A win- win situation for both Presidents in Turkey; the first round by Omar Hussein (PhD)1

The talks between Somalia and Somaliland which has started a year ago seem to be moving very slowly in spite of world pressure to see the two resolve their problems quickly. Sources close to Somaliland say Somalia is dragging its feet and Somaliland is getting worried. Many believe President Hassan is calling all the shots at this time and is very much content with the status quo. There is a rumor in Mogadishu to the effect that some substantial progress has been made in Dubai in a secret meeting between the two Presidential Affairs Ministers of Somalia and Somaliland (Hersi & Farah) before the Turkish meeting. If that is the case then the recently concluded Presidential meeting in Turkey must have broken some new grounds in their relationship.
However the declared outcome of the meeting says nothing new to what we already knew. But the outcome of the meeting clearly shows that both sides were happy as though some new grounds were actually broken towards the relationship of the two sides. Otherwise where does all the euphoria about the meeting’s outcome come from? In that vein what comes to mind is; was the final communiqué the whole story or part of a story? On the Somaliland side the preparations for the meeting were meticulously orchestrated and the negotiating team was made all inclusive as though the President was building defensive walls against possible public outcry. The million dollar question though is why didn’t the two Presidents sign the final communiqué? And why otherwise didn’t the Foreign Minister of Somalia sign with her counterpart? Is there something missing? Some say the missing link is Dubai meeting which preceded the Turkish meeting. The Prime Minister of Turkey said the two sides are getting closer together.
We know the two sides were miles apart, then who is getting closer to whom? Is it President Hassan getting closer to President Silanyo or is it the other way round and President Silanyo is getting closer to President Hassan, or are they getting closer to one another. If they do that and one moves towards the other at one time they will collide and hence reach nirvana which will be either unity or secession, depending on the magnitude of the collision and on the forces of attraction and repulsion between the two Presidents. The outcome of the collision will be either of the two; they become one body (unity) or two separate bodies (secession). Since the art of politics is ‘you scratch my back I scratch your back’. I think the two Presidents may have engaged in a make believe political illusion in a cool and calculated manner and that is what made otherwise vehement critics gullible. One should never under estimate President Silanyo’s ability to survive under difficult situations for he is a veteran of politics for more than 40 years. It looks the shrewd political wizards were able to make false moves look like a genuine one. Truly they handled an explosive situation very calmly to the relief of both their foes and friends. The outcome was short of the declared targets of each side but there was something to chew for each in the meantime. Some may say it was the lull before an inevitable storm.
However to fully comprehend what really happened, one has to read carefully between the lines of what they said and what they signed. President Hassan did not say a word about Unity while the meetings were going on as a concession to President Silanyo. President Silanyo gave up the only land mark achievement he made with President Sharif in Dubai where he signed the final communiqué as the President of Somaliland side by side with the President of the Provisional government of Somalia. That much he gave-up and that is why I think the two Ministers signed the communiqué instead.
In the final communiqué each President also scored a point in his favor. President Silanyo wanted encouragement of foreign economic support for Somaliland and he got it. President Hassan got movement of people between the two states uninhibited. At the end of the meeting therefore each got something that could keep his head above water. In any agreement there must be something for something. Those were very significant concessions in a cordial Turkish environment of give and take and that is the way it should be in any negotiation. In any negotiation between two adversaries, it is politically naïve to expect to get everything without giving up something in return.
But one may get more than the other and that depends on the bargaining skill and the legitimacy of the case. The only way one may get all without giving up an iota is to force the other side to blink. Many did not see the importance of these concessions except Bobe Dualeh the Ex-Minister of Information in Somaliland who raised some reservations about the movement of people between the two countries. This concession could result in a lopsided migration from the North to the South for multiple purposes e.g. to get a passport, scholarship, political post, real estate etc. Movement of people to Somaliland will be relatively small. In getting this concession President Hassan believes that the people of Somaliland will vote with their feet and that could strengthen his hand in the difficult negotiations ahead. That is not a farfetched scenario as the thousands of unemployed university graduates who risk their lives in the high seas could find Mogadishu a safer alternative and a more attractive destination.
That concession could also be used as a whipping boy to extract political concessions from the government by the politicians … I keep my post… I get that post or else I will hit the road. That could tie the hands of President Silanyo and could put him in a hot political soup in the short run. But if he keeps his head cool, the tide will turn in the long run as Somalia will not be able to accommodate an influx of people from Somaliland and hence dissatisfaction and disillusion will cause political quagmire for President Hassan which could result in reverse migration.
To come back to the dichotomy between Unity and Secession, a reasonable question at this time is; is there a middle ground between secession and unity? Some believe when it comes to unity and secession; it is either or, while others believe Confederation and Federation are both legitimate middle grounds between Secession and Unity. We know President Hassan cannot accept secession in any form. In contrast President Silanyo cannot accept Unity come what may. So logically if the two sides continue to talk to each other, then the battle ground will be Federation or Confederation. All we hope is both President Silanyo and President Hassan continue to smile after the forthcoming meeting in Turkey.
President Silanyo got an unexpected helping hand from an old friend and a new foe Dr. Ali Khalif in an unexpected place… the Federal Parliament of Somalia where he broke the news for the first time that President Silanyo always wanted to hear in high places but never had that “President Hassan met with President Silanyo as two equal independent Head of States”. That must have been music to the ears of President Silanyo as his first and most intention in that meeting was to seek recognition at par with President Hassan. That is the impression the members of the Federal government of Somalia got from what Dr. Ali Khalif said in his statement. I don’t want to second guess what else Dr Ali might have in mind but that statement gave President Silanyo’s bid to level with President Hassan a shot in the arm.
To conclude, the meeting was a win-win situation for both sides and will hopefully continue to be so as long as they give concessions to one another and avoid the knotty problem of Unity and Secession. Nobody should expect in those negotiations a situation where a winner takes all. It is reasonable thus to postpone the final status negotiations to a later date. But in the mean time confidence building measures should be undertaken with cool heads and without irrational emotions. However knowing the declared stand of both sides, a dead end is inevitable unless and until one side or both sides make a difficult concession. There are already cracks on the walls of the Federation even before Federation took off the ground and that will weaken the position of President Hassan in dealing with Somaliland as well as other aspirant secessionists and there seems to be some on the horizon lately. But one thing President Hassan should know his relationship with our neighbors particularly Ethiopia will make him or break him. Therefore President Hassan should put his money where his mouth is by improving his relationship with Ethiopia, otherwise Somaliland will have every reason to stick to its guns.
Another round of high profile talks between the two Presidents is scheduled to take place in Turkey, keep your fingers crossed and don’t expect any knot out punches that forces either one of them out of the ring.