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Debate Over Somalia's Unity Continues With New Round Of Talks In Ankara

04/12/2013

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As the Somaliland regional administration and the Somali federal government prepare for the anticipated Turkish-mediated talks in Ankara about their future relationship, opposing public statements from officials on both sides show they still are far apart on the issue of unity.

In February 2012, representatives from the Somaliland region and Somalia met for the first round of bilateral talks in 20 years during the Somalia conference in London, producing a resolution that called for clarifying "future relations".

At a June 2012 meeting in Dubai, Somaliland President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo and then-Transitional Federal Government (TFG) President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed agreed to continue bi-lateral talks, but the two sides have not met since.

As Silanyo and his delegation were leaving for Turkey on Monday (April 8th) -- where Turkish government-hosted talks with Somalia are expected to start April 13th -- the Somaliland leader said his administration was not ready for full unity with the Somali federal government and that it was still pursuing recognition as a sovereign state.

"The points to be agreed upon are clear and we can all guess what they are. Somalia wants a reunion and for all of us to be part of Somalia, [but] Somaliland wants its independence to be recognised and agreed to by the world," Silanyo said. "That is where the conflict lies, but we will not shut the door on the world. We will state our objectives, we will present and defend our case, and clearly state the position of our people."

Somalia pushes for unity:

Since the September election of Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the federal government has repeatedly stated that it believes firmly in keeping Somalia united through mediation. Under Somalia's new federal system of government, Somaliland would be one of several semi-autonomous regions under the national government.

"Today Somalia is not united, but we want to unite it and we will unite it. We will unify it in a peaceful manner," Mohamud said last month at the al-Jazeera Research Centre for Studies in Doha, according to Hargeisa-based Geeska Afrika Media Centre. "We do not want to unite it using military might or diplomatic pressure. We want talks to take place between Somalis."

Nonetheless, in February, a week after the arrest of a parliamentarian for treason against his native Somaliland for working in the federal government, Silanyo repeated that Somaliland is prepared to open conditional dialogue over its relationship with Somalia as long as Somaliland's independence is not up for discussion.

During his annual constitutional address before a joint session of parliament on January 30th, Silanyo reiterated Somaliland's desire for independence and said there is no other option.

Somaliland unilaterally declared independence from Somalia in 1991, but is still regarded as part of Somalia by Mogadishu and the international community.

"Like I have said before, if it takes 100 years to reach, the objective of Somaliland's independence is sacred, and I am confident we can overcome any challenge that we face together," Silanyo said.

"I would like us to have good relations with the new government of Somalia. I want to tell everyone that they are not the government of Somaliland, they do not govern us, and we re-established our government in 1991," he said.

"Today, we are engaged in developing our nation and getting recognition from the world. We hope that the Somali government and its people will acknowledge that we made a decision regarding the destiny of our people, that we have a right to do that and no one can force us."

Along those lines, on March 15th, Silanyo said Somaliland would not participate in the Somali conference in London scheduled for May 7th. "It is an invitation issued to the Somali government and we will not take part in an invitation extended to Somalia, for it is none of our business," he said.

Somaliland political parties, however, have not been united in supporting Silanyo's statements. While the Justice and Welfare Party has supported them, Wadani has criticised them, calling for consultations on the matter since it is an issue "linked to the people's destiny".

Remarks may hinder compromise:

The contrast in rhetoric from leaders of the federal government and the Somaliland regional administration on their future relationship may damage the likelihood of any solution coming out of bilateral talks, according to University of Hargeisa professor of economics and commerce Sharmarke Abdirahman Ibrahim.

There remain weighty issues, including the belated timing of the talks, the long-term conflict with al-Shabaab in Somalia and some Somalilanders' negative attitudes towards the Mogadishu-based government, he told Sabahi.

According to the latest estimates, more than 75% of the Somaliland population consists of youths who grew up with the notion of an independent Somaliland, Ibrahim said.

"That long time [it took to start talks] resulted in a change of opinion, because young people were raised in a separate system, and this is what they think a government is," he said. "They generally do not understand the importance of an official nation-state. Therefore, if a referendum is held, it is clear where the youth vote will go."

Politicians have alienated the public, which has made it harder to bring the two sides together, said former parliamentarian Hassan Omer Hussein.

"All the problems suffered by the northern provinces have to be attributed to the government of the time," he told Sabahi, referring to former President Mohamed Siad Barre's order to bomb cities resisting his control in the 1980s, which resulted in thousands of casualties.

"The Barre government included many politicians who were originally from Somaliland working for it, some of whom are in the current and former Somaliland administration," said Hussein, who served under TFG President Ahmed's administration.

People in Somaliland should embrace the new Somali constitution, which allows regions greater autonomy under a federal system, but does not allow secession, Hussein said. "The federal [system] is beneficial to Somaliland because there will not be the previous level of assimilation, and they will get their share of any aid Somalia receives," he said.

Ismail Hussein Mohamed, an international relations student at the Hargeisa campus of New Generation University, said he has witnessed first-hand attempts to encourage Somaliland citizens' distrust towards Somalia.

Some of the methods used to instil distrust include constantly reminding Somalilanders of the past using imagery of fighter jets flying over Hargeisa and bombing its people. "It is the symbol of the hatred cultivated against the people of [southern] Somalia," he told Sabahi.

Politicians should refrain from inflammatory statements that can foster mistrust between the two sides, he said.

Somalia and the Somaliland region should continue the dialogue to clarify their future relationship, but Mohamed said he expected a final resolution to come through a vote. "It is inevitable that a public referendum will be held, which the global community will witness," he said.



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