One of the concrete outcome of the London Conference on Somalia is the clear-cut message from the international community, as represented by key governments, the United Nations and international organisations. That message is that the question of Somaliland’s secession from Somalia is not a matter for them but purely for the Somalis themselves. It is in this regard that the participating governments, taking their cue from President Ismail Omar Guleed of Djibouti, called for talks on the issue between Somalia and Somaliland and other countries should mind their own business.
Until now, the position of leading western governments, like the USA and UK, was that the question of Somaliland’s secession was a matter for the African Union and that it is only when the member States of the organisation endorsed Somaliland’s sovereignty, with or without the consent of the government of Somalia, will they consider their own position.
Much water has flowed under the bridge since then; clearly, the position of these governments has dramatically shifted to the extent they now see the matter as an internal affair between Somalia and its northern part and therefore an issue to be settled within the Somali family. The unspoken word is that the break-up of Somalia will create more problems than it solves. This wise formula they have come up with therefore allows them to dispense with Somaliland’s nagging secession problem in a way less unpalatable to the secessionists.
Now that the principle of inter-Somali talks has been called for and accepted by both Somalia and Somaliland, a number of procedural and legal hurdles that may take years if not eternity would need to be initiated. On the procedural side, the important question is who is part of the self-declared “Somaliland” entity which is supposed to talk with the Somali government? Certainly, the people of Sool, Sanaag, and Cayn (SSC) regions belonging to the Khaatumo and Makhir States or those hailing from the Awdal States have nothing to do with the secessionist “Somaliland” construct.
These unionist States, albeit partially occupied by the secessionists, see no point in talking with their Somali government when they have no problem with it and are no part of the secession. To be lumped with the secessionists clan against their will in deference to Somaliland is to forfeit their inalienable right to be part of Somalia, which neither the Somali government nor the international community would want to sanction it.
Needless to say, there is only one clan which is behind the secession and the quest for recognition. Their futile efforts to present their secession as representing the will of all the clans of former British Somaliland cuts no ice with anyone inside or outside Somalia. It is belied for one thing by the establishment of the unionist regional States and also by the on-going clashes in much of Khaatumo State and the frequent unrest in Awadal State.
It should be recalled that the sole common aim among the five clans of former Somaliland Protectorate for demanding independence from Great Britain in May 1959 was simply to unite with Italian Somaliland and nothing else. No agreement, oral or written, exists among the clans for a possible future secession by one clan or by the whole region from the union on whatever grounds.
The secession therefore is supported neither by Somalia’s constitution nor by previous agreements nor by current wish of all the clans in NW Somalia. The clan’s reliance on force is incompatible with the legitimacy they are seeking for their secession. If one clan is bent on seceding from Somalia, then it is that clan alone in the name of its area which will enter talks with the Somali government. Put it bluntly, these talks do not concern none of the unionist ones and as such they will have nothing to do with it with the secessionist’s treacherous project.
The other procedural question is whether it is the present Somali government and Parliament or future ones that will undertake talks with the secessionist clan calling itself Somaliland?: Certainly not the current Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and Parliament (TFP). An important issue on which the existence of Somalia critically depends cannot be trusted to unelected, entities that are on their way out.
As such, the talks with the renegade one-clan based enclave can only be undertaken by a future elected and legitimate government and Parliament truly representing Somalia and its people whenever that time arrives. No time horizon has bee set by the London conference for the start or end of these talks. But realistically, this is a time in the distant future given the time it will take to evolve the necessary conditions for these talks. By then, many of the current political leaders and elite in Somaliland may not be around. Which begs the question: will the quest for secession pursued by one clan still remain alive or will it perish at the alter of inter-Somali talks?.
On the legal aspects, the current constitution of Somalia does not allow for secession. A prerequisite for the proposed talks is that a future Somali government should first initiate the required change in the constitution that will allow secession once certain conditions are met. That would be followed by Parliamentary approval and finally the matter would be put to a national referendum.
The question that would be put to the voters at any future national referendum will be the broader principle of whether they agree to the change in the constitution calling for the right of secession irrespective of which region. If the outcome of the national referendum is supportive, then the clan calling itself Somaliland can lawfully secede from Somalia. But will the international community recognise an unsustainable barren one-clan enclave? That is a moot question for the time being. No government is looking beyond the talks where the issue is expected to drag on for the foreseeable future.
But will the matter reach a national referendum?. it is almost impossible to see a future Somali government and parliament endorsing a change to the constitution allowing for Somaliland’s secession even before it is put to a national referendum. To do so will open a Pandora box that could usher the end of Somalia as a state let alone a united one. So, what is the point of the proposed inter-Somali talks?
They occupy minds and may in the end force the secessionist clan to return to the union when all other options are foreclosed and see all the other clans inside what they call Somaliland are beyond their control and increasingly well entrenched within a federal Somalia where they have their regional States.
The London Conference has done much to save Somalia’s unity more than its own leaders and Parliament did. The Somali talks have no road map and would lead no where. The secession will ultimately die where it started- Somalia. We have to thank the London conference for that, and above all president Ismail Omar Guleed who saved our country and its unity with his brotherly wise solution. He will have a special place in Somalia’s history.
National Economist And Political Analyst