Sunday, August 11, 2013

Puntland’s Actual Declaration of Independence? Or Just Another Nail in Somalia’s Coffin?

On August 5th, the government of the “autonomous” region of Puntland within the Somali Federal Republic—a region which has been de facto independent in most respects since 1998—said it is now cutting off all relations with the internationally recognized but largely ineffective Somali Federal Government (S.F.G.) in Mogadishu.

The flags of Somalia (left) and Puntland
Puntland sits at the very tip of the Horn of Africa.  To its west is the de facto independent Republic of Somaliland, which since 1991 has considered itself both de facto and de jure independent of Somalia.  To Puntland’s south is the pirate-infested “autonomous” region of Galmudug, also nominally Somalian but de facto self-governing.  South of Galmudug is a vast patchwork of clan and militia territories which the rest of the world calls “Somalia” but of which only the capital, Mogadishu, and its environs are governed by the internationally recognized Somali government.

President Abdirahman Farole
At issue in the lastest dispute is the new federal system that the newly-christened Federal Republic is supposed to respect and implement.  Puntland’s president, Abdirahman Farole, claims that Mogadishu is reneging on promises of the “sharing of power, resources and foreign aid” in a way that is fair to the regions.  Mogadishu’s most concrete expression of disdain for federalism lately has been its refusal to recognize the self-declared Jubaland State of Somalia (a.k.a. Azania) founded by Kenya-backed warlords in the formerly Islamist-infested far south of “Somalia.”  Puntland supports the Jubaland administration—or at least the same one of the five bloodily competing ones that the Kenyan military also supports—but the Somali government in Mogadishu would rather pretend to the outside world that it administers the area itself, which it doesn’t.  Some of the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab militants rooted out of Jubaland merely relocated to Puntland’s mountainous regions, a situation which Puntland also blames Mogadishu for not doing enough to fix.

Like any map of who controls Somalia, this one became out of date almost immediately.  Al-Shabaab now controls less territory than shown here, and what is shown here as “Khatumo” is now mostly under Somaliland’s control.
It is not yet clear what Farole’s announcement amounts to.   In his own words, “The fragmented country has been plunged back into a vicious cycle of violence, displacement, clan animosities, and a complete disregard for the country’s genuine Provisional Federal Constitution.  Puntland hereby suspends all co-operation and relations with Federal Government of Somalia.”  In one sense, this means a return to the situation that has mostly prevailed since 1998: foreign-aid agencies and foreign corporations and governments treat Puntland as sovereign but on paper call it a part of Somalia—almost the only politically and economically stable part of it, it sometimes seems.  So maybe this is just a return to the status quo ante that prevailed before the new constitution took effect last year, succeeding the Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) that had presided over a bloody civil war since 2004.  On the other hand, maybe this is Puntland’s way of throwing out the suggestion that it couldn’t be any worse off if it took the Somaliland route: declaring independence and lobbying the world community for full statehood, without asking Mogadishu for anything.

Somaliland is not doing too badly, actually.  Just this week, the governor of the Mogadishu government’s central bank, Abdisalan Omar Hadliye, had to reassure the public that his office had not, as had been reported, pressured the United Kingdom government to shut down the Somaliland central bank’s contract with a British firm to mint the Somaliland shillin (i.e., “shilling”), the national currency. Hadliye reiterated that Somaliland absolutely has the right to mint its own currency.  Mogadishu makes a lot of noise about not recognizing Somaliland, but it knows better than to interfere in any concrete way with the sovereignty of the resource-rich quasi-state.  Puntland may be beginning to see the advantages of that approach.

After all, Puntland, with an area almost as big as that of the U.K. itself and perhaps 4 million people (“perhaps” because a national census is one trapping of statehood Puntland lacks), has elections and a parliament and government ministries, and an industrial sector, and it does a better job of policing its offshore waters to catch sea pirates than “Somalia” does.

A few days later, Farole clarified his position by framing his country’s new position in xenophobic terms, saying, “Puntland will hold presidential elections on 8 January 2014, thus the traditional elders are really required to select academics and talented Puntland MPs, not political spoilers or anti peace elements who are known for their violent activities.  Enemies of Puntland want to infiltrate troublemakers into Puntland Parliament but we are vigilant against them.”

Perhaps Jubaland will also try independence on for size.
If Puntland decides to opt for full independence, then Galmudug will have to decide whether to follow suit.  Galmudug is less stable, closer to the violence in the center of the country, and more corrupt than Puntland, but it also has potential.  Two other “autonomous states” of Somalia, Hiiran State and Ximan and Xeeb State, might find it a little tougher to go it completely alone—to say nothing of the war zone of Jubaland.  But even the loss of Puntland might push Mogadishu and its diplomatic partners to rethink the whole failed idea of a united Somalia.  Somaliland itself might be the first to benefit.

Oh, except for one thing: Puntland and Somaliland can’t agree on a border, and in fact have been fighting over a swath of desert in the Sool, Sanaag, and Cayn (a.k.a. Khaatumo) region (which has at times declared autonomy itself) for decades.  Somaliland only just last year managed to bury the hatchet with local warlords and pacify its eastern border.  That battle may reopen soon.  If, that is, President Farole is serious.  Which still remains to be seen.

Should Puntlanders be preparing to celebrate quite yet?

[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  The book, which contains dozens of maps and over 500 flags, is now in the layout phase and should be on shelves, and available on Amazon, by early fall 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook.]

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