Somalia: For Diplomats, There's No There There


February 6, 2006: The "Transitional Federal Government" of Somali is still struggling to convene a parliament in Baidoa, over the objections of the warlords who share control of the old capital, Mogadisciu. Meanwhile, the break-way region "Republic of Somaliland," in the northern part of Somalia (more or less the former "British Somaliland"), has for many years asserted its independence, and maintained a fairly stable existence for over a dozen years now, aided by the fact that most of the clans are wary of any government emanating from Mogadishu. Having put together a hybrid government system that combined traditional tribal councils with a more Western style electoral basis, the region recently installed a democratically elected parliament.

Nevertheless, Somaliland has not received formal recognition by any country. Even Ethiopia, which has concluded a trade agreement with Somaliland, has withheld recognition. International donors, who have included the U.N., the U.S., many other countries, and several NGOs, who have provided some humanitarian support to Somaliland, have always qualified their grants as being in no way conceding recognition of Somaliland's sovereignty. The leaders of Somaliland are now attempting to change this.

Somaliland President Dahir Riayle Kahin has recently been lobbying influential business groups in Europe, with offers of potentially lucrative petroleum concessions. In addition, the "Government of Somaliland" has formally applied for membership in the African Union. Amazingly, the application has not been rejected out of hand. In the past, African leaders of whatever political orientation - from the few broad-based democrats through the oligarchs and on to the maniacal dictators - have opposed any hints of departing from the traditional "nations" sanctioned by the departing European powers during de-colonialization. Nevertheless, AU recognition is unlikely, and Somaliland's leaders undoubtedly know this, so the purpose of the move is unclear.

February 3, 2006: The continued inability of the new Somali government to agree on basic things, like where parliament will meet, has raised doubts that the $50 million deal to hire a foreign security firm to form a coast guard and clear out the pirates, will ever happen. So far, there has been no progress on this anti-piracy plan.

February 1, 2006: Yemen has signed a " memorandum of understanding" with the new Somali government. This is largely a feel-good exercise, because the Somali government has little power, control or authority.

January 31, 2006: Ten Somali pirates seized by an American destroyer earlier in the month, were turned over to Kenyan authorities. Kenya will try the men for piracy, even though the offence took place in Somali and international waters.


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