Somaliland Must Strategically Offset Djibouti’s Unbridled Hostility

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The relationship between Djibouti and Somaliland has long been contentious, with Djibouti displaying consistent hostility towards its neighbour.

This hostility stems from two primary factors: fear of economic competition and Djibouti’s regional defense strategies.

The World Bank’s  “Transport Global Practice the Container Port Performance Index 2022” ranks Berbera port second in Sub-Saharan Africa for performance, based on vessel time in ports.

This development has heightened Djibouti’s fears, as it sees Berbera port as a formidable competitor. Another World Bank report, “Djibouti Country Economic Memorandum” (January 2024), warns that Djibouti’s current economic model, reliant on a single sector (ports) and client (Ethiopia), is unsustainable.

The report explicitly states that the port of Berbera in Somaliland, along with the Berbera Corridor connecting to Ethiopia’s hinterland, has emerged as a strong potential competitor to Djibouti.

Djibouti’s economic concerns are compounded by its reliance on port revenues. In a democratic setup, competition is viewed as healthy, but in an authoritarian regime like Djibouti, it is seen as an existential threat.

This explains the hostile behaviour displayed by Djibouti towards Somaliland in the last six months, which Somaliland must address.

On the security front, Djibouti seeks to use Somalia and Somaliland as tools against Eritrea, with which it has an ongoing border dispute. Additionally, it aims to use both Somaliland and Somalia to suppress potential uprisings by the marginalised Afars in Djibouti.

Furthermore, Djibouti wants continued hostility between Somalis and Ethiopians, believing this will force Ethiopia to rely solely on Djibouti’s ports, consolidating its economic and security interests.

However, this strategy is flawed, as Ethiopia has already been diversifying its port options and developing new relationships with Kenya and Sudan.

Despite these hostile stances, Somaliland’s administration lacks a strategy to counter Djibouti’s hostile policies. Since the Kulmiye party came to power, Somaliland has become closer to Djibouti, with politicians prioritising personal relationships over strategic interests.

However, this personal relationship has not yielded tangible benefits for Somaliland nor changed Djibouti’s aim to force Somaliland into a union with Somalia, which Djibouti itself refused to join when it became independent in 1977.

To address the Djibouti challenge, Somaliland must adopt a new strategy that prioritizes strategic interests over personal relationships. Somaliland’s leadership must recognize that Djibouti is more foe than friend and take the following steps to curtail its aggression:

1 Acknowledge that Djibouti and Somaliland’s interests in the region are fundamentally different.

2 Develop alternative alliances with democratic forces in Djibouti.

3 Take strong public stands against Djibouti’s policies hostile to Somaliland.

4 Focus on strategic interests in foreign policy.

By adopting these recommendations, Somaliland can counter Djibouti’s undermining tactics and secure its rightful place in the region.

This requires a shift in Somaliland’s foreign policy from a focus on personal relationships to strategic interests. Only then can Somaliland ensure its economic and security interests are protected, and its sovereignty is respected.

By Badri Jimale