Jendayi Frazer Speaks about Somaliland Recognition

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In a recent interview by Michelle Gavin, Former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs of the United States Jendayi Frazer spoke about the evolution of U.S. policy toward Somaliland.

During the Bush administration, the US had no significant interactions with Somaliland or Somalia for that matter. And the US policy for Somaliland at the time was as Frazer points out, “We didn’t really have an independent policy towards Somaliland, other than it’s part of Somalia.” It was only after the 9/11 attack that the US started taking a closer look at Somaliland, but even then it wasn’t a “high priority”. 

Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991, but it was only in 2001 that a constitutional referendum was voted on that restored Somaliland’s independence. Shortly after that in 2003, Somaliland elected its first President, Abdirahman Ahmed Ali Tuur. Since then, Somaliland has held five peaceful presidential elections. 

“I felt that they deserved the recognition. At the same time, the African Union had sent missions to Somaliland, and was moving in that direction to recognize Somaliland as well,” said Frazer. 

Somaliland was clearly moving towards a stable and a democratic path, while its counterpart, Somalia, was falling apart with continued conflict and clan rivalry. The US was clearly noticing this for the first time as did many other African countries including South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia. Unfortunately, the US did not want to intervene and make the Somaliland dream of international recognition a reality as they didn’t want to overstep on the AU’s authority, whom they felt was already moving in that direction as Frazer states. 

So, what went wrong if the US and the majority of African countries were on the same page about Somaliland?

There are a lot of factors to consider as to why the AU hasn’t recognized Somaliland. To start off there was at the time Qadaffi’s “grandiose vision” of a unified Africa with him as the president. And Somaliland breaking away from Somalia would have started a chain of reaction that might’ve caused other de facto nations to do the same. So it is likely that he used his influence as Frazer states “to persuade some governments to lean differently.” As a result, the issue never got voted on and simply just went silent. 

Not to mention, the emergence of other breakaway Somali states such as Puntland and Jubaland, which led to the AU holding on firmly to their position of not recognizing Somaliland for fear of disintegrating Somalia. 

There was also a growing US military presence in Africa, which as you can imagine didn’t go very well with many African countries. For instance, President Mbeki of South Africa was strongly against all external powers who were militarily involved in the continent and would have opposed the US intervening on behalf of Somaliland as a knee jerk reaction. As a result, the US stepped back from taking the lead and pushing for the issue of Somaliland recognition as they didn’t want to appear as a “bully” dictating terms to African nations.

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