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Security challenges, internal division, mar Somalia’s 64th birthday

by Laacib

Somalia, an impoverished nation in the horn of Africa, has begun celebrating 65 years of independence, though it comes amid a backdrop of division and a pivotal security transition.

Independence Week is celebrated annually from June 26 to July 1 to honor the 1960 union of British Somaliland and Italian Somalia. It paved the way for a united Somalia with hopes of progress and prosperity, although they remain a dream, according to Sokor Jama, former director of Somalia’s Defense Ministry.

“I believe it is not the time to celebrate,’’ Jama told VOA Somali. ‘’You can celebrate your success of gaining an independence only when you have reached your goals. Look where Somalia is at today. …. It is cursed with a division within, insecurity and poverty.”

Speaking with VOA, Abdullahi Salamulah, an adviser to the office of Somalia’s parliament speaker, disagreed.

“I defer to Jama on the issue of celebrating the country’s independence,” Salamumlah said. ‘’I do not see hatred among Somali people. The ordinary people are united, but yes, there are politicians here and there who are divided on issues for their own benefits, and they try to change the public narratives.”

Broke away in 1991

Somaliland, a former British protectorate, broke away from Somalia in 1991 and continued its effort to be a separate country but has not been internationally recognized.

The government in Mogadishu, however, wants the country’s northern territory to be part of a single Somali state.

The leaders of Mogadishu and Hargeisa presented dramatically opposing views regarding Somalia’s unity during Tuesday’s celebrations. In a ceremonial event in Mogadishu preceded by songs, poems, folklore dancing and the hoisting of the national flag, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said the day stands for unity revival.

“I want to repeat again and again that Independence Day is the day of revival, rebirth and reconciliation of the Somali people,” he said.

“I congratulate the entire Somali nation on the occasion of June 26, which marks the 64th anniversary of the independence of the northern regions from British colonial rule and the raising of our flag on free Somali soil,” Mohamud said.

Regional tensions

Independence Week this year comes amid regional tension between Ethiopia and Somalia over Ethiopia’s desire to set up a naval base there and a possible offer to recognize Somaliland in exchange.

The move prompted a defiant response from Mogadishu, fearing the deal could further destabilize the Horn of Africa region.

In February, Somalia, which has no control in Somaliland, ordered the closure of the Ethiopian consulates there and in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

Senior officials from Somaliland and Puntland, which is engaged in another constitutional dispute with Mogadishu, said the edicts would not apply in their territories.

Somalia said at the time it would defend itself if Ethiopia seals an illegal port deal.

In Tuesday’s speech, Mohamud said his government understands Ethiopia’s desire for access to the sea but opposes the methods it has employed.

“The issue is not a fight over Somalia rejecting a sea access for Ethiopia, but our dispute is over the means. If Ethiopia wants to get sea access in Somalia, we welcome it, but it must be similar to how Uganda and South Sudan access Kenya’s ports, how Burundi and Rwanda access Tanzania, and how Ethiopia itself has access to Djibouti,” Mohamud said.

In Hargeisa, Somaliland President Muse Bihi said authorities in Mogadishu are the biggest challenge for the autonomous region’s fight for recognition as an independent state.

Speaking at a ceremony held in Hargeisa Tuesday night, Bihi said Mohamud does not oppose Ethiopian access to the sea but wants Ethiopia to get signoff from Mogadishu.

The Memorandum of Understanding Somaliland “signed with Ethiopia will be turned to a law and will be implemented without seeking permission from Mogadishu, whose real territorial control does not extend beyond Mogadishu,” Bihi said.

Security challenges

As African Transition Mission in Somalia, or ATMIS, peacekeepers continue to gradually leave Somalia by the end of 2024, Somalia still faces security challenges, with questions and concerns raised over the country’s readiness to take charge and face al-Shabab, which remains a genuine threat to the country and the region.

Briefing the U.N. Security Council on the Somalia situation, ATMIS head Mohamed El-Amine Souef told ambassadors that al-Shabab remains resilient.

“The group still retain[s] the ability to conduct devastating attacks, including employing asymmetric tactics and organizing complex operations on civilians and security targets,” he said.

Souef said 2,000 troops will depart Somalia by the end of July, and the remaining 2,000 at the end of September, as part of the transition of security responsibility from ATMIS to the Security Forces.

James Swan, head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Somalia, also told the council that the Somalia government was prioritizing security and combating al-Shabab fighters on many fronts.

“For its part, al-Shabab remains determined to continue terrorist attacks with little regard for the loss of civilian life,” he said.

Swan also raised his concerns over the tensions between Ethiopia and Somalia, and he urged both nations to resolve their differences peacefully.


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