Puntland Ventures with an Impatience Strategy of Zero-Sum Game


Puntland was established in 1998 with a self-destructive ambition to make the north eastern province a de facto substitute of Somali state. Apart from Somaliland, all other regional leaders were motivated to collaborate and merge their collective efforts in a coherent strategy to establish a strong central government. In practice, Strong Somali nation state creates a sustainable civil government based on unitary system of a democratic governance.

Puntland emerged with contingent aims of strong regional states and weak national government. The perception of their regional strategic policy was viewed as a major reason to be competitive with the national government about the benefits of foreign relations. In response to such overlapping political power, Puntland unilaterally chose either to exert an absolute control over the national government or to counteract against it through belligerent foreign policy. This led Puntland to provocative moods that created unwarranted standoffs, confronting conflicts, and adversarial relations with the crippling national governments. Puntland showed its strength to use all necessary means to test its superiority of influence against the formation of a strong central government.

The influence of the Puntland empire reached its highest level of beneficiary, that is beyond the capacity of the national state, during the tenure of Ambassador Augustine Mahiga as a UN special representative for Somalia.

Dr. Augustine Mahiga, a Tanzanian diplomat, was the head of the United Nations political office for Somalia between 2010 – 2013. He was a high-profile African peace maker  who served Somalia for three years to break the rivalry and build a culture of political transition. Mr. Mahiga was not productive and that risked his job in many times in addition to a growing public anger and lack of confidence in his policy; and there were widespread allegations of political and financial corruptions against him. He understood very well that Somalia is a failed state with non-state actors competing for the scarce resources to maintain their existence. There were so many complex issues arising from the Somali’s tribal conflicts, i.e. political structure remained local, shadowy networks of bad forces emerged, imbalanced power struggle, powerful external patrons existed, teleological struggle for domination, ethnic fragmentation, civil suffering, famine, chaos, bloodshed, and painful territorial disputes. Mr. Mahiga saw a big failure of his achievement without the support of the prominent local actors. For him, the call was to work closely with the Puntland authority and to play with the illusive ambitions in their mind. Puntland became the hub of  a shadow government, political savvy, piracy empire, and foreign aid.

Dr. Mahiga pledged an unconditional allegiance with the domestic and national actors of Puntland and convinced them to use a soft power that enables them to lead the country from behind the scenes. This leadership strategy allowed to shape the initiatives of being passive in leading rather instead of leading from a position of strength. Once he put them on the board, he applied to them the diplomacy of soft power and gave them money as a means of persuasion. Knowing the uncreative visionary of hegemony in their heads, he promised to comply with their leadership strategies, including adopting federal system, framing national constitution in favor of Puntland, proposing Garowe as the headquarters of the federal government, and finally promoting a Puntlander to become the president of the federal government. The prominent diplomat from Tanzania used Puntland as means to meet his end goals. Thanks to Puntland’s successful support of the Somali Roadmap that steered the end of the transitional period.  That partnership saved Dr. Mahiga from being fired out with disgraceful termination. Dr. Mahiga has gained a great deal of wealth during his three years services in Somalia with the help of corrupt Puntland actors. Unfortunately, Dr. Mahiga was replaced with honor, but left the country with parts of oaths unfinished. The Tanzanian diplomat is now a new comer in the politics of his country and recently announced his intention to run for presidency during the general election in October 2015.

Puntland is an arid province of scarce resources and less likelihood to create a sustainable wealth for their existence. Poor living standards and less dense populations often raise discontent among the local public and their corrupt bureaucrats. Growing conflicts between them often creates the local authorities to use coercive measures to establish order in the region. The public’s reaction is becoming increasingly fierce and popular uprisings create conflicting political backlashes that makes the regional authority less able to control. The threat of resource scarcity led Puntland politics to promote a culture of irrational decision making. Puntland uses a fear-mongering strategy of economic depression. They also exploit the country’s many struggles to get Somali’s leadership and ownership of its resources. In response to the malaise, Puntland chose an impatience strategy of zero-sum game. The policy recommendation of zero-sum power politics ensures the importance of being an unfair game because it does not create a win-win situation that both major participants each has its fair share.  The zero-sum game is where you either gain completely the benefits or lose it. The zero-sum politics is based on a strategic neglect that emphasizes to pursue an egoistic crave of wealth, power, and influence. This policy pursues provocative, confrontational, and uncooperative relationships that could lead to a greater political risk. It is a policy that relies on the use of force and military power as a means of conflict resolution. The aim is to grab attention through standoffs, defiance,  a hostile behavior, and unwillingness to negotiate. After Mahiga, Puntland faces unprecedented challenges with the new order in Somalia. After fourteen years of arrogant leadership  and exerting absolute control of the Somali national government, Puntland’s overwhelming influence came to end in 2012.

Nicholas Kay, a diplomat from UK, replaced Mr. Mahiga as the head of the United Nations political office for Somalia. He is an incorruptible British bureaucrat who was specifically appointed to clean the mess caused by Dr. Mahiga. Mr. Kay  comes with different strategies that is centered with impartiality, duty, and balance. In addition, a non-conformist new leader came to power as the head of the Somali federal government. He wanted to make changes to the nature of the Somali state and practiced to raise new sets of order of his own. The federal parliament got a new speaker who adopted a strategy of patience to address the issues in accordance to the political reality of the country. He emphasized more diplomacy and patience with political game, but was unwilling to reward destructive provocations based on self-centered perspectives of ” either you work for us or work against us.” All these new comers have one common good, i.e., to persuade all major political actors to have cooperative and collaborative relationships among each other. Such constructive views have a genuine, long-term lasting influence that secure a major political shift for the future common good of the country.

The era of feeling good in Puntland has gone forever and unpredictable scapegoating has taken its place. In response to the situation, Puntland changes again its mood after a long period of cooperation and returns to cynic, morose rivalry. In addition, the rise of Galmudug exasperates the Puntland’s frustration causing it to be in a desperate, defensive mood. Puntland is increasingly becoming suspicious about a conspiracy against challenges associated with its power. The zero-sum logic will beleaguer Puntland with degradation and backwardness, causing persistent arguments and tensions with its neighboring regions and the country’s central authority. The result of the situation is failure to make progress, worsening relations, and unproductive recession. Puntland’s show of strength against the nascent democracy in Galmudug could cause her more depilating tragedies that could devastate beyond the capacity of its expectation. One of the outcomes could be a secession fever epidemic with increasing ferocity that could lead to waging fierce war against Galmudug state.

Somalia is under indirect protectorate of the United Nations and Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter mandates the UN security Council the power to maintain peace in Somalia and to determine acts of aggression and threats to breach the peace.

Waging a war in Somalia is considered a crime against peace and  violations against the international treaties of peace and security. Nuremberg trail of major war crimes was a good model of an ethical obligation from the international body that prosecuted the most prominent members of the political and military leadership of the war criminals in the World War II.

Likewise, Somalia could host  the international military tribunal that prosecutes those who infringe the peace and security of Somalia. In addition,  The UN has the legitimacy to take military and nonmilitary actions against those warmongers to restore peace and security in any part of Somalia.

Puntland is heading on an unnecessary course of collision that might result in the loss of its existence. Now, It has the opportunity to reflect and review its political agendas before it is too late to contain public backlashes and self-isolation from its external patrons. A far more reaching annihilation could arise from popular political discontent that could produce the process of disintegration.

The people in the Nugal region may choose to join the central regional administration of Galmudug and likewise, the eastern region to join into Somaliland. Even though Puntland has experienced that many stakeholders have turned hard against her, they should understand that its thriving future lies beyond the crisis of today.

Failure to quickly deal with its ethical dilemma will force her into  a vicious defense that could lead to escalated defeats. Puntland has to make a difficult choice among undesirable controversial issues that counteract to upgrade well with the political reality.

Harming your neighbor is not a viable strategy to feel superior, but that could be a primary source of  an accidental outbreak of war. A win-win approach builds a culture of achievement and responsibility, because it co-opts to work with persuasion of diplomacy, genuine willing to negotiate through direct dialogue, enthusiastic to abandon hostile provocation, and constructive communication.

Proactively, Puntland needs to make a more urgent response to end claims of  legitimacy for the country’s foreign relations and to eliminate controversial parts in its constitution that doesn’t fit with the supreme law of the country.

Recognition of the reality of other regions and views of their security enhances coherent policies with other regions. In that regard, Puntland should avoid deeds motivated by resentment and revenge against the nascent state of Galmudug. Puntland exercising its will to others counteracts against their sphere of influence and definitely will lead to a sense of incompetence.

The people living in the Northern part of Mudug region will probably get their fair share from Galmudug state and eventually their choices will be heard during a possible referendum in 2020. Puntland’s pragmatic leadership is absolutely indispensable to endow tremendous strength to Somali’s political stability. A successful comeback obligates a collaborative leadership with no vanquish or overriding championship.


Dr. Said Mohamud
July 28 2015


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