By: Robleh M. Lafcanbe
As we saw over the past couple months, the historic union of the United Kingdom was on the verge of splitting up as the people of Scotland decided to go the polls to vote on independence or to remain part of the UK. On the day of the referendum, An overwhelming 55% voted to remain within the UK and put an end to talks of Scotland becoming an independent country. Now that we’ve witnessed the impact of Scotland’s referendum, there is a window of opportunity for the Republic of Somaliland to dive in and take another giant step on the quest for internationally recognized statehood.
In 2001, the citizens of Somaliland went to the polls to vote on the new constitution for the Republic of Somaliland, which cited Somaliland as an independent sovereign country and separate from Somalia. An astonishing 97% voted in favour of the constitution and legally validated the basis for becoming a full-fledged state. The poll was monitored by international observers and was held in accordance with legal regulations yet was not welcomed by any member of the international community. This didn’t stop Somaliland from pursuing international recognition, but was a big blow to the independence and recognition campaign.
If we take a look at Somaliland’s international reputation today, the international community staunchly views Somaliland as an autonomous region within Somalia and has reiterated on numerous occasions that recognition is an issue for Somalis to deal with among themselves. The African Union and the UN have also stated that they are not interested in “altering borders” and have called for Somaliland to resolve their issues with the Government of Somalia first. Under the Presidency of H.E Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo, the Government of Somaliland first initiated talks with Somalia in June 2012 with Sheik Sharif’s Transitional Federal Government. Both Presidents with their respective delegations met in Dubai and signed an accord promising to continue dialogue and to clarify the relationship between Somaliland and Somalia. Three months later, the Somali Federal Government was established and Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was elected President of Somalia. In 2013, the Government of Somaliland once again met for talks, this time with Hassan Sheikh’s new government in Ankara, Turkey and signed a friendly co-operation treaty – which was brokered by then-Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government. Since the signing of the co-operation treaty, Somalia has violated the agreement on numerous occasions and made it impossible to continue any co-operation between both parties. On top of that, Somalia has also publicly vowed to reclaim their airspace and maritime borders from Somaliland and stated that unless Somaliland revokes the independence claim they will not continue dialogue. The Government of Somalia’s actions have deteriorated the new relationship and have put the talks on the brink of extinction.
So what’s the next step the Government of Somaliland should take?
At the time of Somaliland’s independence referendum in 2001, there was not a proper government in Somalia and warlords in Mogadishu fought daily for control. The international community was busy rebuilding a political structure for Somalia and did not show any interest towards Somaliland’s politics. Today, there is a permanent central government in Mogadishu and there is absolutely no reason why the relationship between Somaliland and Somalia shouldn’t be clarified. The Government of Somaliland took the right route by initiating dialogue with Somalia, but unfortunately it wasn’t successful due to Somalia’s blatant disregard of co-operating with Somaliland. Before the talks with the Somalia come to an official end, it is time to propose the most logical solution to clarifying the Somaliland-Somalia relationship: another independence referendum within Somaliland and whatever the outcome, the Government of Somalia and the International Community must adhere and recognize the results.
If Scotland’s independence referendum was supported by the world, what’s stopping Somaliland from getting the same support?
It is the perfect time to hold another independence referendum as self-determination and independence movements are now being tolerated in international politics. Scotland’s independence referendum was followed by the world and now all eyes are on the Catalonia region of Spain as they get ready for their independence referendum later this year. It is essential that we seize this moment and go forward with another referendum as long as the International Community are willing to accept the results. The Government of Turkey -which was responsible for brokering the talks – has witnessed the failure of the talks between Somaliland and Somalia and should be supportive of an alternative solution.
What about Somaliland’s scheduled Presidential/Parliamentary Elections?
I strongly believe that holding a referendum at this moment is just as equal – if not – more important than holding Presidential and Parliamentary elections. The international recognition and status of Somaliland is a national issue that must be put first. On the other hand, there are other possible ways of holding a referendum whilst dealing with the scheduled elections.
Three possible solutions:
A) Holding the Referendum Simultaneously with the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections.
The advantage of this solution is getting the citizens of Somaliland to vote for both elections and the referendum all at one time. The disadvantage would be voter confusion, considering the fact that this will be the first time Somaliland is holding simultaneous Presidential/Parliamentary elections.
B) Holding the Referendum First and postponing Presidential and Parliamentary Elections for another year.
This would allow voters to solely concentrate on the referendum without distraction from the Presidential and Parliamentary election campaigns. The downside of this would be political backlash from opposition parties and citizens who are eager to have the slated elections on time.
C) Holding Presidential elections with a Referendum – Postpone Parliamentary Elections for another year.
This is ideally the most logical proposal out of the three. It would be much easier to hold just one political election plus a referendum. Presidential elections are more important than parliamentary elections so it should be held first.
The Government of Somaliland, both Houses of Parliament and the Opposition parties should take a close look at this opportunity and take advantage of the stronger shot we now have at achieving international recognition. Without a doubt if another referendum were to be held within Somaliland today, the vote for remaining independent would be unanimous and would clearly display the aspirations and desires of the people of Somaliland. More importantly, if the International Community supports a referendum, this will pave the way towards becoming an internationally recognized state. One thing though is certain, even if a referendum doesn’t happen it will not change the existing reality on the ground – that the Republic of Somaliland is and always will be an independent country and has been a peaceful and stable nation for the past 23 ½ years.