Within the country known as Somalia, there are at three major regional political units: Somaliland (which declared independence in 1991, at the beginning of Somalia’s civil war), Puntland (which has had an autonomous government since 1998), and southern Somalia, where the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) sits in the capital of Mogadishu, technically ruling over the whole country. Somalia has been fragmented for some time. But this month, with Puntland moving to distance itself from the TFG, the cracks are widening.
On Sunday, January 16, President Abdirahman Mohammed Farole of Puntland held a special meeting of his cabinet. Following the meeting, Puntland’s government
issued a statement saying that the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) “does not represent Puntland in international forums” and that the United Nations Political Office for Somalia should “reconsider its position and support for the TFG at the expense of other Somali stakeholders.”
Puntland, unlike the breakaway region of Somaliland to the west, does not consider itself an independent country. Until now, it had supported the federal government, which is backed by the international community but has been greatly weakened by an ongoing war against rebels who are seeking its overthrow.
The statement, read by Daud Mohamed Omar, the planning and international cooperation minister, criticised the Mogadishu government for its “unwillingness to actively support federalism for Somalia in violation of the TFG charter,” according to a report by Radio Garowe, a community radio station based in Garowe, the Puntland capital.
Puntland…has barred central government officials from entering its territory, an official said, as a row between Puntland and the capital Mogadishu escalated.
Puntland officials said the ban extended to all lawmakers and civil servants, a week after declaring it would not cooperate with the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) until the establishment of what it described as a legitimate and representative federal government.
“We have notified all our immigration departments and airports that TFG officials were banned from inside our territory,” Puntland’s deputy Interior Minister Ali Gab Yusuf told reporters over the weekend.
These moves on the part of Puntland’s government appear to have some measure of popular support within Puntland.
Different analysts have read Puntland’s actions differently: some believe Puntland is making a play for more “political consideration” from the TFG, while others “are worried Puntland’s separation spells the end for a unified Somalia, with the emergence of smaller regional states more likely.” Much will depend on what the TFG achieves before the end of its mandate in August. Reuters writes, “By then [the TFG] should have enacted a new basic law and held general elections. Most political analysts say it will probably fail to do either.”
Whether or not Puntland is bluffing, one thing seems clear: the failures of the TFG (to regain substantial territory, to establish political legitimacy, to meet its founding goals, to inspire support in Puntland and Somaliland) are driving the centrifugal forces at work in the Somali federation – or what’s left of it. To the extent that the center is perceived as weak, Somalia’s regional polities will increasingly reach for greater autonomy.