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China’s First Proxy War in Africa: Why is the State Department Siding With Beijing?

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with staff from U.S. Embassy Jerusalem and the Palestinian Affairs Unit, in Jerusalem on May 25, 2021. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain]

Fighting continues in Somaliland’s Sool district. Americans may yawn and dismiss the fighting that began in late December as just another conflict in a dusty African corner. Such casual dismissal of Africa is not only wrong strategically (and a bit racist), but it also misreads the importance of the escalating fight.

Also self-defeating is the State Department’s boilerplate call “for an immediate, unconditional ceasefire in Lascanood… [amidst] the tragic loss of life and violence.” Such moral equivalence and bothsidesism is a poor look for the United States. After all, while the mix of Dhulbahante elders, Puntland forces, U.S.-trained Danab Brigade members, Liyu police from Ethiopia’s Somalia region, and al-Shabaab militants repeatedly reject ceasefires but use Somaliland’s unilateral ceasefires to rearm and regroup.

The reality is the Las Anod [Lascanood] fighting was not spontaneous but preplanned. There would be no fighting in Las Anod if Somaliland’s Western-leaning government had not rebuffed China and instead recognized Taiwan. After President Muse Bihi’s decision, China’s ambassador in Mogadishu tried to buy Bihi off, but he stood firm on principle. Too many African leaders sell their sovereignty or their people’s financial future for short-term, personal gains; Bihi, who trained as a pilot in the United States decades ago, wanted something better for Somaliland’s people.

Weeks before the current conflict, China’s ambassador to Ethiopia reportedly consulted with his Somali counterpart Abdullahi Haji Omar “Amey,” a former Puntland vice president. While Hassan Sheikh Mohamud continues to charm the State Department who see the English-speaking Somali statesman selected by a handful of preselected elites to be Somalia’s president, the U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu ignores the role that Hodan Osman plays.

Hodan, a top international relations advisor to the Somali government, is the wife of Gamal Mohamed Hassan, the minister of planning during the administration of President Mohamed Farmaajo, a leader who sought both to cultivate China and weaponized al-Shabaab. Hodan unabashedly embraces a Sino-Somali alliance. Somalis and Somalilanders both suggest she is the main conduit to China, especially as heavy weaponry not normally present in Las Anod floods into the city.

Both Gamal and Hodan are hostile to Somaliland and its sovereignty. Americans may culturally not understand the importance of clan dynamics in Somalia, but they are important in the local context. Gamal is from the Warsangeli sub clan, was born in Dhahar in Somaliland’s Sanaag Region, while Hodan is a Dhulbahante. Both resent Somaliland sovereignty. Gamal precipitated the previous round of fighting in the Las Anod area when, in 2018, he visited Sanaag as a serving Somali minister without prior coordination. When I visited the region in 2020, tens of thousands of bullet casings still littered the ground from that fight.

Compounding the proxy war further is oil. Taiwan invests in oil exploration and was planning to start drilling in Somaliland, while China explored for oil just across the border in Ethiopia. Companies have already discovered marketable quantities of oil in the region, and so Beijing appears to be instigating a fight in Somaliland’s oil-rich region to kneecap its competition. Meanwhile, Dubai and the United Kingdom’s investment in Somaliland’s port of Berbera poses competition for China’s investment in Djibouti.

It was only a matter of time, but China has now sparked its first African proxy war. The State Department’s kneejerk bothsidesism, if not deference to Mogadishu, however, puts the United States in the uncomfortable position of supporting Communist China as it seeks to destabilize, if not destroy, one of the most pro-Western and most democratic countries in the Horn of Africa. The State Department’s country desks can be great at counting trees, but sometimes their bureaucratic compartmentalization leads them to be blind to the forest.

It is time for Secretary of State Antony Blinken to refine policy and explain the State Department’s kneejerk deference to China’s interests. If he is unwilling to do so, Congress must

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).

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).



  1. Yusuf Robleh

    February 27, 2023 at 9:45 am

    It’s no brian that with China’s fund, Somalia’s Federal government and Somalia’s regional state of Puntland are now in unholy alliance to destabilize the peaceful east African country of Somaliland. The current violence in the Somaliland’s city of Lasanod has been planned and precisely executed by extremists AS terrorists and the SSC outlawed rebels with coordination of Somalia’s PM Xamaza who today remitted $4.5 million for the newly formed malatia leeaders
    in the city.China’s first proxy war in Africa which is being executed against
    Somaliland is planned to end USA presence in the Horn of Africa. It’s high time that the USA Government must take an appropriate steps to curb China proxy war which is being executed in Somaliland because of its cordial relationship with USA and Twain.

  2. Ahmed

    February 27, 2023 at 1:36 pm

    Currently camey isn’t Somalia’s ambassador to Ethiopia

  3. Siciid caydaruus

    February 27, 2023 at 3:20 pm

    If USA closed eyes to support for the Republic of somaliland will lose a very statistic location also somaliland can turn to the rassia which is eager to make a base for build space his navy in zaylac port including rassia interest Gulf of adan

  4. Ismail Mohamed

    February 27, 2023 at 5:55 pm

    This is the most opportune time for the US and UK to recognize the independence of Somaliland. It’s true the so-called Dulbahante “clan leaders” summit was not spontaneous. It was pre-planned – the armed militias with printed insignias and flags arrived with their leaders with a host of Darod unionists who started preaching war and hate against Issaqs -Somaliland’s main clan.
    Somali media is awash with anti-Issaq hate which is obviously funded.

  5. Mukhtar Mussa

    February 27, 2023 at 6:29 pm

    Thanks Mr Rubin

  6. Mohamed

    February 28, 2023 at 3:35 am

    This is not true story its only political reasons. There is not Alshabab group in sool region there’s no Puntland forces there is local clan people to fight against Musa bihi administration.
    There is no Chinese involved this war.

  7. Hussein Abdillahi

    February 28, 2023 at 7:43 am

    It’s general knowledge that ???? Dulbahante politicians in diaspora don’t ???? SL’s govt.Infact they blame the SNM for destroying Barre’s govt which they regarded as theirs.They had dozens ambassadors,many generals and owned the secret services. None of these high quality officers returned to their homeland which they evacuated & abandoned early 60’s. Las Anod became a ghost town. After 2007 when the inhabitants of Laascanood town invited Somaliland’s peacekeepers forces it flourished to become the greencity of the HoA. Those ungrateful & envious refugees began to incite violence against SL authorities in the city. Assassinations of pro-SL individuals was orchestrated by extremists & SL-haters.Demonstrations that were organized gave the opportunity to all anti-somaliland elements across all countries in the Horn and extremists. The exspeaker of Somaliland’s parliament was in hindsight among the culprits who pre-planned this whole episode & used his position to undermine the SL govt after sending his 1st & 2nd wife to turkey & Jigjiga 2 months prior to this. This double has managed to exploit this situation to the maximum blaming SL which has been victimising the inhabitants of LC. None of this is true & The IC has been mislead ????. A fact finding mission would prove that the aggressors were infiltrators who were supported by all neighbors. The truth will supercede all these lies. Thanks Mr Rubin for writing this article which enlightens how complex the situation is

  8. omer Eidleh

    February 28, 2023 at 8:45 pm

    *it’s tradionally true fact behavioral that the relationships among Somali clans & sub-clans are based always in shifting alliances for potential wellthought opportunities outcome that might arise from any new coalition emerges,under the conditions:
    -that the outcome shall benefit eqully to the coalition members;
    -that the risks to undertake are well thought and calculated, but recently elite politions behavior is to not do such future cost benefit analyses for nationwide betterness, but they do for personal benefits, same as they do other African figure-heads.

    Dr. Rubin I appreciate report and its context related report.

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