December 23, 2020
Somaliland President Muse Bihi arrives in Djibouti on December 23, 2020. PHOTO COURTESY: SOMALILAND MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
By Aggrey Mutambo | The East African
Somaliland President Muse Bihi has received a red carpet reception in Djibouti, slightly over a week after his tour of Kenya incensed Mogadishu.
Mr Bihi arrived in Djibouti city on Wednesday morning for an official visit on the invitation of his host, President Ismael Guelleh, according to the Somaliland Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ministry.
The Ministry’s Twitter handle gloated of a “warm reception” given to Bihi where a red carpet and other protocols of honour were mounted for him. He arrived in Djibouti with a “high calibre delegation,” the Ministry said.
Bihi’s similar visit to Kenya aroused anger in Mogadishu which considers Somaliland part of Somalia’s territory. The Somaliland leader held discussions with President Uhuru Kenyatta where they agreed on direct flights and for Nairobi to establish a consulate in Hargeisa by March next year.
Amid Bihi’s trip, Mogadishu announced it had cut diplomatic ties with Nairobi for “constant interference” in Somalia’s internal affairs. Somalia also severed ties with Guinea after President Alpha Conde rolled out a red carpet reception to Bihi in July 2019.
Will Somalia cut ties with Djibouti too? Mogadishu was mum on Wednesday about the trip. But it is unlikely relations will be cut because Djibouti, initially known as French Somaliland during colonial days, has been the venue of discussions on the future of Somalia and Somaliland.
Last week, heads of state and government gathered in Djibouti under the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) asked the two sides to continue holding talks.
“[The Assembly] commended the resumption of the talks between the Federal Republic of Somalia and Somaliland, and appreciated the role of regional leaders and the region in hosting and facilitating the talks,” said a communique from the 38th Extraordinary Summit on Sunday.
IGAD includes Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda. Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya have sent their troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia, a UN-mandated African Union force meant to help stabilise the country.
But in what could test the actual policy of Mogadishu on Somaliland, two other countries have since sent representatives to Hargeisa where they met with President Bihi.
On Sunday, Bihi hosted Malawi’s Foreign Minister Eisenhower Mkaka where they held “amicable and fruitful discussions on many fronts of mutual interests.” On Monday, Bihi met with a delegation from South Africa’s ruling party ANC led by Mr Mhlekwa Nxumalo, the national organiser of the party.
Somaliland has ruled itself since 1991 when it declared independence from Somalia. But no African country has recognised it as independent of Somalia, even though some often treat it as a separate territory. It runs its own military, currency and central bank. It has been mostly peaceful with successive elections. Bihi is its fifth President.
Originally known as British Somaliland, the region merged with what was then known as Italian Somaliland to form the Somali Republic in 1960. Hargeisa says the Union broke in 1991 and has gone on to seek recognition.
Rashid Abdi, a researcher and analyst of the Horn of Africa, said 2021 could be the definitive year in Somaliland’s quest for recognition.
“[It will be a] crunch year for Somaliland’s quest for international recognition. Interesting shifts in region, internationally,” he wrote on his Twitter page on Wednesday.