Thursday, November 27, 2008

The price of ignoring Somaliland

In all the news about the piracy near Somalia journalists generally assume that the piracy is the product of the anarchy there. Yet one of the main harbours for the pirates is Somaliland - an area where it is quiet.

Somaliland is an area in the north of Somalia. The clan that lives there has more or less separated the area from the rest of Somalia and is in close control. As a consequence Somaliland has stayed quiet while the rest of Somalia fell in anarchy.

The international community has largely ignored Somaliland. After the 1999 Kosovo War the international community did its best to give Kosovo access to the rest of the world, so that it wouldn't be hurt by its lack of statehood. A similar effort has lacked in the case of Somaliland.

It now looks like the leaders of Somaliland have enough of it and have taken resort to piracy to fuel the local economy. One can criticize them for this. But at the same time one has to ask oneself whether it isn't immoral to keep an area excluded from the rest of the world in this era of globalization. It is very difficult to live in our world when one hasn't easy access to international banking, telephony, visa, air traffic, development aid, etc.

I believe that the international community should do more to engage Somaliland. This doesn't need to be some formal recognition. But just as with Kosovo one has to find practical solutions. This would also give us the leverage to ask Somaliland to do something about the piracy originating on its territory.

For those interested in Somalia, read also this article that claims that Somalia has been better off in its present anarchy than under the Siad Barre disctatorship. When reading this one should take in consideration that Somalia receives a lot of UN food aid.

Don't get me wrong. I do not advocate recognition of Somaliland's independence. I am aware that not all its clans support the independence and that Somaliland has territorial disputes with Puntland. But for lack of a central authority I think we should work together as good as possible with local authorities. And I think that when Somalia gets a new central government it will do go to give strong autonomy to the regions.

Postscript: Foreign Policy had an interesting article about Somalia. It is a kind of short history of Somalia in the last two decades - including the mistaken Western interventions. The article describes Indirectly they support my position in this post when they advocate an decentralised Somalia and the international community working with lower levels of government instead of imposing yet another central government.


Rooble Mohamed said...

Thank you for your concern.

There is a mistake in your article that Somaliland has nothing to do with the pirates in the Somalia's water. You must be mistaken with the Puntland region of Somalia which is the main and major host of the Somali pirates.

Last week, Somaliland offered to the International community to tackle the pirate activities in the sea if it is recognized.

Piracy has not been happening along the sea where Somaliland controls.

That is my clarification and thanks for supporting the Somaliland's cause.

Raționalitate said...

Thanks for the link. You might also be interested in an article that I wrote for a few days ago about foreign intervention in Somalia and the real cause of Somalia's violence.

Wim Roffel said...

Hi Rationalitate,

Thanks for your article. I also liked the article about the Xeer traditional law that you refer to.

I disagree with you that Somalia would be an area where a modern state won't work. I think many Westerners who try to impose a modern state in Africa don't understand how a modern state in the West works.

A modern state is always a balance of powers. Many Western democracies started as an organized balance of power between the kind and the nobility. Later rich merchants and industrialists formed a third pillar.

Modern Western states have many of such balances. We have the "trias politica" (government, parliament and the judicial system). Many countries have a parliament and a Senate, and often there is a prime minister or president with his own special powers.

One of the tragedies of Africa is that we didn't give them a similar system that would have balanced the interests of the tribes and the modern sector of the economy. You can see something similar in the case of Bosnia where for a long time many Western diplomats claimed that the system needed reform because the conflicts between the Serbs and the Muslims paralyzed the country.

Yet this occasional paralysis is a functional part of the process. In essence it is not different from the legislational paralysis in the US during the Monica Lewinsky crisis. Democracy works because in the end most people will conclude that they have nothing to win with hot-headedness and they should better work on a compromise. Unfortunately that point is delayed in the case of Bosnia because some Western diplomats keep promising support for one of the parties - making compromise less attractive for it.

As for Somalia, I think we should work with what is available on local leaders until they find a formula to work together in a national government. It will very probably be a complicated formula that leaves lots of powers with the clans.