On 14 June 2020, Djibouti hosted a new round of negotiations between the governments of Somalia and Somaliland under regional and international auspices after an interruption of nearly five years. The aim of the negotiations was to stir the still waters, proceed towards normalizing relations between the two sides, and agree on some unresolved issues between them, mainly the attainment by Somaliland of independence from Somalia, something which the latter continues to reject for fear of its future implications at home. This has constituted a challenge to the success of the talks at this round despite agreement on a number of items that could be built upon in the period ahead of continuing dialogue between both sides.
The recent round of negotiations has coincided with a distinct stage experienced by the Somali government in view of the elections to be held in late 2020 and amidst regional and international efforts that aim at reinforcing regional stability and maximizing strategic interests in the Horn of Africa without any of the parties gaining advantages at the expense of the other. This paper sheds light on the positions of local and international powers on the resumption of negotiations, the goals of the actors therefrom, and the chances of and challenges to reaching an agreement between Mogadishu and Hargeisa. It also attempts to foresee the future of this process and its reflection on the geopolitical scene in the Horn of Africa during the period ahead.
Significance of the timing
Position on the resumption of the negotiations
Goals of the actors
The federal government: there is interest in the resumption of dialogue and talks with the Somaliland administration to underline the federal government’s absolute rejection of allowing Somaliland to gain independence and recognition as an independent state and ease the internal political pressures placed on the Somali government by the opposing political powers and federal states. The federal government also fears the implications of the attainment of independence by Hargeisa and the fact that such an occurrence might pave the way for enhancing the separatist inclinations of some opposing federal states. At the economic level, the Port of Berbera is expected, upon the completion of its development, to negatively affect the other Somali ports, especially that it will attract many international powers and companies and further foreign investments. In addition, there is a desire by President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo to score a moral victory that would enhance his chances of getting re-elected in the forthcoming elections at the end of 2020.
The Somaliland government: the attainment of international recognition has been the ultimate end of the successive Somaliland governments since 1991. However, they have failed to gain any regional and international recognition of Somaliland as a sovereign state, and all countries continue to consider it a Somali province with separatist motives. Thus, it would not be easy for Somaliland to accept the return to Somali sovereignty and destroy all the efforts it had made over the last three decades to achieve full independence from Mogadishu. Therefore, the central government is seen by Hargeisa as the main obstacle to Somaliland’s attainment of independence and international recognition. Furthermore, the central government puts pressures on Somaliland by obtaining more international support for the central government, implementing an economic embargo on Somaliland and preventing international investments from entering Somaliland. However, over recent years, Somaliland has been carrying out a regional and international mobilization to enhance its position on this issue through opening prospects of cooperation with actors in the Horn of Africa region. Somaliland also attempts to set up economic and strategic relations and ties with neighbouring countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti to help it gain independence from Somalia by benefiting from the climate that followed the separation of South Sudan in 2011.
Djibouti attempts to play a leading regional role in enhancing the regional peace process in the Horn of Africa by hosting the recent meeting between the two sides and hosting the talks and meetings between the technical committees that were agreed upon according to the meeting’s final communiqué. In addition, Djibouti seeks to enhance its relations with the Somaliland administration with a view to increasing cooperation in the field of seaports so that the operation of the Port of Berbera would not negatively affect the revenue and operation of the Port of Djibouti in case Hargeisa gains independence.
Ethiopia: Addis Ababa shows great sensitivity in its dealing with this issue. It puts pressure with the aim of reaching an agreement between the two sides in order to protect its interests in Somalia as a whole. At the same time, it has strategic interests in Somaliland, being one of three countries, the other two being Djibouti and Turkey, that have opened consulates in Hargeisa. Furthermore, Ethiopia has an immediate common border with Somaliland that constitutes a buffer for Addis Ababa to protect it from being an easy target to the activity of the al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen Movement. Besides, the main Ethiopian strategic target is to economically link the Port of Berbera to Ethiopia for fear of future shifts in the relations with Djibouti due to the Ethiopian-Eritrean rapprochement. This was demonstrated in the acquisition by Addis Ababa of a 19 percent share in the Port in 2018 within the framework of an agreement that included the Somaliland government and the company Dubai Ports World. According to some observers, this amounts to an implicit recognition by Addis Ababa of Somaliland as an independent state. Thus, Addis Ababa does not desire that Somaliland be weakened by the federal government in Mogadishu. This has driven President Farmaajo to warn all foreign countries and companies against encroaching on Somali sovereignty.
Chances of and challenges to reaching an agreement between both sides
Potential scenarios for the future of the negotiations between Somalia and Somaliland
Despite the announcement of the failure of the recent Djibouti-hosted meeting to reach an agreement on the main issue between the two sides, namely the attainment of independence by Somaliland, the prospects of those negotiations continue to be open over the period ahead. The relevant scenarios can be outlined as follows:
First scenario: continuation of the negotiation rounds and success in reaching an agreement regarding some of the secondary issues, with the implicit de facto rather than de jure recognition of Somaliland or according to an agreement signed by both parties. This scenario is currently considered the strongest and most likely due to the insistence by the Somali government on the unity of the country and its fear of the disintegration of the Somali state, in addition to the relative lack of international and regional desire to shake the regional stability in the Horn of Africa region.
Several factors contribute to the materialization of this scenario, including the continuous international calls for the resumption of the state of dialogue and negotiation between Somalia and Somaliland, the acquisition by the latter of some advantages as a result of the negotiations, and the deferral of the idea of attaining independence and recognition to a forthcoming stage. However, this scenario will be difficult to materialize if both sides continue to be obstinate regarding reaching a comprehensive settlement. This would mean the collapse of the negotiations and insistence by Somaliland on gaining independence from the Somali state.
Second scenario: the attainment by Somaliland of recognition by the Somali central government: this scenario is considered the least likely due to the state of strict rejection adopted by the Mogadishu government in this respect, which resulted in the failure of the recent meeting in Djibouti. It could also enhance the likely faltering of the resumption of negotiations in the period ahead and the failure by Somaliland to mobilize international support to back it in its demands.
This scenario may materialize in case of increasing international and regional pressures on the Somali government to recognize Somaliland as an independent state and the success of the next negotiations between both sides in achieving their disengagement. However, this scenario could be difficult to materialize due to the continued adherence by the central government in Mogadishu to the unity option for fear of the disintegration of the Somali state and the rise of other separatist trends in the country in addition to the failure by Somaliland in garnering international support to recognize it as an independent and sovereign state.
Third scenario: failure and interruption of the negotiations without reaching an agreement. This scenario is implausible, considering the international acclamation of the resumption of the dialogue between Somalia and Somaliland and the desire by both sides to achieve positive results in the negotiations to serve various political and economic goals, in addition to the agreement by both sides in the recent meeting to form joint committees to continue talks on common issues.
This scenario may materialize in case of escalation by one of the parties and their continued adherence to the positions that led to the failure of the Djibouti meeting, in addition to the diminishing international will to provide support on this issue. On the other hand, the scenario would be difficult to materialize in case the international and regional pressure increased on both sides, the influential leaders in both Mogadishu and Hargeisa had the political will, and work continued by the joint committees established as a result of the recent meeting between them.
Potential implications for the geostrategic scene in the Horn of Africa
The current shifts in the Horn of Africa have potential implications for the efforts to re-engineer the regional architecture. In case an agreement is reached between Somalia and Somaliland in the period ahead, this would be a twofold weapon: on the one hand, it may enhance the state of regional stability in the Horn of Africa, amounting to more foreign investment inflows, and on the other hand, this could open the door to the emergence and rise of further separatist inclinations in some countries of the region such as Somalia and Ethiopia.
In case a final agreement is not reached between the two sides, this would herald the outbreak of a conflict between the federal government and the Somaliland government and the continued deterioration of Somali conditions in general. It could also open the door to the emergence of differences between Somalia and some neighbouring countries that maintain good relations with Somaliland and reflect negatively on efforts to enhance security and build stability in the region.
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 Peter Fabricius, Abiy helps Somaliland put more facts on the ground, Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies, 5 June 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3dpp0dV
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 The list of international partners includes: African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Ethiopia, European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States, and the United Nations.
 Horn Diplomat, International partners welcome the dialogue between Somalia and Somaliland, 16 June 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/2NjVwTZ
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 Peter Fabricius, Abiy helps Somaliland put more facts on the ground, op. cit.
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 Horn Diplomat, EU praises resumption of dialogue between Somalia and Somaliland, 16 June 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/3er22Ef
 Shefa Alafari, “A new front in Borama in Somaliland announces an armed insurgency against the government and calls on all foreigners to leave”, Salam Horn newspaper, Djibouti, 12 November 2019. Available at: https://bit.ly/2V8xC1Z
 Adam Duale Ali, Somaliland and Covid 19: Government Response and Socio-Economic impact, Horn Diplomat, 15 June 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/2Nn3M5A
 Horn Diplomat, Somaliland tells Somalia to keep off DP World work at Berbera Port, 9 June 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/37VvakD
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 Somali Dispatch, Somaliland responds to Somalia’s threats to DP World, 9 June 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/37QVtsl
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