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Issue 473 -- 19th - 25th February 2011
EDITORIAL: Somaliland And The Wilton Park Conference
The Wilton Park Conference has created a ferocious debate among Somalilanders, with some people supporting the participation of Somaliland in that conference and others opposing it. Much of this debate was conducted along partisan lines. In general, pro-government individuals defended the participation of the foreign minister in the conference, while those who are opposed to the government criticized it. Overall, the debate created more heat than light and only succeeded in confusing many Somalilanders about the whole thing. If we cut through the profuse verbiage and get to the crux of the matter, we will find these main pro and con points:
Arguments for participating in the conference:
1-Somaliland will have a forum from which it can address the international community and push its quest for diplomatic for recognition.
2- Somalilandís positive contributions to solving the difficult problem of Somalia will earn it credit with the international community.
3- Somaliland will have an influence on decisions about Somalia just as neighboring countries like Ethiopia and Kenya have influence over Somalia.
4- The conference was not about setting up a government for Somalia.
Arguments against participating.
1- Participating in the conference means accepting that Somaliland is part of Somalia.
2- Taking part in the conference violates Somalilandís law and breaks with a 20-year tradition of staying out of Somaliaís conferences.
3- Somaliland will pay a high price for whatever temporary rewards it may get from the international community for attending the conference.
4- The conference reduces Somalilandís stature to that of a regional government such as Puntland.
Here is what we think:
Somalilandís Foreign Minister, Dr. Mohamed A Omar was correct in saying the Wilton Park conference is different from the conferences that were designed for forming a government for Somalia, but those who are opposed to it are also right in saying that the conference is still about Somalia and therefore Somaliland will pay a price for taking part in it. If the foreign minister has any doubt about this, all he has to do is listen to how the TFGís Foreign Minister, Mohamed Abdillahi Omaar immediately used the news of Somalilandís agreeing to attend the conference as an opportunity to cut Somaliland to size and portray it as a region of Somalia. The TFGís foreign minister was already inflicting damage on Somaliland for his boss Sheikh Sharif even before the conference started. So no matter how many times Somalilandís foreign minister says the conference is not about setting up a government for Somalia, Somaliland already paid a price for its participation in the conference.
Moreover, the fact that Somaliland was able to stay out of Somaliaís conferences without being coerced by the international community into taking part in them, is a net gain for Somaliland. Attending the Wilton Park may embolden the international community to put pressure on Somaliland to attend such conferences, and Somaliland may lose the privilege of deciding which conferences to attend and which not to attend. It could be a slippery slope.
Until now, Somalilandís foreign minister has only made some half-hearted effort to explain the rationale behind his participation at the conference. He seems to think that the case for taking part in the conference is self-evident. If he really thinks so, he is wrong. The case for being involved in such conferences is far from self-evident. On the contrary, it is a very touchy and potentially divisive issue. That is why there is a law that forbids taking part in such conferences. That law may seem too quaint, rigid and constraining for Somalilandís diplomacy but there is a reason why it was enacted: Somalilanders know that politics has a way of attracting many unprincipled individuals, and it is to protect themselves against that type of individual that this law was promulgated. Just imagine if Ahmed Sillanyo won the election for presidency the first time, and that he proceeded to appoint his then campaign manager Mohamoud Jama Sifir as foreign minister, and knowing what we know now about Sifir, think of the damage that he could have done to the country and how easy it would have been for him to put Somaliland on the auction block if there were no law to stop him from doing so.
In our estimation, the best argument that can be made for attending such conferences is that the TFG is so broken that it really has no chance of competing against Somaliland, so the mere presence of Somaliland at the table with its 20 years of state-building drives home the irrationality of supporting the TFG and ignoring Somaliland. If Somalilandís foreign minister thinks it is necessary that Somaliland take part in conferences about Somalia, then he should make that case. So far, he has not.
The release of his speech to the press was a good first step, but conferences are usually about more than speeches. And he has to show what and how Somaliland would benefit from attending such conferences. He could start by explaining what Somaliland has benefited from attending this conference.