The Deadlock of Somaliland and Somalia Talks


Somaliland and Somalia were under British and Italian rule, respectively, before they gained independence separately and entered into union in 1st July 1960[i]. The union formed Somali Republic. The main idea of the union was to bring all Somalis in the Horn of Africa under one government to obliterate colonial legacy that divided Somali people into five, namely Somaliland, Somalia, Djibouti, Northern Frontier District (now in Kenya) and Hawd and Reserved Area (now in Ethiopia). As a result, Somali Republic went war with Ethiopia twice. However, it failed to change colonial borders recognized by the world as intact.

From 1960 to 1969 Somali Republic was administered by civilian governments elected by the people. Unfortunately, on 21st October 1969, the civilian government was overthrown by military who ruled the country in 21 years. Thousands of civilian people were massacred by the military in Somaliland. The military regime was toppled in 1991 by popular struggle.

Immediately after the collapse of the military government, Somaliland declared restoration of its independence lost after joining union with Somalia in 1960[ii]. Somalia slipped into chaos and anarchy. Somalia became safe haven for warlordism, inter-clan conflict, terrorism and piracy. Somaliland built peace from the bottom on the basis of indigenous approaches[iii].

State building initiatives spearheaded by traditional leaders succeeded to form a functioning government in Somaliland.  The international community hosted reconciliation conferences for Somalia to rebuild the failed state. While Somalia was in disorder[iv] and disintegration, Somalilanders build viable, secure and democratic state. Somaliland leaders are elected by the public in elections. Somalia’s governments are formed outside of the country and are selected by handful of delegates. Nevertheless, no single country recognizes Somaliland as a sovereign state. Although its success is widely praised, the international community is reluctant to recognize Somaliland.

Somaliland and Somalia Talks

Somaliland government had long standing foreign policy centred by its decision of not talking to Somalia. Somaliland has been arguing that it will not engage with a government formed outside of the country and has no legitimacy or mandate from the people. But, in 2012 Somaliland decided to negotiate with Somalia. The change of heart of Somaliland government came after landslide victory of the opposition leader H.E. Ahmed Silaanyo (now the incumbent president). His predecessor categorically and outspokenly rejected possibility of negotiating with Somalia. President Silaanyo came in power with overwhelming support. He won 49.59%[v] in contentious race between him and two other candidates including the sitting president.

In 2012, new political associations were opened in Somaliland to compete municipal elections so that the three political associations with the highest number of votes will evolve into political parties. Thus, politicians were much divided and the opposition camp was weak. Taking that as an opportunity, the president succeeded to convince all political associations/parties to rally behind his effort of changing a law that prohibited Somaliland to talk to Somalia or to attend any conference organized for Somalia issues. The president submitted to the Parliament a proposal permitting his government to participate in Somalia conferences and to start talks with Somalia.  The Parliament approved the president’s proposal.

Hereafter, Somaliland government attended London Conference held in 23rd February 2012. The conference was participated by all functions of Somalia including the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia. Somaliland delegation led president Silaanyo attended. A communiqué released after the end of the conference urged Somaliland and Somalia to talk to “clarify their future relations”[vi]. Since then Somaliland and Somalia had many talks in London, Dubai, Djibouti and mostly in Turkey.

The two parties did not succeed to continue their dialogue after Somaliland refused to attend meeting scheduled March 2015 at Turkey. Somaliland delegate arrived at Turkey, but blamed the government of Somalia infringement of gentleman’s agreement asserting that Somaliland nationals shall not be included Somalian delegates. The stalemate was not solved and the two delegates returned to their respective countries empty handed. They accused each other on deliberate sabotage of the talks.

Why the talks are not succeeding? 

External factors

The talks are a product of foreign pressure exerted on the two sides. UK government put huge effort to ensure all sides to attend London Conference. Thereby, it was not an initiative from Somaliland and Somalia. Nevertheless, both parties wanted to benefit from the talks.  President Silaanyo made many pledges for the people in his campaigns. Translating his pledges into a reality required money. Somaliland government is very obsessed getting a better share the foreign aid allocated for Somalia and attracting foreign investment. Somalia in its part wants to depict that it is making all efforts possible to reinstate the integrated country on track and united.

Several countries are involved in the facilitation and give avenues to the parties. The hosting countries of Turkey, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates and Djibouti do not have a common interest over the dialogue. The absence of clearly mandated facilitating country provides room conflicting external interventions. Thus the external interventions complicate the matter and contribute further confusion.

Mismanaging the talks

The meetings are disorganized, disoriented and lack vision and commitment. Neither Somaliland nor Somalia is willing to change the status quo. The meetings do not have a prior set and agreed agendas. The members of the delegates, particularly from Somaliland, are not fixed and new faces join every meeting. There is no timeframe for future meetings and follow up mechanism is not established. Meetings are scheduled incoherently.

Lack of implementation

The agreements were never implemented. For instance, establishment of secretariat was agreed. It has never been materialized. Somalia violated many occasions the terms of the agreements. Communiqué issued 9th July 2013 by Somaliland and Somalia states that the parties “agreed to the return of the air traffic management from the UN and decided to establish a joint control body that is based in Hargeisa”[vii] Somalia unilaterally reached agreement with the UN to return the air traffic management to Somalia and Mogadishu as the base. These violations discredit the dialogue.

Although the parties agreed to refrain from anything that would “undermine the continuation of the talks”[viii], Somalia frequently airs inflammatory remarks that are inconsistent and prejudicial to the agreements.

Domestic pressure  

There is a democratic system in Somaliland where transparency is required from the government. The delegations were expected to publicly explain the outcome of the talks. The government to ease the domestic pressure interprets the agreements in a manner that pleases the electorate. This rhetoric and propaganda is mainly aimed to confront those who oppose the talks. Nonetheless, this has been a threat to the continuation of the dialogue.

The tenure of Somaliland president will lapse July this year. He is expected to run for re-election. Hence, the public opinion matters most. Therefore, Somaliland government took firmer position.  The fruitfulness of the talks ignites rejection. The public view is very crucial. The voters are inclining to oppose the unproductive and prolonged dialogue. Initially, the opposition parties were part of the delegations, but they were later on excluded. Opposition parties started to call on the government to renounce the dialogues.

The government of Somaliland does not have a power and mandate to compromise Somaliland’s claim of independence. The independence of Somaliland is grounded on constitution approved by the people of Somaliland in 97%. It is the constitution that provides the president the legality to rule. Therefore, Somaliland delegates know that they have limits. According to Somaliland constitution and Penal Code, any attempt to subject Somaliland under foreign state or to diminish its independence is defined as treason and is punishable to death.[ix]

Mogadishu faces internal challenges mainly posed by the fact that it does not control much of its territories. Thus, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud realizes his position and is not willing to seem lenient for Somaliland’s cause. The recurrent political crisis in Mogadishu also negatively impacts the dialogues. The government of Somalia contends that the objective of the talks is to restore the territorial integrity and unity of Somali Republic. Therefore, it cannot act contrary to that claim.

Elections are expected to happen in Somalia in 2016 as the term of the parliament and the government will expire. Somalian leadership cannot take the risk of being accused dividing the nation in the upcoming election.


The dialogue between Somaliland and Somalia is unproductive and is structured to yield no results. It is a waste of time and resources. Both sides do not want the dialogue to succeed. Somaliland government cannot take decision other than separation and Somalia government is not willing to accept sovereign and independent Somaliland.


To the government of Somaliland:

  • Open public debate on the talks so that it becomes inclusive and transparent;
  • Exclude the parliamentarians from the delegates in order to ensure checks and balances between the Parliament and the Executive;
  • Establish negotiation desk headed by chief of negotiator assisted by qualified experts. The chief negotiator shall be proposed by the President and approved by the Parliament;
  • Implement the agreements and commitments and seek parliamentary approval to strengthen the legality of the agreements;
  • Avoid inflammatory remarks that are threat to the continuation of the talks.

To the government of Somalia:

  • Implement the agreements and commitments and seek parliamentary approval to strengthen the legality of the agreements;
  • Avoid inflammatory remarks that are threat to the continuation of the talks;
  • Avoid actions that are inconsistent with the agreements;

  To the international community:

  • Ensure neutrality and avoid imposing terms to the negotiation parties;
  • Transfer the hosting from Turkey to United Kingdom which is the place where the talks commenced.


About Centre for Policy Analysis:

Centre for Policy Analysis (CPA) is non-governmental, nonpartisan & non-profit centre. Its vision is to help the countries in the region of Horn of Africa to achieve democratic, peaceful and good governance systems. The headquarters of CPA is Hargeisa, Somaliland.


Ms Hibak Gamute,                                                                                                                           Director                                                                                                                                    Hargeisa Somaliland

Email: Mobile: +252(0)63-4224668

[i] Hussein Adam, From Tyranny to Anarchy: The Somali Experience, 1st ed. (Eritrea: The Red Sea Press, Inc, 2008).

[ii] Michael Walls, A Somali Nation-state: History, Culture and Somaliland’s Political Transition, 1st ed. (Pisa: Ponte-Invincible, 2014)  

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Mary Harper, Getting Somali Wrong? Faith, War and Hope in a shattered state, 1st ed.

[v], last retrieved in 28th March 2015.

[vi] last retrieved in 28th March 2015.

[vii] Communiqué of the Somaliland and Somalia dialogue held in Istanbul on 7-9 July 2013

[viii] “Chevening House Declaration,” 2012.

[ix] Article 184 Somaliland Penal Code and article 1 of Somaliland constitution.