Former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs of the United States Jendayi Frazer now says she feels the George Bush administration should have recognized Somaliland two decades ago.
In an interview with Michelle Gavin in the Council on Foreign Relations blogpost about the evolution of U.S. policy toward Somaliland, Frazer backed her view from the fact that Somaliland was once recognized as an independent sovereign country.
Frazer says that initially, the Bush administration never had an independent policy towards Somaliland other than “its part of Somalia.
Says Frazer: “Our policy towards Somalia was effectively containment until we took a closer look after 9/11 2001 when we had the attacks on American soil. So, for the first nine months of the administration under President Bush, Somalia did not feature high on the priority list.”
“When I really started taking a look at Somaliland, with colleagues in the Bush administration, what was apparent was that they were moving towards greater democracy and security. They (Somaliland) had a constitutional referendum that was voted on in 2001, favoring restoring Somaliland’s independence, and in 2003, they had the first elected president of Somaliland. You had these democratic elections, you had greater security,” Frazer observes.
In contrast, she says, in Somalia, you had a transitional federal government that could not get itself together as it continued to struggle with continued conflict and clan rivalry. So, the contrast between Somaliland and Somalia, and the desire for the international community, including the United States, to support Somaliland was growing.”
“I think that’s really when we paid attention to Somaliland. It was in that context of dealing with the terrorist threat in Somalia, because prior to the Islamic Courts Union taking over, there was Al Ittihad Al Islamiyah, which was designated as a foreign terrorist organization, but we didn’t consider to be a global threat.”
“We felt that Al Qaeda in East Africa was basically underground, keeping its head down. We were keeping an eye on Somalia, and we were trying to be supportive, but we weren’t looking at Somaliland as independent of Somalia. With greater governance, and the election of the president, that’s when it came to our attention.”
According to Frazer, the Bush administration had a policy that was based on, from a strategic point of view, dealing with the big countries. The ones who could project power and influence in their subregion.
“You had South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, and also the small well performing countries that were having democratic elections, their economies were doing better, they were establishing security, like, at the time, Mali, Senegal, Botswana, and Mozambique, although Mozambique is big but still. And even at that time, Rwanda and Uganda.”
“So really, trying to support good governance and regional stability. Effectively, if you looked at those criteria, it didn’t make any sense that Somaliland would not be seen as, from my perspective, as an effective sovereign country versus Somalia, which was just a juridical sovereign country.”
Frazer says Somaliland have for a long time their voluntary joined the union with the Italian Somaliland after gaining independence from the British in 1960.
“They regretted it immediately. Even the June 1961 referendum, a majority in Somaliland boycotted it because they felt that they were being dominated by the southerners even as early as that. When Siad Barre’s regime fell in 1991, they reclaimed their sovereignty and their independence. So, here we have a government with grassroots support, a country developing democracy, yet we’re not recognizing it. I felt that they deserved the recognition.”
Frazer recalls that the African Union had sent missions to Somaliland, and was moving in that direction to recognize Somaliland as well.
“South Africa, for its own reasons, had always been a strong supporter of Somaliland, and at that time, as I recall, both Kenya and Ethiopia, were soft supporters for Somaliland’s independence.”
She says while Djibouti and Uganda were strongly opposed, Nigeria had a view that was supportive.
“I felt that there was a coalition that could be led by the African Union that would support that independence, and then the United States could come on board with support, but it never happened.”
She says that even if it wasn’t the majority of Africans, it was the ones who had enough influence to pull the others along. “Most of them didn’t care. It was the ones who care that mattered and the ones who also had that diplomatic muscle to bring people on board. I thought we were all set to go.”
The United States, Frazer says were following the AU mission on Somaliland closely.
“We were trying to influence it a little bit, but not hard influence, because we felt that it was moving in the right direction in any case.”
“We went along with what the AU said and did, fully expecting that they were going to move towards recognition of Somaliland.”
But Frazer says despite the US not recognizing Somaliland’s sovereignty, they have continued to engage directly with the country.
“We continued to engage in our own direct relations with Somaliland, supporting the development of systems to support elections, training, and having an open line of communication with the leadership.
Even though we didn’t formally recognize them, we respected them in the way we dealt with them.”
Just like the European Union, the United States is hopes the African Union will set the pace towards the recognition of Somaliland.
“The last kind of policy statements that I am aware of saying was, the AU is looking at this and we’re waiting to see how they deal with it