- The internationally renowned Brussels-based think-tank International Crisis Group (ICG) in a new report favours an international recognition of the self-declared republic Somaliland. Historic claims, twelve years of stability and a remarkable democratisation should favour Somaliland's bid for recognition.
Recent developments had made the choice faced by the international community considerably clearer, ICG held in its report. Other countries could now choose between developing "pragmatic responses to Somaliland's demand for self-determination" or continuing to "insist upon the increasingly abstract notion of the unity and territorial integrity of the Somali Republic - a course of action almost certain to open a new chapter in the Somali civil war."
Somaliland's presidential election of 14 April this year had been a "milestone" in the self-declared, unrecognised republic's process of democratisation, the ICG pointed out in its thorough report, released today.
Nearly half a million voters cast ballots in one of the closest polls ever conducted in the region. When the last votes had been counted and the results announced on 19 April, the incumbent president, Dahir Rayale Kahin, had won by only 80 votes.
A former British protectorate in the Horn of Africa, Somaliland declared its independence from the rest of the Somali Republic in May 1991, following the collapse of the military regime in Mogadishu.
Although unrecognised by any country, Somaliland after that has followed a very different trajectory from the rest of the so-called "failed state" of Somalia, embarking on a process of internally driven political, economic and social reconstruction.
Somaliland's democratic transition began in May 2001 with a plebiscite on a new constitution that introduced a multiparty electoral system, and continued in December 2002 with local elections that were widely described as open and transparent. The final stage of the process - legislative elections - is scheduled to take place by early 2005.
- The electoral process has met with widespread approval from domestic and international observers alike, but has not been without problems, the ICG report noted. Several violations of democratic ground rules had been reported.
This had included the enlistment of government resources and personnel in support of the ruling party's campaign, the disqualification of numerous ballot boxes due to procedural errors, reports of government harassment and intimidation of opposition supporters in the aftermath of the election, and the opposition's initial refusal to accept defeat all marred an otherwise promising democratic exercise.
Thus, the ICH held, "the next phase of the democratic transition will be the most critical." Until opposition parties are able to contest parliamentary seats, Somaliland would function as a de facto one party state.
Somaliland's international partners could "play a key role in assisting the National Electoral Commission to convene legislative elections with the least possible delay, while ensuring a level playing field," ICG said. "Constitutional and judicial reforms may also be required to ensure the integrity of the democratic process over the long-term."
Somaliland's "increasingly credible claims to statehood" now were said to present the international community with "a thorny diplomatic dilemma" at a time when other (southern) Somali leaders are meeting under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) with the aim of establishing a new Somali government.
Recognition of Somaliland, although under consideration by a growing number of African and Western governments, is still vigorously resisted by many members of both the African Union (AU) and the Arab League on the grounds that the unity and territorial integrity of member states is sacrosanct.
- Furthermore, the creation of a new Somali government emerging from the IGAD process that claims jurisdiction over Somaliland threatens to open a new phase in the Somali conflict, the ICG analysis says.
Diplomatic hopes for a negotiated settlement between Somaliland and a future Somali government, however, were seen as "unlikely to bear fruit." A hypothetical dialogue on Somali unity would have to overcome mutually exclusive preconditions for talks, divergent visions of what a reunited Somali state might look like and incompatible institutional arrangements.
- Failing a negotiated settlement, any attempt to coerce Somaliland back to the Somali fold would entail a bitter and probably futile conflict, ICG warned. "The question now confronting the international community is no longer whether Somaliland should be recognised as an independent state, but whether there remain any viable alternatives."
The report by the Brussels think-tank gave several recommendations. The Somaliland government was urged to "demonstrate a genuine commitment to pluralism by releasing remaining political detainees." Further, it should withdraw the proposed press law to create a basis for a free press and conclude the formal transition to a multiparty political system "with the least possible delay."
The UN and the African Union, on the other hand, were urged to "adopt a more open-minded approach to the question of Somaliland's ultimate status," in particular by dispatching fact-finding missions to assess the current situation and to recommend policy options.
The international community the should take Somaliland's demands under formal consideration, including a legal review of the territory's case vis-à-vis the current AU charter and grant Somaliland observer status pending a final decision on its international status, ICG urged.
The ICG is a renowned think-tank on international conflicts and has been seen to have large credibility within the UN, the European Union and the US. This is the first time any influential group has recommended the recognition of Somaliland's independence.
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