Political analysts welcomed last week's first formal direct talks between the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and Somaliland aimed at reaching national consensus and unity.
Somaliland President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo, pictured here after he was elected in 2010, is the first leader of Somaliland to enter direct talks with the Somali Transitional Federal Government. [Abdurashid Abdulle/AFP]
"These negotiations between the Somali transitional government and Somaliland represent a political accomplishment for both sides," said Mohammed Hussein, a political analyst and political science professor. "The transitional government, led by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, is the first Somali government that has initiated negotiations with Somaliland, while Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo's government was the first government that agreed to enter into direct negotiations with Somalia."
Hussein told Sabahi that the talks provide a "golden opportunity for both sides". He said the two sides should continue to meet without any preconditions to avoid any obstacles that may hinder progress "until a final agreement is reached to resolve outstanding issues between both sides".
"Without talks we cannot resolve the current conflicts between both sides," Hussein said. "Unity and independence efforts should pass through the channels of direct negotiations between both sides."
At issue is the Somali Transitional Federal Government's position that Somaliland is an integral part of a united Somalia -- albeit one that would administer its own affairs under the federal system. The Somaliland side argues that it has been successfully administering its own affairs for two decades and hopes to continue to do so as an independent state.
The Chevening House declaration
After the meeting, which concluded June 21st at Chevening House, an official residence of the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, the two sides agreed on the continuation of talks and to hold another official meeting between Ahmed and Silanyo as soon as possible.
Both sides also agreed to work together when it comes to fighting piracy, illegal hunting, and the disposal of hazardous waste and materials in regional waters. In addition, they agreed to co-operate in the fight against terrorism, extremism and other serious crimes.
They also reached an agreement to share experience on working more effectively with the international community on the use of development and humanitarian assistance and called for the international community to increase that assistance.
Both sides asked that the international community continue to facilitate the TFG-Somaliland dialogue, including hosting these talks and providing experts on legal, economic and security matters. They also pledged to end the transitional period in Somalia.
British Foreign Sectary William Hague welcomed the agreement.
"I congratulate the Somali Transitional Federal Government and Somaliland representatives on agreeing the Chevening House Declaration yesterday," Hague said. "We hope this will be a landmark in the process of clarifying their future relations and achieving peace, security and stability in the region. I congratulate both sides on their willingness to continue the talks and to co-operate on areas of common interest."
A new beginning for Somalia
Abdifatah Mohamud, a Mogadishu-based political analyst, said the agreement represents the beginning of a long journey. "Not all contentious issues can be resolved overnight, which is why these talks are just the beginning," he said.
"Without the flexibility demonstrated by both sides, a preliminary agreement that could form the basis for a future relationship between both sides could not have been reached," Mohamud told Sabahi.
He said both sides agreed to push forward with the talks in accordance with what was announced during the London and Istanbul conferences while also agreeing to co-operate on issues of mutual interest. "These are necessary steps for the future continuation of negotiations," Mohamud said.
Abdirahman Wardhere, an international law professor at Mogadishu University, said the preparatory negotiations between the Somali transitional government and Somaliland were successful in establishing a general framework upon which future negotiations will take place.
"The London meeting was constructive and succeeded in creating an atmosphere of confidence between both parties, as well as an operating framework for future talks regarding issues that are of interest to both sides," Wardhere told Sabahi.
"Despite the importance of this meeting, which has brought both parties together for the first time since Somaliland announced its separation in 1991, negotiation committees did not address the core issues and the persistent differences between both sides on such matters as separation and national unity," he said.
Wardhere said launching direct negotiations between the TFG and Somaliland heralds a new beginning for both sides.
"We are now at the very beginning of negotiations," he said. "This is a new start to break the ice, and this step will lead to genuine negotiations that will address all issues related to the final solution, such as unity or separation."