Taiwanese-Somaliland deal bad for Africa
Bizarrely, Taiwan has established diplomatic relations with Somaliland - a semi-desert territory on the coast of the Gulf of Aden. Ironically, Somaliland itself isn’t recognised by any nation in Africa.
Taiwan was previously abandoned by almost all African countries, besides the Kingdom of Eswatini.
Somaliland emerged from Somalia’s civil war that ended Jaalle Mohamed Siad Barre’s dictatorship in 1991.
More importantly, Taipei’s provocative manoeuvre is bound to incense Somalia, the AU and China.
For the leadership in Hargeisa, this unwise move will alienate African countries needed for their quest for statehood.
Equally, Taiwan’s move is tantamount to creating animosity with Somalia and the AU countries that it seeks support from in order to participate in important international bodies such as the World Health Organization.
The Taipei-Hargeisa alliance comes amid the backdrop of escalating diplomatic tensions in cross-strait relations as well as between China and the US.
This diplomatic manoeuvre by unrecognised actors on the continent poses enormous challenges.
First, it brings insecurity to the volatile Horn of Africa. For different reasons, many actors converge on this disputed territory of Somaliland. The Port of Berbera remains a strategic point of entry for the Middle East, comprising Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the UAE and Qatar.
Second, the former colonial powers in Europe, especially Britain, France and Italy, perceive Somaliland and the rest of the region as a major source of migrants pouring into Europe.
Third, the US, on the other hand, sees Somaliland through the prism of its war on terror. As Washington pivots to Asia with a focus on slowing the rise of China, it welcomes Taiwan’s adventures in Somaliland.
The Taiwanese move in Africa worsens the island’s relations with mainland China. It takes place at a time when Beijing is dealing with endless disputes over borders and islands in the South China Sea.
Although Taiwan and Somaliland’s sovereignties are not recognised by Washington, it surprisingly issued a congratulatory note on the newly established relations.
As expected, Beijing responded by stating: “Such activities remain illegal and will never be recognised by the People’s Republic of China. There is one China in the world. Taiwan is part of China and the government of the PRC is the sole legal government representing the whole of China.”
The implications for Taiwanese involvement in Somaliland are dire for Africa. Somaliland will become a hot spot for the emerging New Cold War between the US and China.
The Gulf of Aden will attract more foreign forces, complicating political dynamics in the Horn of Africa. As it stands, Ethiopia, the main anchor for peace and security in the region, remains unstable.
As Somalia stabilises, it will heighten its quest for the unification of territories it considers its own. Therefore, Taipei and Hargeisa ought to be careful in their premature diplomatic relations. They both have more to lose in playing global giants off in their quest for recognition.
* Monyae is the director for the Centre for Africa - China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.