afrol News, 22 June - After the referendum over the independence of secessionist Somaliland on 31 May producing over 97 percent popular support, the debate over the international recognition of this successful state, that has existed for ten years, has finally left Hargeysa government offices and entered international forums.
- The people have spoken, says one 'Elias' from Washington DC on BBC's weekly Internet debate forum, titled "Somaliland: A nation in its own right?". He concludes: "Let's respect their will and support their effort to make peace and stability."
Non-Somalis following the recent referendum, which was carried out in an "impressive" democratic way (international observers), have problems understanding why the international community should not recognise the will of the Somaliland people. Somalis are against secession while Somalilanders enjoying the taste of patriotism for a new state in their arguments. The debate attracts a wide audience.
- These people deserve nothing less than their own independence and to lead their own country with pride, Mehari from neighbouring Ethiopia concludes. Cabdi Gahayr from Djibouti - a country whose government strongly opposed Somaliland independence- agrees: "The time has come when we as Africans must be honest enough to praise the few success stories on our burdened continent. An independent Somaliland will benefit the Horn of Africa including my beloved but mismanaged country Djibouti."
The BBC debate confirms the recent trends in the discussion over Somaliland, an issue that can hardly be overlooked nowadays. Most non-Somali Africans agree, although some think within the lines of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), condemning separatism in general.
The debate has mostly left radical lines, discussing the more profound problems such a secession raise. Can one allow Somaliland to split off, but deny other parts of Somalia to do the same? Did the separation of Ethiopia and Eritrea bring peace and development to the region? Can one disregard the demand of an almost totally united people? Can you force genocide victims to reconcile with their perpetuators? Would not Somalis stand stronger in its search for peace and democracy if united? These questions currently without doubt also are raised in several foreign ministries.
While the Somaliland referendum was a brilliant PR event to remind the international community of this issue, public discussion however does not produce a strong pressure on governments to make the first step in recognising Somaliland's independence. Even trade and communication links (there are now direct flights between Hargeysa and Nairobi and British Airways is inspecting Hargeysa airport as a possible destination), in practical terms meaning recognition of Somaliland, have not led to a formal recognition. Diplomatic pressure from the Somaliland government, following the attention the referendum has given, seems crucial to achieve results.
On the diplomatic stage, however, Somaliland has few means of pressure. Ethiopia, which is getting more hostile towards the Mogadishu government, is getting more dependent of the Berbera harbour in Somaliland. It can however not be blackmailed, as the striving Berbera harbour is a main source of income for the Somaliland government. Ethiopia, a key member of the OAU, would hardly be willing to become the first country to recognise Somaliland without a united OAU backing it.
An OAU recognition probably depends on the total discredit of the Mogadishu government, recognised as representing all Somalia. As the Mogadishu government is at the fringe of collapse - only Thursday at least 17 people were killed in a shoot-out between two clans at a market in central Mogadishu - this constitutes the best hope for Somalilanders.
Somaliland's best cards of gaining recognition from outside the African continent has so far been the Israel-Arab conflict. While hoping for recognition from Arab brother nations that never came, the Somaliland government has openly flirted with Israel, probably willing to take the first step. Fears are however that this would be contra-productive.
While the recognition by one African or European nation could mean the beginning of a landslide, recognition by pariah nation Israel could mean that Somaliland ends up in the same permanent diplomatic isolation as Taiwan, especially if a new central government in Somalia was established shortly after the expected fall of the Mogadishu government.
Most Western and developing countries, remembering their close ties to all or several African nations, will not take the first step in recognising Somaliland, being an "inter-African affair". Not even former colonial power Britain will jeopardise its relation to other Commonwealth nations, many of them OAU members. Popular pressure within Britain, although there have been demonstrations by Somalilanders, will never reach that amount.
Somaliland's recognition thus still depends on the discredit of the Mogadishu government or the buy-off of small, poor nations (probably beyond Somaliland's efforts). The more open and profound public debate about its recognition - as most debates, it will return to its closet of internality within short - will not change that fact. When the political constellations change, however, it might become a useful experience to fall back on.
Analysis by afrol News editor Rainer Chr. Hennig