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Disputed Territories in the ex-British Somaliland
Saturday January 27, 2018
By Liban Ahmad

The stand-off between Somaliland and Puntland forces at Tukaraq hamlet in Sool reminds Somalis of what Somalia and Ethiopia were going through more than thirty years ago: a conflict based on border dispute. Whereas the Ethiopian-Somali territorial dispute was between two sovereign states, the territorial dispute between Somaliland and Puntland is raging within a sovereign state.

Somali leaders have not asked themselves the question Somalia’s first generation of political leaders had failed to ask about  territorial disputes. On Somalia’s case for seeking to gain control of “missing territories" Bahru Zewde, the author of A History of Modern Ethiopia 1855-1991, writes:

"Diplomatically, however, the cause of Somali irredentism was doomed. In the African context in particular, the Organization of African unity, founded in 1963, for understandable reasons reaffirmed the inviolability of international borders, however arbitrarily they might have been drawn in the past " ( Zewde, p.192; 2001).

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The African Union upholds the inviolability of international borders principle.  Will the AU consider the pre-Union border between Somaliland Government and the ex-Italian Somaliland as a basis for making a decision on the territorial dispute? It was border that existed for five days but might fall within the category of arbitrarily drawn borders. Somaliland government does not have the advantage Eritrean People's Liberation Front and Sudan People's Liberation Army had had when they negotiated with Ethiopia and Sudan to become sovereign states in 1993 and 2011 respectively. Somaliland unilaterally seceded from Somalia in 1991 and conducted a referendum in 2001. The referendum did not take place in parts of the ex-British Somaliland currently known as "disputed territories". This is the territory Somaliland has designated as jiidda hore ( the frontline ). It is not accessible to aid workers. While the blame for this situation cannot be solely pinned on Somaliland government, its claim of  the disputed territories  based on  border between ex-British Somaliland and ex-Italian Somaliland puts inhabitants at disadvantage when it comes to implementing development  projects  funded by the international community  through either Somaliland or Puntland.

Although Somaliland claims the territory on account of it  being a part of ex-British Somaliland it has never addressed the plight of the people in the territory the International Community has designated as disputed territories.  British support for Somaliland political institutions and economic development only benefits social groups that signed Protectorate agreements and live in non-disputed territories . A large part of the disputed territory is home to people whom the British colonial administrators did not include in the "Proclamation of Terminating Her Majesty's Protection Over the Somaliland Protectorate." London Gazette published on 24 June 1960 implicitly states the distinction the British government made between subjects from clans in the Protectorate and the clans from non-Protectorate territories:

"Now, therefore, We do hereby, by and with the advice of our Privy Council, proclaim and declare that, as from the beginning of the appointed day between Us or Our Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and any of the Tribes of the said territories, all Our obligations existing immediately before that day towards the said territories and all functions, powers, rights, authority or jurisdiction exercisable by Us immediately before that day in or in relation to the said territories by treaty, grant, usage, sufferance or otherwise, shall lapse.”

Somaliland is not only in territorial dispute with Puntland, a federal member state.  A few weeks ago when the Planning Minister of the Federal Government of Somalia paid a visit to Badhan, the Somaliland Minister for foreign Affairs accused Somalia of violating "territorial integrity of Somaliland". Somaliland claims disputed territories on the basis of a colonial border before the Union ( 1 July 1960 ), whereas Puntland retains the privilege to appoint federal MPs and Senators from disputed territories, as the contentious electoral map developed by UNSOM in 2016 shows. In this situation neither political representatives from disputed territories based either in Hargeisa or in Garowe are capable of addressing the plight people in "Eastern Somaliland" without Britain's commitment to "enhancing political stability in Somalia,including in Somaliland." Britain is "supportive of dialogue between Somaliland andneighbouring Puntland, and with the Federal Government of Somalia on areas ofmutual interest.”

UNSOM map showing "disputed territories"

A war between Somaliland and Puntland will prolong the suffering of people in disputed territories. Despite Somaliland government’s indifference to the plight of people it looks upon as citizens, it has a major advantage over Puntland, which is claiming disputed territories on the basis of shared clan affiliation and the 1998 Puntland Charter. Puntland invoked the Charter for federal representation priveleges during negotiations with the Somali Federal Government before the 2017 election in Mogadishu.

Since 2009 the International Community has used different approaches such as the dual track policy to diffuse   tensions periodically triggered by the territorial dispute between Puntland and Somaliland.

Britain's development assistance and scholarships to Somalia hardly reach people in the disputed territories. As the country that facilitated end of the transition in Somalia and generously contributes to AMISOM budget, Britain has the diplomatic influence to facilitate talks between stakeholders in the disputed territories. A threat of war makes disputed territories inaccessible to aid workers, and  youths vulnerable to radicalisation.

The disadvantage imposed by disputed territories status on people is more pronounced in areas such as Lasanod, Huddun and Taleh,  where people cast their votes during 2017 Somaliland elections but will never enjoy benefits the successfully conducted election will create in the form more development assistance for non-disputed territories in the ex-British Somaliland, and soon to be  enhanced Somaliland Compact.

Both the arguments for a clan-based adminstraton (Puntland) and pre-indendence identity (Somaliland) are failing people in the disputed territories.

Liban Ahmad
[email protected]

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