opinionBy Michael A. Weinstein
During the first month of 2013, the only significant political development concerning the territories of post-independence Somalia was the announcement by U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, on January 18, that “for the first time since 1991, the United States is recognizing the Government of Somalia.”
The implications of Washington’s announcement for the distribution of power among domestic Somali political actors (the provisional Somali Federal Government [S.F.G.], Puntland, Somaliland, and less organized territories of south-central Somalia) became clear in Clinton’s response to a question posed at the press conference, at which the recognition was announced, about whether Washington had abandoned its “dual-track” policy of dealing simultaneously with a Somali central government and the governments of regional states. Without answering the question directly, Clinton signaled a shift in U.S. policy: “So we have moved into a normal sovereign nation-to-sovereign nation position.”
Although it is not wise to read too much into Clinton’s words, it is worth considering what the effects would be of a shift in U.S. policy from dual-track (central government-region) to a mono-track (sovereign nation) on the major Somali domestic actors. They are in the throes of a dispute over the form that a future state or states would take in the territories of post-independence Somalia. Any shift in the distribution of power among the major domestic political actors affects their respective abilities to achieve the kind of political order that they desire: strong federalism/decentralized unitary state (S.F.G.), weak federalism/confederalism (Puntland), and separation (Somaliland).
Assuming a shift in U.S. policy has occurred, the consequences of it for the distribution of power among Somali domestic political actors would depend on how it was implemented. At one extreme, nothing would change from the present; Washington could still find ways of dealing directly with the regional states and a self-declared independent state. At that extreme, “recognition” would have only been nominal. At the other extreme, Washington would do its business with Puntland and other possible regions, and Somaliland through the S.F.G. That extreme or something more in the direction of it than towards the status quo is most likely to occur. Should that be the case, the S.F.G. will have gained an advantage in the domestic distribution of power, and Somaliland, Puntland, and aspring regional states modeling themselves on Puntland will have taken a loss.
An Altered Distribution of Power:
The effects on Somaliland of a U.S. mono-track policy would be the most severe. The territory of the S.F.G. formally includes the territory of Somaliland, which means that recognition of the former preclues recognition of the latter’s independence. That does not mean that Somaliland, which has de facto authority over its territory, will case to function as it has, as a self-declared independent state; it means that Somaliland will have to resign itself to existing in a condition of political limbo that will render it increasingly vulnerable to pressure from Western “donor”-powers to reach a deal with the S.F.G. for some kind of association. Recognition of the S.F.G. will make it difficult for Somaliland to negotiate on the state-to-state basis on which it insists rather than on a central state-region footing. It is possible that the “donor”-powers will pressure Somaliland to cooperate with the S.F.G. by channeling aid for the former through the latter.
It is not surprising that Somaliland’s government reacted harshly to news of the recognition. On January 21, as reported by Garoweonline, Somaliland’s interior minister, Mohamed Nur Arale, called the recognition a “slap in the face” to the independence project, adding: “This U.S. recognition of the Somali Federal Government will not bring anything positive for Somaliland.” The hit taken by Somaliland from the recognition comes when the administration of Somaliland’s president, Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo, has encountered opposition from domestic political forces that accuse his administration of rigging recent local elections. The dispute over the elections has brought to the surface grievances and splits that had been festering in Somaliland’s political society, and has disaffected clans that accuse Silanyo of locking them out of power.
The deterioration of Somaliland’s standing in the domestic Somali distribution of power is propelled by the intertwining of the recognition and the internal opposition to Silanyo. Faisal Ali Warabe, the chair of the opposition UCID political party, accused Silanyo of having failed to press Somaliland’s case for independence before the international community. It is not clear what Silanyo will do next. How will he position himself for the “donor”-power conference on Somalia in London on May 7, when plans for regularized aid will be broached? Will he come with the Somaliland public behind him? In what role and with what title will he be received there? Will he attend at all?
Puntland has also suffered a deterioration of its standing in the domestic distribution of power as a result of U.S. recognition of the S.F.G., especially if that means that Washington has turned away from the dual-track policy. Puntland’s president, Abdirahman Farole, thought he had secured traction for his model of a decentralized federation of regional states for the territories of post-independence Somalia by seeing it written into the current provisional federal constitution, and by having a constitution for Puntland approved in advance of the provisional federal charter. Now the success of those careful preparations is in doubt.
Already on January 7, as reported by Garoweonline, the S.F.G.’s president, Hassan Sh. Mohamud, had said: “The government and the parliament must work together to change the provisional constitution, as Somalia needs time to implement federalism.” Washington’s recognition of the S.F.G. only raises the chances that the latter will be able to modify the provisional constitution in the direction of a more centralized model.
While congratulating the S.F.G. for gaining Washington’s recognition, Puntland has cultivated its relations with the factions attempting to form a regional state (Jubbaland) modeled on Puntland in southern Somalia, has opposed lifting the U.N. arms embargo against the S.F.G., and has repeated its calls for the formation of regional states in the south-central regions. On February 1, Farole said: “Puntlnad will not watch and sit if the Somali federal constitution is violated nor will the international community.”
It is still the case that if a Jubbaland state modeled on Puntland is realized, then the decentralized federal model will most probably prevail in the territories of post-independence Somalia, except for Somaliland. The convention to set up the Jubbaland state, which was scheduled to occur in January has, however, been delayed until sometime in February. U.S. recognition of the S.F.G. now gives the latter more leverage in determining the result of the Jubbaland process or derailing it altogether.
As it is for Somaliland, the loss taken by Puntland from the recognition depends on how the U.S./”donor”-powers implement the mono-track policy; that is, will the U.S. work directly with Puntland and to what extent, and to what extent will it deal with Puntland through the S.F.G.? If Puntland does not prevail in Jubbaland and/or is frozen out by the S.F.G., then Puntland will have to consider moving towards separation from south-central Somalia. A threat of that sort would show the S.F.G.
that it needs Puntland to be a credible Somali government rather than a rump state; but it might also exile Puntland to the limbo in which Somaliland exists.
Just as in Somaliland, the recognition comes at a time in Puntland when the Farole administration is facing overt domestic political opposition, here based on disapproval of Farole’s decision to serve a five-year term as president, rather than the four years that his adversaries believe he constitutionally deserves. The constitutional dispute has, as the election dispute has in Somaliland, opened up grievances in Puntland’s political society that have festered in the shadows. Having staked his presidency on securing for Puntland a model of federalism in Somalia that would maximize Puntland’s authority to make its own decisions on security, resources, and commercial relations, the recognition exacerbates the deterioration in the relative standing of Puntland in the domestic Somali distribution of power, adding to Farole’s difficulties with his opposition.
None of the above is to say that Puntland faces a political crisis, only that it will now find it more difficult to have its project of decentralized federalism prevail in Somalia. That project is far from dead, however, its success depending on how quickly regional states modeled on Puntland become functional.
In the redistribution of power among domestic Somali political factions that will probably result from the U.S. recognition, the S.F.G. gains the advantages that are the counterparts of Somaliland’s and Puntland’s losses. Yet at present those advantages are still promises. While the S.F.G. is formally called “sovereign” over the territories of post-independence Somalia, its control on the ground is severely limited, and it does not control the authorities and quasi-authorities that have sprung up in south-central Somalia as Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahideen has drawn back under military pressure. Whether the S.F.G.
gains traction for its model of centralized federalism will depend on whether recognition means strong financial and diplomatic support for the S.F.G. from the U.S. and other “donor”-powers. If that support is lacking or insufficient, official recognition will just be a piece of paper.
The S.F.G. also faces political opposition, with Hassan being accused by adversaries of violating the provisional constitution, freezing some sub-clans out of government positions, and surrounding himself with a close circle of advisers from his Damul Jadid faction. Despite U.S.
recognition, the S.F.G. still faces the same situation that it did at the end of 2012: it is being pulled apart by the “donor”-powers and Somali domestic factions abetted by neighboring states. It now has a promissory note from the U.S., and there is no assurance that Washington will make good on it. It is unlikely that the S.F.G. will get serious support until after the London conference in May, and it is quite possible that it will not come then, as it has not come to Somali governments in the past.
A review of the power distribution among the major domestic Somali political actors in light of the U.S. recognition of the S.F.G. and its likely modification of its dual-track policy shows a general condition of weakness among the domestic actors. None of those actors is headed by a leader who has a unified constituency, and Somaliland and Puntland have been further impaired by the recognition. The S.F.G., which has gained from the recognition, remains weak and will not benefit by the U.S. action unless the latter backs it up with concrete support, which would be an even greater change in Washington’s policy than abandonment of the dual track. The future state-form for the territories of post-independence Somalia remains undecided, even more than it was before recognition.
Does Washington understand the consequences for domestic Somali political actors of its apparent decision to cast its lot with the S.F.G. in a fundamental constitutional conflict? To repeat, for the moment it has weakened Somaliland and Puntland relative to the S.F.G., and has given the S.F.G. an IOU. It is likely that the U.S. is not attending to the effects of its decision on the power distribution among Somali actors; it is interested in “normalizing” relations with “Somalia” so that it can back away from the country and let drones and special forces take care of the “war on terror.” Somalia is already being written down and written off as a “success story” and even a model, as attention turns to Mali. Yet the fundamental political conflicts in the territories of post-independence Somalia are far from resolved. The outlook for the future is more clouded than ever.
Report Drafted By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein, Professor of Political Science, Purdue University in Chicago.