/ 10 February 2006

AU supports Somali split

Hopes of recognition for Somali-land’s 15-year independence have been raised by the favourable report of an African Union mission that visited the territory last year.

The report, a copy of which the Mail & Guardian has obtained, comes at a time when signs of a new flexibility in African thinking on boundary issues are emerging. It suggests that official African aid be tapped by this country of 3,5million people that was effectively destroyed by the Somali dictator Siad Barre.

With the fall of Barre in 1991, the former British colony broke its union with southern neighbour, the former Italian colony of Somalia. Since Barre’s departure, Somalia has been without an effective government.

But Somaliland has pulled itself up by its bootstraps. It has had a referendum to adopt a democratic Constitution and has organised presidential and parliamentary elections. Independent international observers have endorsed all of these.

The Organisation of African Unity refused to recognise Somaliland’s independence, citing the maxim that there would be chaos if colonial boundaries were not observed in post-independence Africa.

Unions between Senegal and Gambia, and Egypt and Sudan, among others, have been broken without affecting the recognition of these countries.

The AU mission accepts this, stating in its report that Somaliland’s ”case should not be linked to the notion of ‘opening a Pandora’s box’. As such, the AU should find a special method for dealing with this outstanding case.

”The lack of recognition ties the hands of the authorities and people of Somaliland, as they cannot effectively and sustainably transact with the outside to pursue the reconstruction and development goals.

”Furthermore, given the acute humanitarian situation prevailing in Somaliland, the AU should mobilise financial resources to help alleviate the plight of the affected communities, especially those catering for the internally displaced persons and the returnees.

”Finally, given also the high potential for conflict between Mogadishu and Hargeisa, the AU should take steps to discuss critical issues in the relations between the two towns. That initiative should be taken at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Iqbal Jhazbhay, an Africa analyst at the University of South Africa, says the report illustrates a new mood in the AU, an organisation Somaliland has officially applied to join. ”The AU-sponsored peace deal in Sudan allows for a referendum, five years from now, on whether the south wants to go it alone. This could not have happened if it were business as usual. The AU now goes for results, and takes account of subjective facts and practical realities,” says Jhazbhay.

”The AU clearly recognises the stability created in Somaliland and the infrastructural development. It is determined to bring peace to the horn. It is looking at post-conflict reconstruction and it has the capacity to handle these issues.”