Op-Ed: Somaliland-Somalia Talks 2012-2023: An Analysis of Progress, Impasse, and Prospects for Peaceful Coexistence

Somaliland, Somalia Leaders Resume Talks in Djibouti

By:Mohamed O. Guudle (PhD)


The past decade has witnessed a complex dance of dialogue and divergence between Somaliland and Somalia. From initial cautious engagement in 2012 to recent high-level meetings facilitated by Djibouti, the talks have grappled with the enduring question of Somaliland’s future relationship with Somalia. For academics, these interactions offer a rich tapestry of political dynamics, inter-clan rivalries, and the interplay of domestic aspirations with international ambitions. Policymakers, meanwhile, navigate a sensitive landscape where regional stability hinges on understanding the nuanced positions of both sides.

At the heart of the negotiation lies a fundamental divergence. Having restored its independence in 1991 after a brutal civil war and the loss of hundreds of thousands, Somaliland views itself as a de facto sovereign state. Its narrative emphasizes a distinct colonial history, a functioning democracy, and hard-won peace and stability.

Conversely, Somalia clings to its internationally recognized borders and views Somaliland’s aspirations as detrimental to national unity. Any solution, therefore, must consider not only the complex historical baggage but also the unwavering commitment of Somalilanders to their self-determination. While compromise in areas like resource-sharing and international recognition may be possible, Somaliland’s sovereignty and the will of its people, as expressed through multiple referendums, remain non-negotiable cornerstones of its position. As the talks evolve, understanding these core beliefs is crucial for academics and policymakers seeking to navigate a sustainable and peaceful resolution.

For over a decade, the quest for peaceful coexistence between Somaliland and Somalia has played out through a series of high-level talks. From the London Accords of 2012 to the anticipated Djibouti meeting of December 29, 2023, these engagements have witnessed varying degrees of progress, frustrating impasses, and persistent undercurrents of mistrust. Examining this decade-long saga offers valuable insights into the complexities of inter-Somali relations and the prospects for forging a sustainable future for both nations.

Decade-long talks

Early dialogues, buoyed by international optimism, yielded modest gains. The 2012 London Accords established a joint technical committee and identified areas for cooperation, laying the groundwork for potential rapprochement. Yet, fundamental divergences in core principles quickly stymied progress. Somaliland’s unwavering pursuit of international recognition as an independent state clashes directly with Somalia’s insistence on territorial integrity. This central point of contention has proven remarkably difficult to overcome despite repeated attempts at finding common ground.

Despite the persistent deadlock on sovereignty, several areas have witnessed glimmers of progress. Security cooperation agreements have yielded measurable results in combatting terrorism and piracy. Economic initiatives, though limited, have demonstrated the potential for mutually beneficial collaboration. These incremental steps, while commendable, fall short of addressing the core political issues that continue to impede true reconciliation.

Beyond the confines of formal talks, a worrying narrative of public mistrust hinders progress. Misinformation and historical grievances perpetuate negative perceptions on both sides of the border. This lack of public buy-in significantly weakens the impact of high-level agreements and fuels popular skepticism towards further dialogue.

Moving forward, the Djibouti meeting presents a potential turning point. While not a negotiation on Somaliland’s independence, it offers a space for both leaders of Somaliland and Somalia to renew dialogue and reaffirm their commitment to peaceful coexistence. To capitalize on this opportunity, several strategic shifts are necessary.

First, both states must prioritize genuine public engagement. Transparency, clear communication, and active citizen participation are crucial to building trust and garnering broad support for future agreements. Second, focusing on areas of tangible mutual benefit, such as economic development and regional security, can foster a sense of shared purpose and build public confidence in the dialogue process.

Finally, recognizing and addressing the historical and emotional complexities underlying the conflict is essential. Reconciliation efforts must move beyond purely technical negotiations and engage with communities’ lived experiences and grievances on both sides.

The road to peaceful coexistence between Somaliland and Somalia remains long and winding. The talks of the past decade, with their blend of progress and impasse, offer valuable lessons and cautionary tales. Embracing a more inclusive, human-centered approach and a willingness to address fundamental divergences with honesty and empathy may be the key to unlocking a brighter future for both nations. Only then can the true promise of the Djibouti meeting be realized, paving the way for a future where Somalis, across borders, can finally live together in peace and prosperity.

What does the last Djibouti talk mean for Somalilanders?

In the dusty heat of Djibouti, two shadows stretched long beneath the afternoon sun. Muse Bihi Abdi, President of Somaliland, and Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, President of Somalia, met face-to-face. The weight of a decade and more of fraught history hung heavy in the air, yet a flicker of hope danced between them.

For Somaliland, this wasn’t about ceding an inch on sovereignty. Their hard-won and long-cherished independence remained a non-negotiable line in the sand. However, they believed dialogue could hold the seeds of a better future.

The air, thick with frankincense, resonated with the shared pain of Somalia. They spoke of borders and resources, security threats, and economic potential. They acknowledged the wounds, raw and unhealed, left by years of mistrust and conflict.

Yet, within the shared language of hardship, a thread of possibility shimmered. Agreements on trade and collaboration glimmered like desert mirages, promises of a future where economic ties could bind nations together. Security pacts, forged in the heat of mutual peril, hinted at a shared destiny in battling common enemies.

For Somaliland officials and the public, the talks held no surrender. They were a pragmatic step, a calculated dance on the tightrope of diplomacy. Sovereignty, the jewel in their crown, remained untarnished. They had not bent the knee but extended a hand, seeking not submission but coexistence.

As the talks ended, and the shadows of the leaders faded with the setting sun, one thing remained clear: the path to peace was paved not with compromise of principles but with the courage to speak, to listen, and to build, brick by fragile brick, a future where two Somali nations could stand side-by-side, independent yet intertwined, bound by the whispers of hope under the vast African sky.

about the author

Mohamed O. Guudle (PhD)

Associate Professor of Economics and Political Sciences

Senior Political Advisor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Republic of Somaliland

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MohamedGuudle

Academic Profile: https://dergipark.org.tr/en/pub/@mohamedguudle

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Horndiplomat editorial policy.
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