Puntland: Not Seeking Statehood

Ali Hindi

Puntland: Not Seeking Statehood

Ali Hindi

Translated from Arabic by the Center for Arab Progress

Executive Summary

Puntland or the “land of punt” is a region in the north east of Somalia, bordered to the west by Somaliland, to the north is the Gulf of Aden, to the southeast the Indian Ocean, southeast is Ethiopia, and Galmudug of Somalia from the south. The area of Puntland is estimated at 212,000 square kilometres, where it constitutes one third of Somalia. According to inexact statistics, its population is estimated at 4 million. It is distributed over five provinces: Sool, Nugal, Sanaag, Mudug, and Eastern Region. Garowe is their administrative capital.

The majority of the Puntland population is comprised of the Dhulbahante and Warsangali clans who are part of the Harti clan, which itself belongs to the largest clan in Somalia of the Daroud. Subsequently, they all belong to the “mother” tribe of the Majarteen. In accordance to the factors before the civil war, the Dhulbahante and Warsangali clans chose to be independent from the Daroud tribe. This is where the Puntland identity comes from and their establishment of an independent authority over the territories. Moreover, like most Somalis, they follow the Sunni Islam from the Shafii School, which is nonetheless the dominant sect in the Horn of Africa.  They speak the Somali language together with Arabic and English.


Puntland’s Political Power

Since its inception in 1992, Puntland’s political structure has witnessed many changes as there was civil war and after the end of the Siad Barre’s rule. At the time, Abdulllahi Yousef Ahmed led the Somali Salvation Front against the radical Islamists movement the “Al-Itihaad Al Islamiya” that had taken over the portal city of Bosaso. Later in 1998, Abdullahi Yousef Ahmed was elected by the tribal senate as the president of Puntland. However, he was deposed by Jama Ali Jama two years later in 2000. This was a consequence of the government of Abdulqasem Salad supporting Jama Ali Jama. It came as a response to Abdullahi Yousef Ahmed refusing to recognize the Arta conference, which brought Salad to power.

Nevertheless, Abdullahi Yousef Ahmed returned back to power in 2001, following an agreement with Sheikh Sharif in Mogadishu. Then in 2005, Mohamed Musa Hersi from the Horcad Party came to power. During his reign, the pirate crisis appeared, putting the spotlight on Puntland.

In 2009, Abdirahman Farole the founder of the Horseed Party was appointed but by 2012 his relations with Mogadishu were problematic. His successor was Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gaas, who in return tried to get closer to Mogadishu, aiming to gain more power with his conflict with Somaliland. Currently, the president Said Abdullahi Dani, who has an academic background, sought out to implement policies that balance the conflict between the federal government and Somaliland.

Reasons of Intersections with Mogadishu

Historically, the marginalization of the Warsangali and Dhulbahante clans (who are branches of the Harti clan and part of the larger tribe of the Daroud) dates back to the reign of the former president Barre.  He was the one who instituted the suppression of the Daroud tribe using all of the state’s capabilities, in an attempt to keep the Harti ostracised, isolated from the Majarteen tribe, and outside of Mogadishu’s authority.  As a result, the rift widened then formulated an independent authority in Puntland comprised of the elites of the Harti tribe. Even though, since the beginning the Puntland politicians continuously asserted that they will be part of Somalia’s jurisdiction, and that they will use their authority for unifying Somalia. This is in contrast to their counterparts and separatists in the north in Somaliland, who are seeking complete independence.

Nonetheless, the openness of the Puntland politicians in following the Somali state project did not persuade Mogadishu government to be lenient towards them. This is due to their fears that the Puntland areas has a large oil reserve (according to published estimates), which would tempt them to abandon any unity plans. Irrespective of the reasons, the result was a decrease in the chances of convergence in order to benefit from the resources of this region. Therefore, it is stipulated that the tension and instability between the region and the central government remained a decisive factor in the non-exploitation of natural resources including oil, which could benefit development and stability.

Significantly, the establishment of Puntland at the time was to create a system separate from Somalia to manage the regions belonging to the main tribe until creating a fair and united tribal constituents. The Somali researcher Adam Hussein observes that Puntland opened the possibility for the Somali coastal societies to have a role. Given that their role was diminished by the elites of the pastoral community taking power.

Puntland was a refuge for many of the people fleeing the ravages of the civil war raging across Somalia. The tensions with Mogadishu did not contribute to an agreement on how best to repatriate or resettle refugees in different parts of Somalia. This was until the March 11th agreement was signed in 2013 with the federal government, which gave hope that the outstanding issues between the parties, including the fight against extremism, will be settled. The terms of the agreement reads as follows:

  • Exchange of intelligence and rehabilitation of security personnel to fight terrorism, as well as work towards the establishment of a unified army composed of all the people of the provinces.
  • Cooperation in the economic field, which enhances the chances of both parties to benefit from international partnerships, in addition to the unification of customs tariffs
  • Recognition by the federal government of the regulations and laws applicable in Puntland, including acceptance of the laws governing elections and the conduct of elections
  • Return and repatriation of the forcibly displaced persons

At the same time, there are disputes over fundamental issues even though these agreements are in place. The following are the most important issues yet to be resolved:

  • Somalia lacking the desire for Puntland to have a real participation in constitutional positions, especially for the posts of presidency and prime minister.
  • The way in which foreign aid is distributed to the Somali people.
  • Lack of mechanisms enabling Puntland to participate in crucial decision-making regarding constitutional amendments and elections.
  • The need to recognize the federal government and not to undermine it.
  • The commitment of Puntland to the powers granted to the region and to consult the federal government when drafting contracts for exploration for the Gold and Oil companies.

Border Conflicts with Somaliland

2002 marked the start of border conflicts with Somaliland over regions of Sanaag, Sool and Ayn. It resulted in both parties entering an armed conflict in 2008. This was after the Dhulbahante (one of the branches of the Harti clan) accused the Somaliland forces of looting their land, in accordance to the old colonial division. It is worth mentioning that these areas belonged to the British colonial zones, while the Puntland who belong to the Italian colonization argue for the historical right of the Harti clan over these same lands. These areas are located over the mountain ranges that extend over the borders of Somaliland and ending on the coast overlooking the Gulf of Aden. The strategic location of the region is one of the prime causes of the conflict. Additionally, there are many reports of the availability of large quantities of gold.

Additionally, the former president Mohamed Wali Gaas allowed Colonel Saed Ari to use the border areas, including the disputed ones, as bases for their war against Somaliland forces. Colonel Saed Ari is an army officer leading a resistance against Musa Bihi’s government (in Somaliland) since he accuses them of targeting the Garhajis clan (from Somaliland). Despite the fact that Colonel Ari’s forces are operating inside of Somaliland, yet, at the same time there are active elements within the Puntland’s territories. Moreover, it is certain that this matter would create hostility during the negotiations between the federal government and Somaliland.

Al-Shabab, ISIS and Exchange sites in Puntland

Some areas in the Puntland became harbour sites for some of the extremist Salafi Jihadi groups like Al-Shabab. Given that they were using the mountain ranges of the Galgal and Sanaag area as refuge from the regional forces. This lasted until the end of 2014 when units from the Puntland forces were able to expel most of the members. However, recent audio recordings and pictures were released by the Ethiopian and Somalia media outlets that reveal ISIS operatives are still active. It showed them carrying out military exercises in the mountain ranges in the Puntland area, as well as threats against Ethiopia.

Furthermore, it is feared that ISIS has succeeded in attracting youth elements that were active in the piracy operations, who have not been integrated into the security services or rehabilitation. In light of the lack of security in the Somali coasts, the fears of piracy operations returning with greater force should not be overlooked.


Puntland politicians are aware of the diminishing chances of getting an independent administration from Mogadishu. Especially as the efforts of President Abdulla Fermajo for rehabilitating the Somali state are receiving regional and international recognition. This has also helped with signing a peace treaty and ending the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. It has made Somalia immune from the polarizations and regional tensions that have increased its conflicts, hostility and civil wars.

However, the conflicts in the Arab Gulf has brought Puntland back under the spotlight. Particularly when they signed an investment contract with the international company of Dubai Ports in 2017 to manage and develop the Bosasso ports for 30 years.  Consequently, the cycle of uncertainty and conflict with the government of Mogadishu returned given their developed relations with Qatar and Turkey, who in return are adversaries of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Therefore, the only regulator of the relationship between Mogadishu and Puntland is governed by the single dossier of common security interests and the agreements regulating them.

In any case, the internal reforms and the zeroing of the problems in the neighbouring countries has been started by Dr. Abi Ahmed in Ethiopia. It is projected to be an influential factor in the Horn of Africa and Somalia in particular. Moreover, it will have an impact on the normalization of relations and the imposition of the language of dialogue instead of wars.

Addis Ababa also has achieved substantive understandings with the Ogaden movement (Somali-Ethiopian nationalists) who in the aftermath announced renouncing armed action and entering into peaceful political negotiations. This has created relief for Mogadishu and the rest of the autonomous regions. What happened in the past two decades is the neutralization of Addis Ababa and Asmara from intervening in Somali internal conflicts. Therefore, it has opened the way for a fruitful and a constructive dialogue between the central government and areas beyond Somaliland, Puntland and Juba Land.

Translated from Arabic

بونت لاند الصومالية :  لا تسعى لإنشاء  دولة



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