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McCaul, Smith Lead Bipartisan Letter on Increased Engagement with Somaliland

Press Release 03.14.22

Media Contact 202-225-5021

Washington, D.C. – House Foreign Affairs Committee Lead Republican Michael McCaul (R-TX), Africa, Global Health, and Global Human Rights Subcommittee Lead Republican Chris Smith (R-NJ), and other bipartisan House members sent a letter to Secretary Blinken calling for increased engagement with Somaliland. 

The letter was signed by:

Lead Republican Michael McCaul (R-TX), Rep. Chris (R-NJ), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), (D-NJ), Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI), Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA), Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), Rep. Young Kim (R-CA), and Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH)

“We write to urge the Biden Administration to consider increasing and deepening engagement with Somaliland on issues of mutual diplomatic, economic, and security interests,” the lawmakers wrote. “Somaliland’s geo-strategic location on the Gulf of Aden, consistent support for democracy, cooperation on countering terrorism, piracy, and other security threats in the region, relations with Taiwan, and growing economic potential warrants that the United States explore additional opportunities to partner with Somaliland.”

The full text of the letter can be found here and below. 

Dear Secretary Blinken

We write to urge the Biden Administration to consider increasing and deepening engagement with Somaliland on issues of mutual diplomatic, economic, and security interests. Somaliland’s geo-strategic location on the Gulf of Aden, consistent support for democracy, cooperation on countering terrorism, piracy, and other security threats in the region, relations with Taiwan, and growing economic potential warrants that the United States explore additional opportunities to partner with Somaliland.

Recent events in the Horn of Africa have upended feeble stability in the region and further jeopardized prospects for a peaceful resolution to multiple regional and domestic issues. With civil war embroiling Ethiopia, with Eritrean involvement; return to military rule in Sudan; delayed elections and political infighting fueling increasing instability in Somalia, amidst unabated terrorist activity by Al-Shabaab; and the worst drought the region has seen in over forty years, the U.S. must rethink our current strategy of engagement to address these immense challenges and the threats posed to U.S. national security interests.

Somaliland has functioned autonomously for three decades—it maintains its own security, its own financial system, and its own trade relations. Several countries in the region, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya, maintain diplomatic relations and trade with Somaliland, even though they don’t formally recognize its independence. Some appear to have increased their engagement in the past year: Ethiopia, for example, recently upgraded its diplomatic representation by promoting its representative in Hargeisa to the rank of ambassador, and Kenya opened a Liaison Office in Somaliland last year. The United Kingdom, European Union, United Arab Emirates and Turkey also have representation in Hargeisa.

Strategic engagement with Somaliland would be a critical counterweight to China’s increasing investment in the Horn of Africa. Djibouti, which has long served as the U.S.’s staging ground for U.S. military operations in the region, has become vulnerable since China operationalized their own naval base just eight miles from Camp Lemonnier in 2017. One year later, two U.S. pilots suffered injuries from Chinese-deployed lasers, underscoring the significant threat presented to U.S. operations and regional access going forward. With Djibouti’s debt to China reportedly increasing to more than 70 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), China has ample leverage to gain a further foothold in the country and could conceivably pressure Djibouti for other political and strategic advantages that further undermine U.S. military operations. It is critical that the U.S. government pursues other strategic opportunities, like access to Berbera’s renovated airport and port, to safeguard our economic and security objectives in the Horn of Africa against further Chinese investment in Djibouti. Somaliland presents a democratic alternative, which has consistently resisted China’s encroachment and could ensure a continued U.S. presence on the Gulf of Aden.

Somaliland also established bilateral relations with Taiwan in September 2020 and exchanged representation shortly after. Somaliland and Taiwan have maintained close engagement, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan provided Somaliland with donated COVID-19 vaccines. The U.S. should take steps to support a deepening relationship between the Somaliland and Taiwan, as required by the Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act of 2019, (P.L. 116–135), which calls on the U.S. government to consider additional engagement with nations that have strengthened, enhanced, or upgraded relations with Taiwan. The federal government of Somalia, meanwhile, does not maintain relations with Taiwan.

This Administration has stated that strengthening democracy and elevating democratic partners is a top global priority. Somaliland has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to hold peaceful, credible, and competitive elections and has shown a commitment to democracy and representative government for decades. USAID has partnered with the International Republican Institute and other civil society partners to support election preparations, increased transparency and voter education and deploy election observers, in fact Somaliland’s 2021 elections were the first in the world to be secured by biometric iris scans. Hargeisa has made important progress to advance democracy and effective governance and the Administration should seek to consolidate and reward this, particularly amidst further democratic backsliding elsewhere in the region.

With these political, economic, and security imperatives in mind, we urge the Administration to increase diplomatic engagement with Somaliland officials, senior leadership travel, and consider a permanent presence in Hargeisa. Increased partnership with Somaliland should be a priority and will mutually benefit U.S. and Somaliland interests. We thank you for your attention to this important matter.

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