Somaliland’s diplomatic struggle amidst regional conflict

LasAnod (Caasimada Online) – Since February 6, the city of LasAnod, or Laascaanood, has been the theater of violent clashes.

The self-proclaimed state of Somaliland and the Dhulbahante clan’s local militia are locked in a battle for control over this disputed city, positioned between Somaliland and Puntland – another semi-autonomous region in northeastern Somalia. Both claim the city as their own.

The city has paid a heavy price for this conflict. Sources from local hospitals reveal a grim picture: nearly 300 fatalities, over 1,900 injured, and a staggering 200,000 people displaced.

Somaliland forces have shifted their base approximately 50km westwards, striking from the city’s outskirts.

Somaliland’s recognition: A mirage?

These clashes pose a severe threat to Somaliland, a region previously praised for its stability compared to the rest of Somalia.

The ongoing war risks tarnishing its reputation and undermining its bid for global recognition.

This quest has remained elusive despite years of diplomatic efforts. The international community still identifies Somaliland as part of Somalia.

Somaliland views itself as the successor of the State of Somaliland, a short-lived independent state in 1960.

After voluntarily merging with the Italian-ruled south, forming the Somali Republic, Somaliland seceded from Somalia in May 1991.

This move followed an attack by Somalia’s military government under Siad Barre on northern cities to quell a rebellion led by the Ethiopian-backed Somali National Movement (SNM).

Clan politics and territorial disputes

The influence of the powerful Isaaq clan has been predominant in Somaliland since it broke away.

However, Markus Hoehne, a social anthropologist at the University of Leipzig, explains that the Dhulbahante clan, residents of disputed areas, have resisted the idea of dividing the Somali state. The Dhulbahante claim LasAnod as their capital.

The escalating conflict has drawn international attention, with concern expressed over Somaliland’s handling of the situation and alleged attacks on civilian areas.

Andrew Mitchell, the United Kingdom’s minister of state for development and Africa, stressed the necessity of stability, calling for an immediate ceasefire during a phone call with Somaliland’s President Muse Bihi.

Human rights concerns

Human rights organizations have called for swift de-escalation. Guleid Ahmed Jama, former Hargeisa-based Human Rights Center (HRC) chair, advocated for “meaningful negotiations” to facilitate a legitimate ceasefire.

Amnesty International’s findings highlighted the indiscriminate shelling by Somaliland forces causing significant damage and displacement.

Efforts to achieve a ceasefire have so far proved fruitless. President Bihi met with the acting USAID Somalia director Ted Lawrence, expressing commitment to a ceasefire.

However, reports suggest that Somaliland launched an attack on LasAnod three days later.

The conflict has worsened an already dire humanitarian situation. Niyi Ojuolape, the United Nations Population Fund’s representative to Somalia, highlighted the plight of the people: “At a time when a devastating famine has already resulted in a loss of lives and livelihoods, it is estimated that around 200,000 people have been forced to flee their homes.”

Global aspirations amidst turmoil

The struggle for recognition is a central theme in Somaliland’s international relations. Matthew Gordon, a doctoral candidate in politics and international studies at SOAS University of London, observed that the ongoing conflict could potentially tarnish Somaliland’s image as a “democratic haven.”

He cautioned that without the principles of democracy and peace, Somaliland’s legitimacy among pro-independence groups might dwindle, and it could be seen no differently than a federal member state of Somalia.

The international community, recognizing the region’s strategic significance, has been actively attempting to mediate.

Several diplomats, including those from the US and Finland’s former envoy for the region, have traveled to Hargeisa to negotiate an end to the conflict.

Their efforts are backed by the potential of imposing travel restrictions on officials undermining the democratic process in Somalia, including Somaliland, as mentioned by State Department spokesman Vedant Patel.

The impact of sanctions

Clan elders like Mukhtaar have advocated for sanctions against Somaliland officials, calling for the withdrawal of troops from the vicinity of LasAnod.

The economic pressure, they believe, would help enforce a ceasefire and hasten conflict resolution.

Despite the ongoing strife, Somaliland remains optimistic about its international standing. Mohamed Hussein Jama Rambo, deputy chair of the foreign affairs committee for Somaliland, expressed confidence in the region’s relations with its international partners.

He reaffirmed Somaliland’s commitment to collaborate on development, peace, and democratization matters.

A call for dialogue

The UN representative, Niyi Ojuolape, urged Somaliland and the Dhulbahante clan elders to engage in constructive dialogue, highlighting the need for sustainable solutions to the conflict.

As LasAnod continues to reel under the impact of this violent clash, the words of Ojuolape echo the sentiments of many – the urgent need for dialogue and a peaceful resolution to this longstanding dispute.

LasAnod hangs in the balance, and the resolution of this conflict might not only determine the city’s future but also shape the international perception of Somaliland.

The hope for a swift and peaceful resolution remains as the world watches.