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Analysis: Time for jaw-jaw, not war-war in Somaliland

Photo: Jane Some/IRIN
The new president, seen here in a campaign poster for the 2010 election, has to tackle the violence in the east, say analysts (file photo)
HARGEISA, 28 July 2010 (IRIN) - Negotiating a swift end to a conflict in the east that has displaced thousands of civilians in recent weeks should be a top priority for Somaliland’s new president if a much larger crisis is to be averted, say analysts.

Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud “Silanyo” was sworn into office as the fourth president of the self-declared independent state on 26 July, amid clashes between government forces and a new armed opposition group in the eastern Sool region.

The group is called Sool Sanaag and Cayn (SSC), after the areas it aspires to “liberate”. These are contested by adjacent Puntland, a region that, while largely autonomous, does not claim independence from the rest of Somalia.

"The president must begin negotiations with SSC's clan leaders," Abdi Risak Aqli, a political analyst in Hargeisa, told IRIN.

Silanyo, whose clan has close ties with the Dhulbahante sub-clan in Sool, promised as much during his campaign.

For Rashid Abdi, a Somalia analyst with the International Crisis Group, the violence in Sool, which is rooted in perceptions of marginalization, was predictable and is now quite easily solvable.

“Unfortunately, the international community didn’t take it seriously. Unforgivably, the governments in both Somaliland and Puntland played down the crisis until it flared up into violence. It was left to fester and now it has caused a massive dislocation of people,” he told IRIN, calling for pressure to be exerted on both regions “before it’s too late".

He added: “Traditional methods of conflict resolution, where clan elders play a role and everything is thrashed out and settled amicably, are very strong in northern Somalia."

Since avenues for such dialogue were blocked, “some hardline elements in these clans opted for armed insurrection... as a way to force the Sool Sanaag issue on to the president’s agenda”, he explained.

“The danger is that if these localized grievances are not addressed, it will feed other people with grievances, creating a much bigger problem.”

Political resolution

Silanyo is well placed to resolve the uprising, according to Abdi. “He has indicated his willingness to do so. He is a veteran politician, he knows the region. This is a president who has more to gain by finding a political settlement.”

Berouk Mesfin, senior researcher at the Institute of Strategic Studies conflict prevention programme, also spoke about the dangers of not resolving a crisis in “areas that have no viable infrastructure or basic services, that have been neglected for the last four or five decades.

“[But] taking the military option has dangers as Somaliland has established a reputation for relatively better institutions and consensual or more democratic politics. At the same time, it has to deal firmly with such outright dissent and even sabotage of its quest for statehood,” said Mesfin, alluding to the nationalistic tendencies of the Dhulbahante.

“Silanyo will have to make Sool one of his most important priorities, but now there is the need to focus on the formation of a workable government and satisfying all the groupings which supported him,” he said.