Dear Professor Woodward,
I read with interest your analysis of Somaliland’s claim to secession, published in The Conversation on 8 September. However, I believe that there are some crucial points that differentiate Somaliland from the cases of South Sudan and Eritrea that you cite in your article.
Permit me, if you will, to take your assertions in turn:
“The general approach to calls for secession in Africa, as set out by the African Union (AU) and its predecessor the Organization of African Unity, is that they should be opposed. The most frequently heard argument against secession is that granting the right to one country invites others to take the same step.”
This general approach arises from Article 4 of the Constitutive Act of the African Union, which enshrines “respect of borders existing on achievement of independence”. However, Somaliland currently exists within the colonial boundaries of British Somaliland Protectorate, and the borders of the Somaliland State following independence. It has defined boundaries established by international treaties and protocols: The Anglo-French treaty of 1888; The Anglo Italian protocol of 1894; The Anglo Ethiopian Treaty of 1897. Recognition would not put at risk the internationally recognized system of post-colonial states in Africa; instead, it would revert to the horn’s post-colonial borders. Moreover, there is no mention of Somalilanders’ right to self-determination in your article. This principle is contained not only in the AU’s ‘Agenda 2063’, but also the subject of the first clause of both the UN’s ‘twin covenants’, Article 1(2) of the UN Charter, and Article 20 of the African (Banjul) Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which states:
“All peoples shall have the right to existence. They shall have the unquestionable and inalienable right to self- determination. They shall freely determine their political status and shall pursue their economic and social development according to the policy they have freely chosen.”
This petition is only the latest manifestation of Somalilanders’ desire to be recognised on the boundaries of the independent state created in 1960. It builds on the constitutional referendum held in 2001, in which 97% of Somaliland’s population voted for separation.
In the examples of Eritrea and South Sudan, you note that “The division has led to violent border disputes, economic complications, and poor relations with the wider international community.” Somaliland, unlike Eritrea and South Sudan, has had a quarter of a century since the ousting of Siyad Barre’s dictatorial regime to overcome these issues as a de facto independent state.
We have a long-standing legacy of reconciling differences between communities and a commitment to inclusive governance and regional stability. We have sought to resolve any territorial issues that have arisen, primarily in the eastern regions of Sool and Sanaag (which formed part of the original British protectorate of Somaliland in 1897), in a peaceful and amicable manner.
Last month we embarked on successful peace talks with community representatives in the Sool and Sanaag regions. At the same time, we completed our voter registration program in these regions, ensuring that Somaliland’s population will all be able to vote in our fourth presidential election due to be held in March next year. Despite highlighting perceived issues of democracy and stability in Eritrea and South Sudan, you do not mention that Somaliland is already a functioning democratic state with stable institutions, including judicial, executive and legislative branches.
The problem of access to the sea that you raise in the cases of Ethiopia and South Sudan is self-evidently not an issue for Somaliland. However –somewhat ironically – Somaliland’s progress as a de facto independent state may itself provide a solution to the issues you raise. The recently signed agreement over developing the port at Berbera with Emirati state-owned company DP World will potentially allow both Ethiopia and South Sudan to access the sea via Somaliland’s coastline; in fact, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with Ethiopia last year in relation to access to the port. This MoU is only one example of Somaliland’s engagement with other states: our passport has been recognized in twelve countries including the UK, and the President and other diplomatic officials frequently meet with representatives from other states, including a visit to meet with President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins in 2015.
You say that “the purpose here is not to revisit how and why these [other examples of secession] took place, but to consider what happened next.” On the contrary: discussing how and why these examples of secession took place is key to understanding what subsequently happened in each case. However, citing the two rather incommensurable examples of Eritrea and South Sudan does little to provide an understanding of Somaliland’s case, which an African Union Fact-finding Mission in 2005 concluded was a unique one and “not linked to the notion of opening a Pandora’s Box” in Africa.
While Somalia a fortnight ago held a state funeral for a defense minister responsible for reducing Hargeisa to rubble in the civil war, Somaliland has got on with building a viable, democratic state based on the desires and aspirations of its people. We invite you to visit Hargeisa to see for yourself the remarkable progress that we have made.
Amb. Ali Aden Awale
Somaliland Representative to the UK