US Congress moves forward watered-down Somaliland bill

By Julian Pecquet
Posted on Friday, 10 June 2022 18:54, updated on Saturday, 11 June 2022 01:23

A woman and child relax next to a mural of Somaliland's flag, in Hargeisa, Somaliland on Feb. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)
A woman and child relax next to a mural of Somaliland's flag, in Hargeisa, Somaliland on Feb. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)

The US Congress advanced legislation promoting a US security partnership with Somalia’s autonomous Somaliland region after several changes requested by critics of the breakaway effort.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee cleared the Somaliland Partnership Act on 9 June after months of behind-the-scenes lobbying by Somaliland and its detractors. The final version removes some controversial language while retaining the bill’s original intent, enabling lawmakers and stakeholders on both sides to claim victory.

“As the Horn of Africa faces a number of complex challenges, the United States should explore all possible mutually-beneficial relationships with stable and democratic partners, including Somaliland,” the bill’s sponsor, Republican James Risch of Idaho, said in a statement. “This legislation requires the administration to review outdated policies and diplomatic frameworks that don’t meet today’s challenges, and to review opportunities for establishing a partnership between the United States and Somaliland. I look forward to engaging with the State Department on this issue in the months ahead.”

Rival lobbyists

Somaliland’s mission to the US declared itself “encouraged” by Thursday’s vote in a statement shared by its US lobbying firm, FGH Holdings (formerly the Glover Park Group).

“This legislation demonstrates bipartisan support for expanding the US-Somaliland partnership through collaboration on matters of mutual interest, including advancing democracy, enhancing trade and investment in the Horn of Africa, and countering terrorism, piracy and trafficking in the region,” said Bashir Goth, Somaliland’s representative to the United States. “We thank our friends in the US Senate for their ongoing efforts to strengthen ties between our two democracies and look forward to the full Senate’s consideration of this important legislation in the near future.”

We didn’t support any sections of the bill that posed a threat to Somalia’s unity and sovereignty…And we don’t support any element that recognises Somaliland as a semi-autonomous state.

At the same time, the United Somali Alliance of the USA, which supports the country’s integrity, insisted it was happy with the last-minute changes to the bill. These include removing a reference to a “security partnership” between the two countries in the body of the bill, eliminating calls for the establishment of a nonprofit American Institute of Somaliland – which critics called a “quasi embassy” – to carry out programmes and transactions in the capital Hargeisa, and removing references to Somaliland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defense.

“We didn’t support any sections of the bill that posed a threat to Somalia’s unity and sovereignty,” activist Hodan Dualeh tells The Africa Report. “And we don’t support any element that recognises Somaliland as a semi-autonomous state. So any language regarding that, we did not support.”

Congress takes the lead

Risch first introduced the bill back in March 2022 following Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi’s visit to Washington, the first such visit in almost a decade. Joining him on the bill are Sens.  Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Mike Rounds of South Dakota, the top Democrat and Republican on the committee’s Africa panel.

Congress – and particularly the Senate – has taken a lead role in looking to deepen relations with Somaliland, but stopping short of diplomatic recognition. The region of northern Somalia declared its independence three decades ago following the fall of the Siad Barre regime and is finding increased bipartisan support amid continued political instability in Somalia and Sudan, conflict in Ethiopia and intensifying Chinese influence in the region.

The Joe Biden administration has been somewhat less enthusiastic, with the State Department insisting that its support for the territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Somalia remains unchanged. The Pentagon however has shown interest in Somaliland’s offer to grant the US military access to port and airport facilities in Berbera, with US Africa Command (AFRICOM) Commander Stephen Townsend and US Ambassador to Somalia Larry André meeting with President Abdi in Hargeisa last month before travelling to Berbera.

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