Exploring new avenues for co-operation in Somalia-Somaliland talks

Publication date: 
Feb 28 2014

Over the past two years, the international community has embarked on multiple efforts to bring together representatives from the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) and the Somaliland regional administration for talks on the future of their political relationship and potential avenues for co-operation.

But the two sides have expressed contrary objectives to the outcome of negotiations.

Representatives from Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud's side have pursued talks with the intention of re-uniting Somaliland with the rest of the country, while delegations sent by Somaliland's President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo have viewed dialogue as an opportunity to achieve the administration's goal of recognition as an independent country.

Turkey -- which has played a large role in development efforts throughout Somalia -- is currently taking a lead role in facilitating the talks after previous efforts by the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United Arab Emirates.

The implementation of communiqués in the past has been difficult in part due to the continued acrimonious relationship between the two parties, the high stakes of the security and political issues that have been discussed, and the lack of effective mechanisms for co-operation to take place on the ground.

Moving forward, it will be very challenging to facilitate a workable partnership on difficult issues such as air traffic control management, security and politics without successful collaboration on less divisive issues.

As a result, it is worthwhile for the international facilitators to explore the possibility of implementing trust-building measures through non-political means such as the arts and sports in order to offer practical opportunities to improve collaboration.

Successful implementation of these efforts can improve the relationship between the two administrations and among citizens, as well as potentially make co-operation on more difficult issues possible in the future.

Co-operation through the arts

In order to capitalise on the resurgence of Somali arts, Turkey can help the FGS and Somaliland delegations jointly organise an arts festival that brings together artists from multiple regions to promote values important to all Somalis.

Poetry and other arts have long been an important part of traditional Somali reconciliation as well as other peacebuilding efforts around the world.

In addition, arts events such as the Hargeisa International Book Fair and the Film, Art, Poetry and Cultural Festival for Peace and Development in Somaliland have been gaining in popularity each year, while Mogadishu is undergoing its own arts "renaissance".

A jointly-administered arts festival drawing artists locally and from abroad would provide the opportunity for the two sides to work together on a project that is less likely to undermine each other's core negotiation objectives and offer tangible benefits to local communities that want to take part in the celebration of Somali arts.

Sports an avenue for collaboration

Sports tournaments can also serve as a venue for collaboration. With football the most popular sport in Somalia, dozens of local football clubs can be found playing in local leagues and regional tournaments.

However, there is not currently a competition that brings together teams from all regions in the country.

This would provide an opportunity for the facilitators of the talks to assist the Somali parties in creating a tournament that brings together local clubs from all regions to compete for an elite status as the best Somali football club.

There is already an indication that interaction between Somali football administrations and clubs is possible. In the past, referees from multiple regions of Somalia have received training from the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) to promote the professionalization of the sport.

Additionally, in February 2014, a Puntland-based team from Galkayo named Comsed Football Club was invited to Mogadishu to play in a set of friendlies with two other clubs Elman and Dekadaha.

Hosting a tournament with teams and referees from all regions could further the development of sports in all regions of Somalia, as well as offer another opportunity for the federal government and Somaliland delegations to practice collaboration on the ground on a less controversial issue.

Equally important, it would offer opportunities for other local and regional administrations that often feel left out of the Turkey-led process to participate in a meaningful project that in the end could improve relationships among other Somali regional administrations.

Improving future outcomes

Co-operation on challenging issues such as security and politics has been hampered by the risks to the core interests of each delegation. However, successful collaboration on projects without such high stakes can create momentum to work together on more serious matters.

Therefore, while jointly organised arts and sports projects may seem comparably less important than combating terrorism and piracy, they can provide critical stepping stones to building trust and proof that co-operation is possible.

Equally important, these avenues of collaboration provide opportunities for Somali communities to engage each other among shared interests that are enriching, regardless of political dispensation.