By Mohamed Abdullahi
In recent weeks, there has been a significant increase in articles critiquing Puntland State’s deal with P&O Ports and President Abdiweli’s travel to Abu Dubai. While most of the pieces are of good quality and high standard to foster lively debate, one could not miss the odd apocryphal account, unsupported claims and an uncalled-for opprobrium, which could stem from self-righteous atavistic resentment to the way of life of the Somali people in Puntland.
I would endeavour to comment on two such articles; Aman Obsiye’s article (Puntland: Federalist or Quasi secessionist?) on Hiiraan Online and Osman Hassan’s piece (Abdiweli: A shameless incorrigible betrayer of his nation) on Wardheernews. I unreservedly respect the views and intellectual capacity of the authors but both of them could be criticized of banality, bigotry and absolute mendacity in their arguments. Particularly, Hassan’s article is awash with outrageous slur and his ignorance of federal system of government is all too obvious.
As much as one may be tempted to address all the obvious errors, baseless assertions and biased reasoning – some of which do not warrant discussion and dissection – my main aim is to contribute constructively to the discourse and lay out my perspectives on Abdiweli’s visit to UAE, the legality of Bosaso port deal and Puntland’s federalist political inclinations. In the end, I have to touch on some of Obsiye’s irrelevant claims, specially his erroneous presumptions on the establishment of Puntland.
President Abdiweli’s visit to UAE
Abdiweli’s recent visit to UAE was one of many similar visits he had paid to foreign countries in the last four years as Puntland president. The visit came at a critical time when the federal government is contending with a diplomatic row with the United Arab Emirates. I would agree that the timing of this visit could appear suspicious and unsettling but no, not treacherous or treasonable act.
I sympathize with the views of those who wish to see a united front to deal with the Gulf crisis but one has to accept that Abdiweli’s visit was also very significant for his constituency, Puntland. Abdiweli made this visit to stave off the fallout of the diplomatic wrangle between UAE and Somali Federal government to stand in the way of UAE financial support and investment to Puntland.
Article 53(3) of the Somali provisional constitution requires the Federal government “to regard itself as the guardian of the interests of the Federal Member States, and must act accordingly”.
The Federal government has failed to safeguard the interests of Federal Member States (FMS), in this case Puntland and has done nothing to allay the concerns of Somali people in Puntland. Abdiweli gave the Federal Government ample time (more than two months) to resolve the issue. He was left with no other choice but to visit Abu Dubai in a bid to protect the interests of his State.
Abdiweli undertook his visit within accepted para-diplomatic norms. Puntland has been exercising effective para-diplomacy in the last 18 years. Puntland para-diplomacy is widely accepted within the scope of socioeconomic development, investment and other constitutional competencies.
Para-diplomacy is not a new phenomenon in international relations field. It has been practiced for decades in a number of both federal and unitary states as diverse as Spain, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Brazil, Russia and China where sub-national governments engage in foreign relations in coordination with their national foreign policy institutions. Since Somalia adopted a federal system of government, some level of para-diplomacy will be expected as States are given more autonomy to set planning and programming priorities.
Abdirahman Said Bile has done an interesting research on Puntland para-diplomacy (Puntland para-diplomacy: a paradigm shift in Somalia foreign relations, 2015). He used Noé Cornago’s (1999) definition to test whether “the permanent and ad hoc contacts Puntland established with foreign public and private entities to promote foreign dimensions of its constitutional competency” amounted to sound para-diplomacy.
Abdirahman studied the history of Puntland paradiplomacy and concluded that it had manifested all the hallmarks of viable sub-national international relations. He delved into Puntland’s use of para-diplomacy not only to attract donor support and investment for its development projects but to seek support for its participation, influence and contribution in both Somali and international forums.
He provided evidence-based examples of how globalization, regionalization, Somali federalism, problems of Somali state building, foreign policy domestication (international terrorism, human rights, global health issues, etc.) and internationalization of domestic policies (piracy, etc.) all contributed to the active and far reaching Puntland paradiplomacy. Abdirahman also examined the federal government insufficient effectiveness in foreign policy and its role in augmenting Puntland para-diplomacy.
While Abdirahman could not underscore any asymmetry of Somali federal constituent units in terms of territory and population, economic features, climatic conditions, cultural patterns, social groupings and political institutions, he suggested that Puntland had unique socioeconomic, cultural, political and development priorities which would separate it in important ways from the rest or at least somewhat different from those of any other state or the system considered as a whole.
Mohamed Abdullahi is a businessman residing in Garowe, Puntland State of Somalia.
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