LEWIS CENTER, Ohio — In November, the voters of the unrecognized Republic of Somaliland in the volatile Horn of Africa region went to the polls to elect a new leader. It would be the second time since 2010 that an elected leader of Somaliland handed over power peacefully to another one. It would be the first time an incumbent president, in this case Ahmed Silanyo, decided not to run, which is very rare in the Middle East or Africa.
The Somaliland National Election Commission, to combat fraud, deployed the world’s first-ever iris recognition technology to all polling stations. During the election campaign, all political parties had free access to state and private media and campaigned freely to conduct get-out-the-vote efforts.
On Election Day, thousands of voters drove or walked miles to their polling stations. They stood all day patiently in the baking sun, waiting eagerly just to vote. They were voting to decide their own political destiny, and to help efforts for Somaliland to gain diplomatic recognition.
According to the National Election Commission (NEC), they chose Muse Bihi Abdi with 55 percent of the vote. Abdi is a former military commander who fought against the murderous and corrupt Siad Barre regime of Somalia.
In an op-ed piece in the Financial Times of London, Bihi acknowledged the challenges facing Somaliland: dilapidated infrastructure; a rudimentary health care system; corruption; and recurring droughts due to climate change that decimated Somaliland’s livestock. The country’s economy depends on the export of mutton and sheep to the Middle East.
Bihi also vowed to attract foreign investment to address youth unemployment.
So far, the deal by Dubai-based DP World to invest $442 million to expand the deep sea port of Berbera is the largest single foreign investment Somaliland has received. The new project will help landlocked Ethiopia, the region’s largest economy, to get alternate access to shipping lanes.
In 1992, following the collapse of the authoritarian Somali government, Somaliland declared independence from the rest of Somalia. The 4 million Somaliland people, not by sheer luck but through painstaking reconciliation and hard work, embarked a nation-building process.
Today, what Somalilanders have for their efforts is a legitimate, functioning state, albeit a poor one, that has the consent of the people, maintains law and order, protects its people, and boasts a security force that has denied a sanctuary for terrorists.
In May 2001, the will of the people was supported in a referendum for Somaliland independence by more than 90 percent of the population. Somaliland’s frequent free and fair elections and the peaceful transfer of power demonstrate that Somalilanders not only have managed their own affairs but also have embraced democracy and the rule of law in a dangerous but strategically located region, infested with violence, corruption, despotism and terror.
Yet efforts for Somaliland to gain diplomatic recognition, or even acknowledge its transformation into the only functioning democratic state in the Horn of Africa, for political reasons, languish.
Somaliland’s order is a stark contrast with Somalia, where the United States and others have expended billions to stabilize the country, but still it is in ruins and even has failed to exercise the minimal functions of a sovereign nation.
The difference between Somaliland and Somalia is leadership. Somaliland leadership has its own flaws, but it delivered good governance to its people.
In contrast, Somalia’s leaders believe that the United States, the European Union, United Nations and African Union would: manage their own affairs: fight on their behalf; and feed and protect of their own population.
The man President Donald Trump and the Pentagon generals are backing as the leader of the country of Somalia is holed up in a hilltop palace in Mogadishu — where a tenuous government exists that is unable to protect its people, administer justice, and deliver services. In fact, Somalia is not better off since President George H.W. Bush dispatched 28,000 U.S. troops in late 1992 to save millions of Somalis from starvation.
President Trump in taking the oath of office laid out a noninterventionist U.S. military policy and transparent foreign policy.
But now the Trump administration is risking more American lives and treasure on dangerous places and an open-ended mission — Somalia’s quagmire. More than 500 American troops are advising and assisting the Somali army made up of rival clan militias against al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-allied militant group. Last May, a U.S. Navy SEAL was killed in action in Somalia while he was advising the Somali army.
Furthermore, the Trump administration also has yet to explain to American voters: Why are U.S. troops still fighting in Somalia? What are they trying to accomplish? When will our troops come home? And what is the United States’ long-term political objective in Somalia?
It’s time for the U.S. Congress to reassess U.S. policy on Somalia and not only hold hearings on the deepening U.S. military involvement in Somalia, but also examining Somaliland as a partner worth recognizing diplomatically.
Ali Mohamed is the editor and founder of GubanMedia, a 24/7 online magazine of news analysis and commentary about the greater Horn of Africa region.
To contact Ali Mohamed: email@example.com