Somaliland’s Foreign Policy Analysis: The First Four Administrations

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By Mohamed Abdillahi Duale and Saeed Mohamed Ahmed

This paper seeks to examine Somaliland’s foreign policy goals and decision-making as they evolved under the leadership of Somaliland’s previous four presidents. Doing so involves presenting how these respective administrations dealt with Somaliland’s neighboring states as well as regional and other global organizations. The paper will also focus on the present foreign policy challenges. It will conclude by offering recommendations with respect to current foreign policy arrangements.

Introduction

According to dominant paradigms of international relations theories, a country’s foreign policy consists of the self-interested strategies chosen by the state to protect its national interests and the deployment of the various tools of diplomacy and statecraft in order to achieve these objectives within the international relations milieu.

Since Somaliland re-asserted its independence on 18 May 1991, its main foreign policy objective has been the attainment of international recognition. Somaliland has made tremendous strides toward this end by building a functional state with all the legal attributes of a modern state. Notwithstanding the enormous challenges Somaliland has faced under the status of being diplomatically unrecognized for the last 27 years, the state apparatus has continued to evolve internally and externally.

Somaliland has conducted foreign relations with the international community in its various shapes and forms and has continued to welcome the international community cooperate on issues such as development, investment, social reform and consular relations inside Somaliland. In the modern international order, the recognition of statehood is administered by a number of different legal, political and economic factors that include: (a) a permanent population, (b) a defined territory, (c) a functioning government, and (d) the capacity to enter into populations with other states. Somaliland has a strong case for satisfying all of these conditions.  

It is worth acknowledging that successive Somaliland administrations have done an impressive job with respect to Somaliland’s international relations, given the many international and domestic constraints it faces. Nevertheless, observers of Somaliland’s foreign policy over the past 27 years have seen it as a more reactionary and self-explanatory approach, rather than entirely pragmatic.

It is the theme of this paper to examine Somaliland’s foreign policy goals and decision-making as they evolved under the leadership of Somaliland’s previous four presidents. Doing so involves presenting how these respective administrations dealt with Somaliland’s neighboring states as well as regional and other global organizations. This paper will also focus on the present foreign policy challenges. It will conclude by offering recommendations with respect to current foreign policy arrangements.

Foreign policy in historical perspective

President Abdirahman, Somaliland’s first president (1991—1993)

In 1991, the Somali National Movement (SNM) was the only political organization in Somaliland with sufficient authority to establish law and order and oversee a process of recovery and reconciliation in Somaliland. The SNM was formed in 1981 in London by a group of northern politicians and activists from what was once known as the Somali Republic. The SNM was born out of the profound marginalization felt by northern clans from former British Protectorate, which existed since the union with Somalia but which was exacerbated during the dictatorial military junta government. Its campaign of terror, division, and violence orchestrated against the civilians of northern clans. After a long struggle, the SNM, with the help of United Somali Congress (USC), finally succeeded in overthrowing the military government.

On 18 May 1991, representatives from a wide variety of Somaliland clans met in Burao for a reconciliation conference, where they agreed to a resolution that annulled the northern territory’s merger with the former Italian colony, and declared the reassertion of Somaliland’s independence. The meeting also led to the collective decision to appoint Abdirahman Ahmed Ali (Tuur) as Somaliland’s first President of the modern era.

President Tuur’s presidency occurred at a very turbulent time politically. His political weight and leadership caliber, as well as the financial resources and inclusive government he formed, were insufficient to overcome the enormous responsibility he was handed—including daunting challenges such as establishing security from scratch; inclusively accommodating none-Isaaq clans within the government; building institutions; drafting a constitution as the basis for the country’s first democratic government; resurrecting the collapsed economy and restoring all basic services. All of these daunting tasks had to be accomplished within a brief two-year tenure [[1]].

The aim of President Abdirahman’s foreign policy was to translate the decision of restoring Somaliland’s independence into a language that could be agreed to by the international community. To this end, President Abdirahman appointed Sheikh Yusuf Sheikh Ali Madar, former SNM Chairman, as his Foreign Minister. Once appointed, Madar and a government delegation were quickly dispatched to Europe and North America. Their mission: to deliver Somaliland’s message to the international community.

One of the historic achievements of that trip was hiring two lawyers specializing in international law based in Washington, USA. Mohamed Bihi Yonis, a Somalilander living in the United States at that time who would later become Somaliland’s Foreign Minister succinctly elucidated the meeting between the Somaliland diaspora in New York and the new head diplomat:

“The Somaliland community in New York received Minister Sheikh Yusuf Sheikh Ali Madar and exchanged views on how best to promote Somaliland’s quest for international recognition.  During the meeting, we agreed to hire two international law lawyers who would prepare a legal document on Somaliland’s justification for de jure recognition”[[2]].

The international lawyers who engaged in this colossal task were Anthony J. Carroll and B. Rajagobal, and what they produced ended up being one of the most significant legal analyses written about Somaliland to date. The paper was entitled The Case for the Independent Statehood of Somaliland, which was published in the American University International Law Review in 1993. This document has served as the legal and academic base for any publication on the subject up to the present.

However, beyond this, President Abdirahman’s government had minimal success in establishing relations with Somaliland’s neighboring states, one of the major reasons for this being divisions within SNM political and military leadership. This discord would only increase as the presidency passed to Abdirahman’s successor, becoming the main factor, resulting in the instigation of the large-scale clan feuds from 1994-1995.  

The leadership of President Egal, Somaliland’s second president (1993—2002)

Continued on page 2 

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