The Election Commission of the Republic of Somaliland on July 1, 2010 — as noted, the highly-iconic 50th anniversary date of the original union of the Republic of Somaliland with the former Italian Somaliland to create the Union of Somalia — announced that the pan-Somalist, radical Islamist Kulmiye party candidate, Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo, had won the June 26, 2010, Presidential elections.
Kulmiye — with major support from a broadly-based network of Islamists throughout the region, a range of pan-Somalists and southern Somalian clans, several regional governments, and at least one major Western front organization — prepared a broad campaign for which the UDUP Government under Pres. Dahir Riyale Kahin, although fully warned, were totally unprepared. Kulmiye had stage-managed significant elements of the Election Commission, and the media, and had prepared a round of post-election back-up plans which included adding prepared, loaded ballot boxes, and a campaign of street protests in the event that it looked as though all other steps failed and in the event that the Government had, in fact, taken strong pre-emptive steps to curtail Kulmiye’s creative electioneering.
Kulmiye leaders and other pan-Somalists and Islamists with who they were working had been noting that July 1, 2010, would be the symbolic date of the beginning of the reunification of the two Somalilands. That the Election Commission, which had been strongly influenced by payments from foreign sources (as GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs had noted earlier), withheld announcement of the results of the June 26, 2010, Presidential elections until the iconic date of July 1, as if confirming the reports of collusion with the pan-Somalists.
The ramifications of the event will gradually become apparent, quite apart from short-term impact on Somaliland’s hitherto stable society. Domestically, shari’a law will become dominant, and cooperation with jihadist groups, such as al-Shabaab, will become routine. Somaliland, for even as long as it continues to exist as an entity, will cease meaningful cooperation with the West on counter-terrorism and counter-piracy issues.
The key sponsors of the Kulmiye take-over, particularly Egypt and Eritrea, and possibly Iran, will push for Somaliland to tighten controls on international trade, through Berbera, to sustain landlocked Ethiopia. Clearly, the Kulmiye and al-Shabaab leadership will also push to take over control of the Government of Somalia, such as it is, within any new de facto or de jure reunion of the two Somalilands.
One very direct result will be to add pressure on the Meles Zenawi Government in Ethiopia, forcing it to rely more, once again, on Djibouti as the entrepot for Ethiopian trade. This will add significantly to Ethiopia’s costs, given Djibouti’s history of exploiting its position in this trade in the past. This accords with Egypt’s wishes to weaken Ethiopia, which controls the headwaters of the Blue Nile, the major source of water for Egypt. Egypt’s position of hostility to upstream riparian states on the Blue and White Niles, and Egypt’s refusal, this year, to come to an agreement on Nile water usage with other riparian states.
Egypt’s challenge to Ethiopia, as the principal water source for the Nile, may, however trigger a backlash, and actually cause Ethiopia to attempt to dam or divert Nile waters for energy and agricultural purposes, literally leading to a reduction in flow to Sudan and Egypt. The Egyptian Government has noted in the past that any attempts to deny Egypt the water to which it feels it has a legal right — in contradistinction to inter-state legal precedent on the topic — would represent casus belli: cause for war. The Egyptian Government has put interference with Nile waters ahead of any other possible cause for war.
Eritrea, meanwhile, still harbors hopes that Ethiopia would be forced to an accommodation with Eritrea to use the ports which Eritrea assumed from Ethiopia when Eritrean independence was willingly given by Addis Ababa — at the express command of Prime Minister Meles — in 1993. This is, perhaps, still the major point of contention which Ethiopians have against Prime Minister Meles: not just that he gave Eritrea, historically always a part of the Ethiopian Empire, its independence, but that he included in that “give away” before he even became an elected head-of-government coastal areas and ports of Ethiopia which had never been part of the Eritrean province. That move left Ethiopia land-locked and dependent on Eritrea for port access, a move which Eritrea exploited so ruthlessly — demanding that Ethiopia receive untradeable Eritrean currency for all of its exports — that a break in relations came, precipitating the Ethiopian-Eritrean wars.
Ethiopia subsequently developed port access through Djibouti, and then Berbera. Thus the collapse of the alliance with Somaliland, as a result of the July 1, 2010, announcement of a new President there, is of profound concern for Addis Ababa. The Pan-Somalists and al-Shabaab and others involved in the change in Somaliland are themselves openly and strenuously hostile to Ethiopia, which had militarily supported the Somaliland Government and had also put troops into Somalia — including into the Somalian capital (and former capital of Italian Somaliland), Mogadishu, to fight the Islamists, including al-Shabaab.
It is highly significant that the Italian Government had supported the pan-Somalists based on historical feelings of identity with the onetime Italian Somaliland, despite the reality that this has contributed significantly to the continued instability in the Horn. Similarly, the Italian Government has sustained its profound support for Eritrea against Ethiopia, once again because of “historical solidarity” with Eritrea, which it had briefly colonized, before being defeated on two occasions in Ethiopia (1893, at the Battle of Adwa, the most significant defeat of a Western power in Africa; and in 1941). What is significant is that the Italian Government has gained nothing of strategic value for this emotional attachment, but has contributed significantly to the instability of the Horn of Africa.
It is now possible that the Eritrea-Ethiopia relations will undergo a further increase in tensions. Eritrea put in substantial guerilla forces, and support for dissidents in Ethiopia, in the run-up to the June parliamentary elections which returned Prime Minister Meles’ coalition to power.
It would be unsurprising if direct hostilities broke out again between Ethiopia and Eritrea within a year. Indeed, this may be the key to Eritrean Pres. Isayas Afewerke retaining power in his state, despite the continuing decline in the state’s economic fortunes and the increasing repression in his state.
Significantly, the transforming situation marked by the July 1, 2010, collapse of Somaliland’s moderate, pro-Western Government will be to ensure greater access by international jihadist and terrorist groups to the Horn of Africa; greater difficulty for external states to influence and reduce the incidence of piracy in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean regions around the Horn; a greater ability for groups supported by Iran to support cross Bab el-Mandeb operations against the Yemeni Government (and supporting anti-Sana’a forces based in the former South Yemen regions); as well as stimulating the prospect for Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict and possibly initiating Ethiopian-Egyptian military tensions.
Overall, the move to topple the moderate Government in Hargeisa, the Somaliland capital, provides a safe-haven for a wide range of activities by Islamists, jihadists, and other non-governmental actors from bases in the Horn. These will play into hostilities within the Arabian Peninsula as a whole, and will interact, almost certainly, with anti-state players in Pakistan. In all of this, Iran has historically played a key rôle in Somalia, and this will expand.
The Iran-Sudan-Egypt Connection
By Spring 2010, Tehran and its allies were increasingly worried about their strategic posture at the Red Sea as a result of the growing militant-separatist sentiments in southern Sudan. The likely outbreak of a civil war in Sudan would deprive Iran and jihadists the use of Sudan’s Red Sea ports as the base from which to block the Red Sea in case of a major confrontation with the US. The series of Israeli clandestine, air, and naval strikes against convoys and ships in northern Sudan carrying weaponry to the HAMAS in Gaza (to be delivered via Egypt and the Sinai) only added to the Iranian sense of vulnerability.
In mid-April 2010, Sudan held the first ostensibly free elections in 24 years. According to the official results, President Omar al-Bashir and his ruling National Congress Party (NCP) won 68.24 percent of the votes. Far more significant, however, was the election of Salva Kiir Mayardit with an overwhelming majority of 92.99 percent to the post of both the First Vice President of the Republic of Sudan and the post of president of Sudan’s southern region. Kiir was the candidate of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) which advocates the secession of the south in order to establish an independent state in the upcoming referendum now scheduled for January 2011. The referendum is the final step in the implementation of the January 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the SPLM and Khartoum.
However, Khartoum has already vowed to prevent the dismemberment of Sudan — particularly given the vast oil reserves in the south (particularly the disputed Abyei region) — and already manipulated the 2008 census results to reduce the number of eligible black voters in the south and bloat the number of Arab voters in the north. This created growing tension and fear of the resumption of the vicious civil war.
Indeed, starting 2008, the SPLM began using oil revenues in order to purchase heavy weapons — including tanks, artillery and rockets — in the former Soviet Union and ship them, via Kenyan ports, to Sudan in preparation for the anticipated resumption of fighting. The extent of the procurement efforts of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) was revealed in September when Somali pirates working for Sudanese intelligence hijacked a Ukrainian cargo ship carrying 33 T-72 tanks and crates of small arms. The ship later released after Kiev showed proper end-user documents identifying Kenya as the owner of the weapons and the pirates received a $3.2-million ransom. The flow of weapons has markedly intensified since Spring 2009. Some of these weapons were already used in the pre-election clashes in March 2010.
In early Summer 2010, the SPLA drafted plans to train pilots and acquire combat aircraft and helicopters. “We want to transform SPLA from a guerilla force into a veritable military,” SPLA spokesman Maj.-Gen. Dame Koala said. Khartoum immediately warned that the establishment of an air force or navy in the south would violate the CPA. But SPLM leaders reiterated their commitment to establishing a proper military using oil revenues.
In May 2010, SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amum warned in an interview with the Saudi-owned Al-Sharq al-Awsat that the establishment of an Islamic Republic in Sudan, as advocated by Bashir in the aftermath of the April elections, would lead to the break-up of the country. “If the National Congress Party insists on implementing a program for building the Islamic Republic then southerners will have no choice but to vote for secession. If the National Congress Party insists on imposing its policies of oppression and racial discrimination then southerners must secede, and if the National Congress Party continues to plunder the wealth of the south and unjustly divide oil revenues in the absence of transparency, then southerners will have to break free from those tyrants,” Amum warned.
In early June 2010, Amum raised the ante in another interview with Al-Sharq al-Awsat in which he asserted that unification was unlikely under current conditions. “In the shadow of the National Economic Salvation regime, and its Islamic project, there is no solution, or even a drop of hope or Sudanese unity. ... There is no possibility or even the slightest chance to achieve Sudanese unity unless the NCP reoccupied the South and takes control of it through military force. This would be a bloody step, and this would not represent unification but occupation.” Amum confirmed that Kiir is actively preparing to form a government of the South in their capital Juba. All the best SPLM cadres were transferred to Juba and only expandable SPLM officials were sent to fill CPA-mandated positions in the Khartoum Government.
Amum warned that the suggested postponement of the referendum would restart the civil war. “Any side that calls for postponement would, in other words, be calling for the Sudanese people to return to fighting. This would be a dangerous and irresponsible action to take.” Although the South prefers to secede peacefully, Juba is cognizant that war is all but inevitable. Amum stated that “if there is no other choice but war, we will enter it [war]. The Sudanese People’s Liberation Army is capable of solving these problems and restoring security,” Amum stressed, “it is one of the largest armies in the region, and it has fought long wars, has excellent combat experience and is currently being transformed into a regular army.”
As is the case of Somaliland, Egypt and Eritrea lead calls for the southern Sudanese referendum on self-determination to be postponed.
In summary, coupled with the linked developments in Sudan, and as a result of the pivotal change in Hargeisa on July 1, 2010, the following developments should be expected, at the very least:
1. Increased Iranian support and capability for African, Arabian Peninsula, and Pakistani jihadist and terrorist activities, including support for the “Islamic Republic of Eastern Arabia”, and direct actions aimed at overthrowing the present Yemen Government. This will all ultimately impact on trade costs and energy costs;
2. Increased piracy activities out of Somalian Puntland, with less ability for external powers to intervene or influence;
3. Significant revival of Eritrean-Ethiopian tensions, leading to the increased prospect for renewed conventional war;
4. Significant increase in Ethiopia-Egypt tensions, with a number of possible outcomes;
5. Spread of Somalia-style warlordism into Somaliland, and a new set of competitions for power over the entire Somalian entity, with unforeseeable results, other than that the competition will be protracted and indecisive. The likelihood will be that the African Union and United Nations will be called on, again, to provide peacekeeping forces for Somalia, with significant cost in capital and lives for the international community;
6. Potential for increased insurgency aimed at overthrowing the Djibouti Government of Pres. Ismail Omar Guelleh (bearing in mind that “French Somaliland”, now Djibouti, is one of the stars in the pan-Somalists pantheon) (and bearing in mind that Djibouti remains a thorn in the side of Eritrean Pres. Isayas, who sees now only Djibouti providing an escape valve for Ethiopia);
7. Increased activities by Eritrean-backed terrorist and guerilla activities inside Ethiopia, possibly with the revived support of Libyan Pres. Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi and Egypt.
The interactive result of all of this, including the Sudanese developments, will be to increase the dangers to shipping in the Red Sea/Suez SLOC, and compound threats to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, at the very least. This contributes significantly to Iran’s strategy to weaken Saudi Arabia’s influence. Ironically, many of the jihadist/Islamist activities in the Horn have been ostensibly Wahabbist/neo-salafist in nature, deriving from the State-sponsored Saudi sect of Sunni Islam, which have — as with Osama bin Laden’s proselytization — been used against the Saudi State and interests.
Ironically, early recognition of the sovereignty of the Republic of Somaliland when it broke away — as it had every legal right to do — from the ill-fated union with Somalia in 1990 would have prevented this situation, and would have helped stabilize the Horn of Africa long before this time. Egypt, the Arab League, and Saudi Arabia worked hard to prevent this recognition, but the African Union (AU), and the major trading powers with a vital interest in the Red Sea, could have unilaterally recognized Somaliland.
The absolutely spurious claim that Somaliland could not be recognized because it was a “breakaway” state from Somalia should have been recognized for what it was: legally nonsensical. Somaliland was fully independent and sovereign from the United Kingdom — its earlier colonial overlord — before it joined into the union with Italian Somaliland.
To say that Somaliland could not withdraw, and be recognized, from that union in 1990 would be tantamount to saying that Egypt could no longer be recognized as independent when it withdrew from its “United Arab Republic” experiment with Syria.
The outgoing Government of Somaliland was warned, privately, of the moves being made to overthrow it by using the occasion of the Presidential election to stage what amounts to a coup de manœuvre, and yet proved incapable of addressing the threat. GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs also publicly identified the process through 2010. And yet no-one acted, other than the extremists and their Western supporters who may well have been promised resource concessions in the region as payment for their support.
Analysis by Gregory R. Copley, Editor, with Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs.
(c) 2010 International Strategic Studies Association, www.StrategicStudies.org