‘Recognize Somaliland as an independent state’ urges Foreign Minister
Somaliland has recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of its declaration of independence. On May 18, 1991, Somaliland terminated its union with Somalia after a decade of struggle against oppression, exploitation and destruction by the Siad Barre regime. We found the country in a shambles, devastated not by a foreign enemy, but by the Somali army. Hargeisa, Somaliland’s capital, had been reduced to rubble, with most of its population living in refugee camps in Ethiopia.
A period of reconstruction and reorganisation began, accompanied by a sustained effort at reconciliation between the different groups of the community. After twenty years of hard work and sacrifice, we have achieved a peaceful state that proudly exhibits a functioning administration guided by democratic institutions which reflect the will of the people. This is a unique and precious achievement in the region.
The current government derives its mandate from free elections conducted in June 2010, the latest in a series of elections held since 1991. The previous administration, which had also been democratically elected, accepted the expression of the public will and handed over power peacefully. The current government is working hard to move the country forward along the path to economic and social development.
Our government is under the control of a bi-cameral parliament, which represents a wise combination of traditional and modern democratic elements. Our judicial system is being reinforced and streamlined, while we have a lively and critical media. In other words, Somaliland has become a well-organised and modernising state that compares favourably with many countries on the African continent.
It is with pride and gratitude that we look at the achievements we have secured by combining our efforts and by working relentlessly for our common goal. With little help from outside, we have managed to establish peace and stability, the impact of which is felt in the region as a whole. We contribute actively to the fight against extremism, terrorism and piracy. We are continuously engaged in the establishment of peaceful and constructive relations with all our neighbours, and stand ready to participate in positive regional collaborative efforts.
Somalia, which is still characterised by seemingly endless internal strife and deprivation, is a cause for concern to us. Based on ethnic and historical bonds, we feel deep empathy for its population that has been denied a peaceful life for decades, first by the Barre dictatorship and afterwards by ever quarrelling groups and individuals, and the absence of a government that could provide for at least the most basic needs.
Our goal is a stable and peaceful region. We believe strongly that peace and stability must be built from the bottom-up, taking into account the existing reality on the ground. A top-down approach, especially one imposed from outside Somalia, will remain ineffective because it cannot accurately reflect the experiences and nuances critical to any successful agreement. We are ready to share with our Somali brothers, on a basis of equality, our expertise about how peace, stability and democracy can be built from the bottom up, as happened in Somaliland. However, it must be understood that our independence is not negotiable. We will never forget what happened when we gave it up in 1960 by joining through a voluntary union with Somalia. What was perceived initially as the fulfilment of the dream of a Greater Somalia turned out to be unachievable and a long-lasting nightmare for the region.
Somalilanders do not intend to repeat such a disastrous experience. We have made great sacrifices to regain our independence and we stand ready to defend it. This obviously includes our national borders. Like many other countries in Africa, we live within borders that were designed during the colonial era. We intend to maintain these. Claims on our territory, however motivated, are not acceptable and will not be tolerated. This is in conformity with the African Union’s Constitutive Act, one of whose principles is “respect of borders existing on achievement of independence”.
So far, for reasons that we find difficult to understand, the international community has not extended political recognition to Somaliland as an independent sovereign state. We are, however, confident that this will happen. Somaliland is here to stay as a stabilizing factor in the region as well as a facilitator of economic growth.
In the long run, non-recognition is costly for us in many respects. It makes life difficult for ordinary citizens, as well as business people and it limits our access to foreign aid and foreign direct investment. Somaliland requires both in order to achieve greater prosperity for its people, which in turn enhances peace and stability. That is why we ultimately wish to secure international recognition. The Somaliland people have as much right to prosperity as any other and this prosperity will only add to regional stability.
Fortunately, non-recognition has not prevented the steady improvement of relations with our neighbours and other international partners. We appreciate the efforts that many friendly governments have made to overcome this obstacle in normalising their relationships with Somaliland as far as possible under the present circumstances. We are particularly grateful for the humanitarian aid and development assistance our people have received and welcome the substantial increase of support to institution-building and economic development. In this context I also pay tribute to the work of the UN and its specialized agencies in helping Somaliland.
To conclude, the government of Somaliland, on behalf of its people, wishes to thank the international community for the support which it has provided, reiterates its wish for increased engagement and assistance to further strengthen its many successes over the past 20 years, and urges it to recognize Somaliland as an independent state. The legal case for recognition is sound; it is simply a matter of political will. The government also appeals to the international community, in particular the United Nations, not to undertake, support or condone any act that has the potential to lead to serious conflict in the future. This applies first and foremost to institutionalised claims over the territory of Somaliland. It would be tragic if, with the best of intentions, a situation were created, which could undermine peace and stability in the region instead of reinforcing it.
We urge the international community to see beyond the limitations of its current approach and re-double its engagement with Somaliland. The region as a whole will be the better for it.
Mohamed A Omar is Foreign Minister for The Republic of Somaliland
Hargeisa, June 2011