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Somaliland, the Horn of Africa and US Policy

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By David H. Shinn
Adjunct Professor, Elliott School of International Affairs
The George Washington University

Remarks Made at the Somaliland Convention
Crystal City, Virginia
September 8, 2006

Distinguished participants and guests.

I thank the organizers of this convention for inviting me to make remarks on “ Somaliland, the Horn of Africa and US Policy.” As usual, I want to make clear that I am no longer with the US government and, therefore, do not speak for it. As many of you know, my interest in things Somali dates back to the early 1960s. I follow closely events throughout the Horn of Africa. I also remain sympathetic to Somaliland and all that you have accomplished. The Somaliland diaspora in particular deserves special praise for its financial and intellectual commitment to its homeland. Somaliland’s progress merits far more support than it has received so far from the US and the international community. In these brief remarks, I will also raise several controversial issues that you probably wish to avoid.

Since I had the pleasure of addressing the Somaliland Convention in Los Angeles in June 2005, there have been significant developments in the region and especially in Somalia. Some of these changes have important implications for Somaliland. On the other hand, it is important to understand that those issues in the Horn of Africa that do not directly involve Somalis divert the attention of the US and the international community away from Somalia and Somaliland. What are the major issues today?

Sudan faces a continuing crisis in Darfur and is trying to implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the National Congress Party and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. There is ethnic unrest in southern Sudan, continuing engagement in southern Sudan by the Lord’s Resistance Army, and an unresolved situation near Sudan’s eastern border with Eritrea. Sudan today absorbs an overwhelming amount of American attention and financial resources. The US will spend $1.3 billion this year in Sudan for humanitarian aid, helping internally displaced persons, development assistance to the south, and peacekeeping contributions to the UN and African Union. Sudan now receives ten times more US financial assistance than the next highest recipient in sub-Saharan Africa.

Ethiopia is still coping with the aftermath of the May 2005 national elections, occasional ethnic flare-ups, and challenges from the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the Ogaden National Liberation Front. There has been no progress on ending the dispute with Eritrea over demarcation of their border. Low level terrorist attacks by unidentified groups continue to occur. Ethiopia strongly supports the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) based in Baidoa. There are credible reports, denied by Ethiopia, that Ethiopian troops have entered Somalia in support of the TFG. This has resulted in a backlash of Somali nationalism against Ethiopia in areas now under the control of the Islamic Courts. Extremists in the Islamic Courts have expressed their desire to reclaim the Ogaden as part of Somalia. In addition, some 2.6 million persons living primarily in southeastern Ethiopia are affected by drought.

Eritrea serves as headquarters for the OLF and supports other anti-Ethiopian government groups while Ethiopia does the same for anti-Eritrean groups. There are credible reports from the UN and international journalists that Eritrea is providing military assistance to the Islamic Courts in Somalia, probably in an effort to put pressure on Ethiopia. In the meantime, Eritrea has yet to hold national elections and faces growing economic challenges and internal dissension.

The TFG has been unable to establish control in most of Somalia. Fighting several months ago involving warlords in Mogadishu ended with a victory by the Islamic Courts. It is not yet clear if the Islamic Courts will make significant inroads beyond the geographic area inhabited by the Hawiye. The ideology and policy direction of the Islamic Courts are even less clear. Some of the leaders hold, from an American perspective, extremist views while others are moderate. In the meantime, the TFG has serious internal problems and Somalia remains effectively a failed state. Somalia also faces drought conditions with an affected population of 2.1 million.

Kenya has been especially hard hit by the drought and counts 3.5 million affected persons. The porous Kenya-Somalia border continues to attract refugees, smugglers, arms traffickers, and perhaps the occasional terrorist. Low level conflict involving cattle rustling and competition for water and pasturage has broken out again along the Ethiopia-Kenya border.

These issues in the Horn of Africa, not to mention others on the rest of the continent, make it very difficult for the US to focus on matters of concern to Somaliland. When you include larger problems like wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, tension along the Lebanese-Israeli border, and the Israel-Palestine conflict, it becomes even more difficult to get the attention of the US government. Nevertheless, recent developments in Somalia have resulted in an increase in US interest in the Somali-speaking world. It is important to channel this attention into sound American policy.

The change that has the most significant implications for Somaliland is the defeat of warlords in Mogadishu by the Islamic Courts and the expansion of the Courts’ authority well beyond the Benaadir area. It is too early to say if the leadership of the Courts will pass to Islamic moderates or be hijacked by extremists. But their ability to reestablish a degree of security in areas previously subject to regular outbreaks of conflict has been appreciated by most Somalis. For its part, Somaliland restored peace and stability through extensive consultation and democratic elections. Consequently, many Somalilanders will conclude that the Islamic Courts have no future in Somaliland. The Courts, however, surely do not see the situation this way. Somalilanders need to assess for themselves the prospects that the Courts may develop a significant following there.

If Somalilanders conclude that they do not want the Islamic Courts to make significant inroads, they must work harder than ever to resolve the political and economic problems that still face them. This includes expanding social services, increasing economic development, reducing corruption, and reaching a satisfactory arrangement with many of the residents of Eastern Sanaag and Sool regions who have not embraced the idea of an independent Somaliland.

I was pleased to read a positive account in the January 2006 report by the Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR) on the 29 September 2005 parliamentary elections in Somaliland. CIIR, now known as Progressio, concluded that the election demonstrated “the commitment of Somalilanders to expressing their democratic wishes.” These elections, which followed district elections in 2002 and presidential balloting in 2003, underscored Somaliland’s commitment to the concept of democracy. The issue of most concern, however, was the relatively low voter turnout in eastern Sanaag and especially in Sool where voters cast less than 21,000 ballots, or about three percent of the total vote in all six of Somaliland’s regions.

Ultimately, only Somalis can solve the political issues that remain in eastern Sanaag and Sool. But together with the rest of the international community, the US can and should do more to expand social services and increase economic development. The US does not always identify which of its assistance goes to Somalia and which goes to Somaliland. The figures are usually combined. USAID development and reconstruction assistance for Somalia has declined significantly since the US and UN intervention there in the mid-1990s. In any event, virtually none of that early aid went to Somaliland. USAID development aid levels, excluding emergency and food assistance, were about $4.5 million in FY 2002, $3.4 million in FY 2003, and $2 million in FY 2004. The total increased to $5.1 million in FY 2005 due primarily to the intervention of Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin. Development aid dropped back to about $2 million in FY 2006 and is expected to rise to just over $2.5 million in FY 2007. Because the situation has been more stable in Somaliland, most of the development assistance has gone there rather than to Somalia.

US emergency and food aid to Somalia, Somaliland, and Somali refugees in Kenya has been much more significant. So far in FY 2006 alone, the US has provided well over $90 million in humanitarian assistance, most of it PL 480 Title II food. The US contributed smaller amounts for improving water and sanitation and helping Somali refugees and internally displaced persons. Because the need during 2006 was much greater in Somalia, especially in the southern and central regions, the vast majority of this assistance went there rather than to Somaliland.

As important as emergency assistance is to keep people alive, only improved security in Somalia together with more development and reconstruction aid to both Somalia and Somaliland will allow them to rebuild and, in the case of Somaliland, ensure not only the continuation but the strengthening of democracy. I made this argument in my February 2002 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs and repeated it before the same subcommittee in July of this year. On both occasions, I also suggested that the US establish a small liaison office in Hargeisa where one of the principal goals would be the monitoring of an expanded aid program. Regrettably, development aid to Somaliland has actually declined since 2002 and the proposal to establish a liaison office there has not found favor.

Other areas for improvement as Somaliland works to strengthen democracy concern the role of women and political parties. Somalilanders elected in 2005 only two women to the 82-member parliament. It is hard to overcome tradition, but the international community will look more favorably on the progress of democracy in the country when there is greater participation by women. Finally, there is the problem of weak political parties that seem to have little life beyond election campaigns. A number of outside observers also question how much democracy is practiced within each of the three parties. Democracy is a process that takes time. Somaliland has made great strides so far, but speaking as a friend of Somaliland, these are issues that require more attention.

Somaliland continues to be frustrated by the issue of non-recognition. I commented last year in Los Angeles that the key to Somaliland’s recognition remains with the African Union. It is a political and not a legal issue. This continues to be my position. But there has been progress on this front. The report of the AU Fact-Finding Mission to Somaliland in the spring of 2005 said that the union between Somaliland and Somalia was never ratified and also malfunctioned when it went into action from 1960 to 1990. It added this situation “makes Somaliland’s search for recognition historically unique and self-justified in African political history.” Finally, the report concluded that “the AU should find a special method of dealing with this outstanding case.”

Even those persons who oppose independence for Somaliland acknowledge that Somalilanders have established political stability, begun a democratic process, and made significant economic progress. For these achievements, they agree that Somaliland deserves increased international support. I hope that Americans who are attending this convention and are in a position to influence US policy will heed this call and take concrete steps to provide more assistance to Somaliland.

Have a great convention and thank you.


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