and the Somaliland delegation also met with representatives of the
Department of Defense, the National Security Council, State Department
and USAID. In those meetings, the Somalilanders made the case that the
self-declared republic, a former British protectorate with 530 miles of
coastline on the Gulf of Aden wedged between Djibouti, Somalia and
Ethiopia, should be the U.S. government’s newest best friend on the
said that the delegation reached an agreement with U.S. officials “to
establish a framework for U.S.-Somaliland cooperation.” That may include
allowing USAID to operate regional foreign aid operations from
Somaliland as well as a currently undefined U.S. government “presence”
in the territory, he added.
State and DoD offered a more ambiguous account of those meetings. A
USAID written statement didn’t disclose any possible plans to use
Somaliland as a conduit to neighboring Ethiopia and other African
states. State said that in its meeting with Essa, it “expressed a
willingness to explore opportunities to cooperate with Somaliland on
issues of mutual interest,” a sentiment echoed by DoD, a State
Department spokesperson told POLITICO.
All three agencies referenced the diplomatic awkwardness
of Somaliland’s strained relationship with Somalia, which still claims
sovereignty over the breakaway state 30 years after it unilaterally
seceded. They expressed support for the “territorial integrity of the
Federal Republic of Somalia, which includes Somaliland” and urged a
“mutually acceptable solution on the question of Somaliland’s status,”
the spokesperson said. In those meetings, U.S. government agencies “did
not discuss on-the-ground presence of U.S. military personnel or
equipment” in Somaliland, a senior administration official told
ambiguity reflects U.S. sensitivities to concerns that greater
international engagement with Somaliland might inspire restive regions
across the continent, including in Cameroon, Ghana and Tanzania, to redouble efforts to seek independence.
has a very strong case [for diplomatic recognition], but its
practicalities which are keeping international recognition because the
African Union is scared to death of promoting fragmentation of some of
its major members,” said Tibor Nagy, former assistant secretary of State
for African Affairs.
Turning to Taiwan
answer to that diplomatic impasse is a risky geopolitical chess move:
embrace Taiwan. In July 2020, Somaliland and Taiwan sealed a bilateral relations deal
that opened the door for Taiwanese investment and assistance and
allowed both territories to open representative offices in each other’s
capitals. A furious Beijing, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, reportedly sought to derail that agreement by offering Somaliland’s government sweeteners, including investment in airport and road projects.
But Somaliland stood firm with Taiwan and its offer of less capital-intensive investments in “fisheries, agriculture, energy, mining, public health [and] education.”
That’s been a win for both Taiwan as
well as for Somaliland’s efforts to explicitly brand itself as Africa’s
sole opponent to Chinese authoritarianism. “We have values and democracy
and respect for human rights, and we want to run our government the way
we want [so] we prefer to have Taiwan rather than China which is a
dictatorship,” Kayd said.
Somaliland’s alliance with Taiwan is also strategic: it seeks to tap the self-governing island’s 50 years
of experience in navigating international relations without a United
Nations’ seat and with few — and often unreliable — diplomatic allies.
Taiwan’s value has grown in recent months as the U.S. has responded to intensifying military intimidation from China by boosting bilateral ties and inviting Taiwan representatives to President Joe Biden’s Summit for Democracy
earlier this month. “The philosophy of the relationship between Taiwan
and Somaliland is we’re in the same boat,” said Kayd. “We are both
navigating together toward that goal of being countries that are free
from China [influence].”
Taiwan sees a diplomatic foothold in Somaliland as an entry point for developing wider and deeper relations with other east African nations. Taiwan hopes such ties can provide some relief from Beijing’s efforts to diplomatically isolate the self-governing island. Taiwan’s diplomatic allies around the globe have shrunk to just 14 since Nicaragua switched ties to China on Dec. 9; its sole other ally on the continent is the monarchy of Eswatini in southern Africa, population 1.2 million.
The U.S. is unlikely to embrace
Somaliland with full diplomatic recognition. But given the intensifying
geostrategic competition between the U.S. and China in Africa —
particularly for the mineral resources that will power the clean energy
of the future — time is on Somaliland’s side.
“It took a while for people to realize
the threat that China represents in Africa as we move into the 21st
century … the United States is coming to this game late,” Nagy said.