to the official recognition of independence not yet reached. This cannot but affect the country’s economy.
Lack of international recognition limits foreign trade opportunities and worsens Somaliland’s investment climate. The GDP of the unrecognized state is about $ 2 billion, and the main sources of income remain the remittances of the Somaliland diaspora from abroad and the export of livestock to Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the Gulf countries. Also, without being internationally recognized as an independent state, Somaliland is not eligible to receive loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Therefore, it becomes apparent that the foreign recognition of Somaliland’s independence is a de facto issue for the survival of the 4 million inhabitants of this country.
Despite the current weak economic opportunities, the republic has something to offer foreign powers in exchange for recognition of independence – this is its incredibly successful geographical position in the northern part of the Horn of Africa. Last year, an agreement was signed between Somaliland and Ethiopia to acquire the last 19 percent stake in the port of Berbera and to build a railway to connect this Somaliland port with Ethiopian cities. Ethiopia and Djibouti have their political and trade missions in Hargeisa, and Kenya sent her emissary to the capital of the unrecognized republic at the beginning of the year to create an official mission.
In recent years, the United Arab Emirates, which are actively involved in the war in neighboring Yemen, has shown the greatest interest in Somaliland. At the beginning of 2017, an agreement was signed between the UAE and the unrecognized republic on the provision of an airfield in Berbera and an adjacent coastal section for the construction of a military base there. Subsequently, the acquisition process was hindered, primarily due to a diplomatic scandal in which the federal government in Mogadishu accused the emirate authorities of disrespecting international law and conspiring with regional elites behind the federal center. Nevertheless, according to various sources, the Emirate Air Force continues to use Berber as a temporary deployment point for operations in Yemen.
The Somaliland authorities themselves are also making every possible diplomatic effort to enhance their legal status in the world. The results were the recognition of Somaliland passports by the authorities of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia, South Sudan, South Africa, Great Britain, France, Belgium and Turkey, as well as the opening of official representations of the republic in Dubai, Addis Ababa, Pretoria, Djibouti, Nairobi, Turin, Stockholm, Paris, London and Washington.
The leadership of the unrecognized republic is closely monitoring the political changes in the world. In particular, the President of Somaliland, Muse Bihi Abdi, became one of the first political leaders, an official congratulatory message to Boris Johnson on the victory of the Conservative Party in the elections and his assumption of the post of Prime Minister. One of the representatives of the Somaliland government, Aniis Essa, noted that London, which is occupied by Brexit, will be forced to seek new foreign policy opportunities outside the EU, including in Africa, and Somaliland, as a former British protectorate, should be in Johnson’s focus.
However, Hargeisa is by no means fixated on her former metropolis and is ready to consider any opportunities to strengthen her position in the international community. This year, President Muse Bihi Abdi visited Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Guinea to establish trade and economic relations. Alfa Conde, President of the Republic of Guinea, over the past few years has become one of the active supporters of the spread of Russian influence on the Black Continent. In 2017 and 2018, a series of documents were signed between Moscow and Conakry on the development of energy, infrastructure, the development of mineral deposits in the African republic and the supply of Russian products to the country, as well as on coordinating efforts in the fight against terrorism on the continent.
According to Africa Intelligence, it was Conde who advised his Somaliland vis-a-vis to pay closer attention to Russia, which in the case of favorable offers could become one of the first countries to officially recognize Somaliland. It is worth noting that information about the growing interest of Moscow in the Horn of Africa has been circulating for more than a year. Back in 2017, Yuri Kurshakov, head of the consular department of the Russian Embassy in Djibouti, visited Hargeisa. During the visit of the Russian diplomat, they discussed the possibilities of building a Russian naval base near the city of Zeila, sending Russian military advisers to train the Somaliland army, as well as investing $ 250 billion in the country’s oil and gas industry and making 35% of the profit from it by the Russian side.
This is especially important since competition in the construction of military bases and seaports on the Horn of Africa among the world and regional powers has only recently intensified. Tiny Djibouti alone has more foreign military bases than anywhere else in the world. On the territory of this country, formerly known as the French coast of Somalia, there are military bases of France, China, the USA, Japan, and Italy. Turkey has a large military base on the territory of Somalia, in the vicinity of Mogadishu, and also rents the island of Suakin in the Red Sea from Sudan. The United Arab Emirates essentially occupied the Yemeni island of Socotra in the Gulf of Aden and are looking for all the opportunities to strengthen their positions in the region, which is noticeable in their ebullient activities in Yemen, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Somalia.
In this regard, the unrecognized republic of Somaliland can provide Russia with unique economic and military opportunities in the Horn of Africa. While negotiations on the possible creation of a Russian maritime logistics center in Sudan, Eritrea or Djibouti have not moved forward, Somaliland can give Moscow much more than a simple logistics center if officially recognized.
This article was translated to English by Google Translate. You can read original language here