Somaliland: Stoking the politics of enmity will only deepen the current crisis.

During the last year, as the political and economic crisis in Somaliland has deepened, there has been a growing and disturbing trend in Somaliland’s political discourse with an increasing talk of the country having many ‘enemies’.

This worrying narrative based on politics of ‘enmity’, xenophobia projecting outward to blame others for failure inside, is visible in social media where people accuse one another of being ‘internal’ and ‘external’ enemies of the country. Sadly, you get a flavor of this thinking even from government statements and from politicians’ and leaders’ speeches through every media available to them. While trying to make sense of the current political crisis and ascribing reasons to internal and external ‘enemies’ undermining Somaliland. And even in the public debate people are accusing certain clans, opposition parties or leaders as being part of the internal ‘enemies’ of Somaliland.

Regularly, accusations are made of meddling in Somaliland, against governments of neighboring Puntland, Somali region of Ethiopia, and even the Federal Government of Somalia are added to the global nemesis of China in being suspected or accused of being part of the ‘external’ enemies.

The fundamental flaw with this narrative is that it does not differentiate between an enemy and an adversary, while a political adversary is someone you want to defeat politically, as their ideas or interest are contrary to yours, while an enemy is someone you must destroy as he wants to destroy you. Between adversaries’ trust is possible as we seek to turn discussion, often heated, into dialogue to move us all forward. Positively. But with enemies’ compromise is not possible and if negotiation is undertaken at the wrong time, it can be seen as defeat as extremes set agendas creating enmity where there was discussion if not dialogue for the common good.

Today’s political adversary could become tomorrow’s allies, as compromise is possible with an adversary to ensure the majority, the common good, are at the heart in moving forward. It’s quite possible that with the emergence of new challenges or a great crisis the region is confronted with, make it detrimental to forge new alliances with adversaries and there might even be a situation that one is even forced to call on the support of those that are today labelled as ‘enemies’.

The second problem is that even though Somaliland is not recognized politically as a sovereign state, it claims to be an independent entity and exercises its sovereignty, engaging in international relations with countries.

Somaliland’s Government should understand in international relations the saying goes “there are no permanent friends or no perennial enemies, only there are permanent national interests”. Every country in the world follows a discourse based on its own national interest, even if it opposes or is contrary to another country’s interest and politics, this is what a country’s politicians do as they drive statecraft even in the relation with their friendly neighboring countries, they might take steps or follow policies that undermine one another. It is at this point statecraft comes into play.

Diplomats are regularly the middle ground, tempering the excesses of political extremes and ensuring the regular political changes are smoothed to ensure socio-economic relations are the center ground on which livelihood and people’s wellbeing is founded. With the politicization of diplomacy regularly experienced in newer states, states where democracy is yet to have a depth to temper the excesses created by trends in media pandering to different political agendas, the insidious slide from adversarial politics into outright conflict is far too prevalent.

Thirdly, the consequence of this political narrative of ‘enmity’ is that it further adds to the heightened political polarization that Somaliland was facing and can contribute to a sense of social tension which undermines the social cohesion and lead to undermining the socio-economic fabric of the society and gradually even lead to tearing communities and families apart. This is often the recipe that contributes to the start of conflicts, fighting, insecurity, crisis and instability, which should make one extremely vigilant.

On the economic side, the climate of hostility can have a further negative effect on an already stagnating economy in the region, as social capital effects economic perceptions and potentially interferes with economic choices that people make and trade in the region. Already it’s reported that trade with neighboring regions have severely declined over the last months, severely undermining Somaliland’s ambition to become a logistical and trade hub for the region. This vision will only be feasible with a socio-political culture that can attract and positively enable economic linkages, trade and doing business, an open trade culture that showcases a mindset of civility, diplomacy, open communication, curiosity and tolerance, all traits that people from Somaliland once used to be well known for.

And lastly, putting faults and blame of the current political crisis on ‘internal and external political actors portray an unwillingness of political elites to take responsibility for their own politics and actions that have led to the current multifaceted socio, political and economic crisis. As long as one avoids taking responsibility it will be challenging to reflect on what went wrong and find a way out of the current crisis; this realisation and understanding is part of political maturity Somaliland had commenced to achieve and now seems to be losing with great alacrity. If Somaliland political elites and public opinion leaders are truly sincere in their aspirations for Somaliland, then better one grow out of this political immaturity sooner than later.

Khaalid H. Hassan Mohamoud (Gadhweyne)