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President Biden Should Invite Somaliland to the Democracy Summit

Somaliland Democracy Summit
Image: Creative Commons.

President Joe Biden’s desire to convene a summit of democracies is a good idea that has bipartisan roots; it will convene as an online forum 15 years after Sen. John McCain called for a “League of Democracies.” While the summit’s agenda is unclear and is likely to be a grab bag of loosely tied ideas, the event is nonetheless important for its credentials. After the preliminary invitation list leaked, for example, Turkish journalists noted their country’s omission.

The draft invitation list, if real, suggests a welcome prioritization of reality over diplomatic nicety. The White House will invite Armenia and Georgia, for example, but not Azerbaijan. Hungary is also absent. Biden plans to invite Israel and Iraq, but not any other Middle Eastern or North African states that might have slid back on democracy, like Sudan or Tunisia.

Importantly, Biden’s team plans to invite Taiwan, whose robust democracy threatens China’s autocratic rulers. Taiwan’s inclusion is also important because it signals that the White House puts democratic credentials above formal diplomatic recognition.

By this standard, however, Biden’s failure to invite Somaliland is a missed opportunity. While the United States recognized the former British protectorate upon its 1960 independence until it joined with the former Italian Somaliland to form Somalia. Dictatorship ruined Somalia. Siad Barre turned the country’s guns on Somaliland and killed upwards of 100,000 people. His regime ultimately collapsed and, as much of Somalia descended into state failure, Somaliland reasserted its independence. While neither the United States nor any other country recognized Somaliland this time, it stopped neither the country nor its democratic aspirations.

Somaliland has among the best track records of multiparty electoral democracy in Africa. In 2003, the Dahir Riyale Kahin won the presidential election by 80 votes out of almost 500,000 cast. He lost the next election by 80,000 votes to Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo and stepped down gracefully. While Somaliland’s three major parties revolve more around personalities and patronage than ideology, debates are active and results uncertain. Citizens have great faith in the process; recognized or not, Somaliland was the first country to secure elections with biometric iris scans.

In Somaliland’s most recent parliamentary elections—which European diplomats observed but State Antony Blinken’s State Department bizarrely boycotted—the opposition surprised the incumbent administration, won the parliamentary majority, and defeated the president’s choice for speaker. Not only does Somaliland aspire to democracy, but diplomatically it also actively aligns itself with other democracies. While Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Somalia cultivate China, for example, Somaliland has turned toward Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and Denmark.

For too long, the State Department’s fear of the precedent of African separatism has led it to keep Somaliland at arms’ length, never mind its previous recognition of the territory or the strategic logic of tighter ties. But celebrating democracy—as with the Taiwan invitation—need not mean recognizing independence; it need only require recognizing that certain territories regardless of what their final status might be are democratic and should be celebrated as such.

Should Somalia or the People’s Republic of China complain about Somaliland or Taiwan’s inclusion, the proper response for Biden, Blinken, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan should either be to ignore them. Washington should never sacrifice democracies to dictatorship. Conversely, they might tell Mogadishu or Beijing that should they wish to be included instead, they should follow the path that the states they claim as their own have hewed.

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Diide Doone

    November 8, 2021 at 1:55 pm

    Democracy is overrated in “Somali land”. See below:

    “…Dahir Rayale Kahin, who came from Awdal, benefitted from tensions within the “Central clan” (Isaaq) to cling to power and did not touch the system he inherited. He was finally ousted by the SNM old guard once they found common ground.

    The exclusivist ideology of the SNM that President Igal wanted to dilute resurfaced more militant than ever during the campaign to remove Kahin from the presidency.

    Among the terms used against President Kahin was he was “foreign” to the Hargeisa region, he was from a “lesser caste”, he didn’t participate in the “jihad” against Siyad Barre, he was a “dictator” like his former boss in reference of his position as the head of the National Security Service (NSS) in the Barre regime [Somaliland’s top brass were all schooled in Mogadishu and worked for Siyad barre]. Hateful rhetoric and the use of the media as a propaganda machine were common to remove him.

    Somaliland [Isaaq] clan-supremacy democracy is not the kind of democratic system that will bring Somalis together but rather a step for the next civil war. The monopoly of the “central clan” in Hargeisa, as in the duopoly in the federal, will only weaken the Somali nation and corrupt those who feel entitled to lead the general population.”

    “Some will say democracy is about multiparty system. In Somaliland, only three political parties, hailing from the same dominant clan, are allowed. Numerous demands and protests to allow other parties to register and stand for election have fallen on deaf ears.”
    Read more: https://www.kormeeraha.com/2021/05/31/debunking-democracy-in-somaliland/

  2. Ina C/Xaafid

    November 9, 2021 at 1:58 am

    Before Somaliland and Somalia joined on 1st July 1960 to form the so called “Somali republic”, somaliland was a british protectorate and Somalia was an italian colony. Somaliland received it’s independence from the british on Sunday 26th June 1960. The leaders in Somaliland made the biggest mistake in joining soviet fanatic Barre’s Somalia, 5 days after independence on 1st July 1960.

    To add context the union between the 2 countries was never ratified on paper so one may ponder was the union even legal?

    The false union would later lead Somalilanders to be subjected to one of the bloodiest genocide in Africas history, the “Isaaq genocide”. the gut wrenching command from Siad Barre’s lead military general would be “KILL ALL BUT THE CROWS” for anyone who thinks different, the evidence is on the AL Jazeera Youtube channel titled “kill all but the crows”. After most cities in Somaliland were levelled to the ground by fighter jets, half the population killed and the once bright future doomed. The Somaliland people chose to fight back and recoup their country and WON! 30,000 Somalia military men backed by the soviets were no match for the 3000 resilient (Somali National Movement) men who would successfully take back their country with little to no funding and weapons. This great victory would lead the SNM to be known as the most organised and effective milita to come across Africa and the world!

    On the 18th May 1991 local authorities, led by the SNM, declared independence from Somalia.

    For the past 30 years Somaliland has been An Island of Stability in a Sea of Armed Chaos, as The New York Times called it in 2007. Somaliland has built a democratic country working government institutions, a military, passport, currency while recognized Somalia has been a safe haven for piracy, terrorism and war lords.

    Somaliland boasts an inclusive democratic system where a leader from the minority clan won the presidential elections by a mere 80 votes and there was a peaceful transition of power. If i must also add Daahir Riyaale Kaahin would then become the longest sitting president in the countries history, leading the country from 2002 to 2010. both elections after that happened peacefully too! 2010-2017 and 2017-current.
    May Somaliland continue to excel against all adversities.

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