In many ways, graduate school-level research is like playing with the Russian fabrige eggs, pulling off layers only to find more intricate layers of complication underneath. Being the sort of person who likes to talk specifics, let us show how. I have been researching and reading and collecting information about the Horn of Africa, in particular to examine the thorny question of “national identity” there. Unfortunately, despite my interest in focusing on the people there, I have been constantly barraged with a lot of much broader and wider (and, frankly, scarier) public policy implications of my work.
How so? I included earlier this week a post on the relationship between Somaliland, Yemen, and intrusive body scans at airports, and so I will not recap that analysis here–you can read it if you wish. Nonetheless, there are a few other angles that I would like to consider and briefly discuss, as I will be researching them more fully. In particular, I would like to examine the problem of Ethiopia, the role of China, and the role of Israel. These additional complications considerably up the ante about the delicate nature of the sort of research I wish to conduct, even if they are only tangential points to the main aim I have (and that more in the policy than in the history).
I already was aware that Ethiopia was among the biggest supporters of Somaliland, in part because Somaliland’s excellent port in Berbera offered Ethiopia a great outlet to the world, and because dividing up Somalia serves the interest of Ethopian hold over the Somali people in the Ogaden region. Nonetheless, it appears that Egypt and Sudan are involved also in seeking to control the Nile River, which requires a weak Ethiopia. An independent Somaliland (and Southern Sudan) that would presumably be allies of Ethopia means that Ethiopia would be a massive regional power with control over the Nile River with the possibility of waging proxy wars on behalf of their claims. In other to prevent that Egypt and the Arab League as a whole appear to desire a unified Somalia in order to threaten Ethiopia with a proxy war of their own.
If that were not enough, the fact that the Arab League supports a unified Somalia (despite the incompetence of Somalia’s leadership to actually rule over even the area that wishes to be a part of Somalia, from Puntland south) has led Israel to begin to take an interest in establishing economic and diplomatic ties with Somaliland. A prime location across from Yemen at the bottom of the Red Sea certainly is appealing for both Ethiopia and Israel as allies, especially as the Arab League doesn’t appear too interested in supporting the cause of Somaliland statehood. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Added to this is something I found out recently as well. As it happens, the de facto government of Puntland made an agreement with an Australian company so that they could conduct some exploratory drilling to exploit the gasoline deposits off the coast of Somalia. Unfortunately for the Australian company and Puntland, the gas deposits happened to be in Somaliland waters, and so the Australian company is out of luck. China, though, has taken an interest in these deposits as a way of helping to sate its own insatiable appetite for natural resources, and presumably China would have some sort of aid and diplomatic standing to help pay for exploration rights. The support of China would certainly be of aid for Somaliland–it never hurts to have a friend in the UN Security Council.
It appears as if there are riddles inside of enigmas in terms of what I’m looking to uncover here, and it leads to a lot of interesting possibilities both as a researcher and as a writer of editorials and opinion pieces. As to where the research leads, I’m not sure at this point–but there are a lot of angles to explore. It is becoming increasingly clear that a lot of very entrenched interests are opposed to an independent Somaliland, but that there is a lot of potential support that could be very useful as well. The area is definitely worth keeping a close eye on, despite its relative obscurity to the rest of the world.