The political and security fortunes of Southern Somalia and Somaliland have been very different since the collapse of the Somali government, but they share one particular trait: Southern Somalia has been searching peace and stability in the past 19 years. It is still searching. Somaliland has been searching recognition in the past 19 years. It is still searching.
1—The country extending the recognition to the secessionist region must be an enemy of the country that is being seceded from.
2—The weakness or the disintegration resulting from the secession must benefit, politically or economically, the country extending the recognition to the secessionist region.Now, keeping those two points in mind, let us raise the begging question, why has Somaliland failed to gain recognition in the past 19 years?
If there is any country in the world that would start granting recognition to Somaliland this is it! Ethiopia has both of the two incentives necessary for supporting the secession of Somaliland: it is the historic enemy of the Somali Republic, and it would hugely benefit from the disintegration resulting from Somaliland’s secession from Somalia.
The interesting thing however is that, even though Ethiopia has both of the incentives necessary for supporting Somaliland’s secession, and would hugely benefit from Somalia’s disintegration, it has been refusing to extend the recognition to Somaliland. And the question is why?
Ethiopia has been refusing to recognize Somaliland for two clear cut reasons:
1—Granting recognition to Somaliland would cost Ethiopia a huge price from two fronts:
A—Such action would severely damage Ethiopia’s standing both in regional and international circles. The demise of the Somali government made Ethiopia a regional superpower by default. However much of Ethiopia’s newly acquired status is driven from its close involvement, and near monopoly of the Somalia FILE! The US, the EU, and African Union have all blessed Ethiopia to handle the Somali affairs in lieu of international community. And because of its shrewd domination of the Somalia File, Ethiopia is considered by many as a regional pacifier.
Now if Ethiopia grants recognition to Somaliland, all of Ethiopia’s pretensions will fall apart! The Tigrean regime will lose credibility, and will be widely condemned as regional trouble maker. In addition, the Ethiopian regime will automatically lose the Somalia File and all of its benefits and insights, and will be cut out of Somali affairs once and for all! Instead of the dominant regional pacifier that it was once seen, the Zenawi regime will deservedly become an isolated regional pariah.
B—Ethiopia is a diverse multi-religion, and multi-ethnic country. And aside from the Tigreans and the Amharas, none of the Ethiopia’s other ethnic nationalities ever consented to become part of Ethiopia, but, one and all, were forced to be one by the barrel of a gun! That is why ethnic insurgency had been with Ethiopia for centuries. Now, if Ethiopia extends recognition to Somaliland, that action may make Ethiopia end up shooting herself in the foot, and dig her own grave. How so? Well, if Ethiopia, as her recognition of Somaliland would clearly indicate, is seen as openly engineering the dismemberment of Somalia, a Muslim country and a member of the Arab League, Muslim and Arab countries would have every incentive to start hitting Ethiopia where it hurts, and give political, moral and financial support to the liberation movements such as the ONLF, the Oromo Liberation Front and others that are fighting to secede from Ethiopia. Add to this, Ethiopia today is a mere shell of its old self. Having lost Eritrea and all of its territories and ports, Ethiopia is weak, land-locked, and very vulnerable. Thus, making a wrong move, will put Ethiopia’s very existence at peril! As you can see, supporting the secession of Somaliland poses a grave danger to both Ethiopia’s international standing and to its very existence.
2—One of the most critical factors responsible for Ethiopia’s refusal to recognize Somaliland is that Ethiopia will gain NOTHING NEW, but trouble from recognizing Somaliland. That is, recognizing Somaliland will not add ONE single advantage to Ethiopia’s national interests, but, as I pointed out earlier, the recognition will make Ethiopia incur huge and devastating costs. And knowing they will get nothing positive whatsoever from recognizing Somaliland, whenever Somaliland leaders bring up the issue of recognition, Ethiopian officials have been simply saying, “Tinnish Qoy” or just wait a little longer, and Somaliland has been waiting for 19 years, and the waiting continues!
The reason why there isn’t any new advantage for Ethiopia from extending recognition to Somaliland is that Ethiopia already gets ALL the benefits possible to be gained from Somaliland’s secession from Somalia: Dismemberment of Somalia, the greatest strategic advantage for Ethiopia, is already a fact on the ground. A huge economic advantage, and access to the sea, and unparalleled influence over Somaliland and all other Somali regions is also a fact on the ground. That means Ethiopia today has, and has had, in the past 19 years all of the benefits possible to be gained from the dismemberment of the Somali nation WITHOUT any cost or repercussion on Ethiopia or its national interests!!
That means, the current status quo, where Somaliland remains in political wilderness, is the state where Ethiopia’s national interests are best served! The country gets all the benefits vis-à-vis Somalia and Somaliland without incurring any costs!
This situation came about because Somaliland leaders have rushed into declaring the secession from Somalia, and by doing that, they surrendered their biggest card before the game started, and thus by default realized all of Ethiopia’s interests toward Somalia and Somaliland all at once: dismemberment of the Somalia, access to sea, unparalleled influence on all Somali regions. These are the three critical factors that would have induced Ethiopia to grant recognition to Somaliland, but the declaration of the secession brought all three strategic benefits to Ethiopia without any cost or commitment. That is why Ethiopia does not see any reason why it should recognize Somaliland and incur devastating effect on its national interests for benefits she already has! Thus, so long Somaliland pursues the secession agenda, in the same way it had been doing in the past 19 years, the chance of Ethiopia granting recognition are nil. Ethiopia wants to keep the status quo of Somaliland as is, because the dismemberment of Somalia is today blamed on Somalis, Somalilanders included. But the moment Ethiopia extends recognition to Somaliland it knows all blame of Somali dismemberment will be transferred and pinned on Ethiopia’s neck. That is why ‘Tinnish Qoy’ is Ethiopia’s preferable phrase with Somaliland.
Is there a way that Somaliland can force Ethiopia to extend recognition? Yes, there is one and only one way. But it is away that Somalilanders aren’t interested at the moment, but in the end, they may have no other choice but to try it.
Anyhow, the one sure way that Somaliland can force Ethiopia to extend full recognition to Somaliland is to abandon the secession altogether, and reconcile with Southern Somalia! But this cannot be done with tricks and manoeuvres. It has to be genuine reconciliation. If Somaliland leaders make statements or even issue veiled threats of wanting to rejoin with Somalia in order to induce Ethiopia, the Abyssinians will call it a bluff and will not budge. But the moment Somaliland gives up on secession and starts genuine reconciliation with the south, a full Ethiopian Ambassador with all his credentials will arrive Hargeisa even before any southern delegation makes to the north!
Ethiopia will do this, and will recognize Somaliland immediately if it convinced the reconstitution of the Somali Republic is at work and is real possibility. To prevent that from happening, Ethiopia will hold back nothing.
This means the farther Somalilanders run away from southern Somalia, the farther Ethiopian recognition runs away from them! The closer they get to southern Somalia, the closer Ethiopia’s recognition for the secession. This is Somaliland’s Catch22!
In conclusion, if Somaliland leaders are serious about the secession, which I have no doubt they are, it is imperative for them to focus all of their energy and lobbying efforts on Ethiopia, and try to induce her to extend the recognition to their region. But if they fail to convince Ethiopia, the only country that has the incentive and interest for this cause, they should stop treading on the road to nowhere, because, frankly, the whole endeavour is futile. The sooner they realize that, the better for all involved.
One wild card for Somaliland’s recognition may come from Israel. However given the unpopularity of the Jewish state through out the world, it is not clear whether the people of Somaliland will see Israel’s recognition as a curse, or as a cause for celebration.
Mohamed Heebaan E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org