Somaliland: UN Headquarters Follows Security to Hargeisa
Twenty years after declaring independence and steadily improving security and stability, the United Nations looks set to move many of its agencies from Nairobi in a move warmly welcomed by the newly election Somaliland President and his cabinet.
With South Sudan's referendum drawing international attention to the issue of secession in Africa, the quest for international recognition by Somaliland, the northern part of Somalia which declared independence in 1991, is back in the news. Since then, Somaliland has established a functioning state and held several elections—the latest, a presidential poll in mid-2010, saw Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo, once a minister in Somalia's government, defeat the incumbent.
Yet the country remains unrecognized, with some leading African Union members, Somalia's transitional government and terrorist groups in Somalia alike opposed to its breakaway ambitions. The new administration has had to deal with territorial tensions in its east and the presence of enemies of Ethiopia's rule over ethnic Somali regions. As the vote in South Sudan approached, Baobab spoke with Mr Silanyo and Somaliland's foreign minister, Mohamed Abdullahi Omar.
Baobab: Why should the world care about Somaliland and its quest for recognition?
Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo: Somaliland is in a part of the world where there is so much instability, with international piracy and international terrorism playing a role. The kind of things going on in our part of the world affect the whole world. It is important that Somaliland and the international community work together against these sorts of activities. As far as security is concerned, we have done more than anyone else to fight against insecurity in our region. That's not an easy job, and that's why we need the co-operation of the international community. We are co-operating with other countries, like Ethiopia, America and Britain, who are interested in security in the region.
Baobab: What are the implications of the referendum in South Sudan for Somaliland's quest for recognition?
AS: If the international community accepts South Sudan's independence, that opens the door for us as well. It would mean that the principle that African borders should remain where they were at the time of independence would change. It means that if Southern Sudan can go their way, that should open the door for Somaliland's independence as well and that the international position that Somaliland not be recognized separate from Somalia has changed.
Baobab: How confident are you that a vote for change in South Sudan will see a higher priority be given to Somaliland's quest?
AS: We are convinced it will and we are working very hard towards that.
Baobab: Tensions exist in Somaliland's eastern regions, where clan authorities there do not recognize Somaliland's authority and Puntland [a region of Somalia which seeks autonomy under a federal system] lays claim to territory. Such tensions affected the conduct of the presidential election there. How are you addressing these?
AS: We have opened a dialogue with elders and traditional leaders there. We have already sent a very high-level delegation there, and many of those leaders have responded positively. At the same time, we have begun development programmes there, in water supplies and other needs. But there is no doubt about it: we are strengthening our forces there. The borders are not something that can be negotiated, that is a matter of state security. But there is nothing to stop us holding talks with the elders and we are optimistic about these.
Mohammed Abdullahi Omar: We are willing to work with Puntland on issues that affect all of us—piracy, terrorism, environmental issues. We are working with Puntland and other countries—Somalia, Uganda, Kenya and donor countries—to reduce the risk of piracy for the region. There is an international process for this, and we want to see these co-operations spreading to increase stability in the Horn of Africa.
Baobab: How is your relationship with the transitional federal government in Somalia?
MO: Our position has always been clear: we'd like the TFG and the local population to put their differences aside and work together to achieve peace and freedom in their country. That is in their interest; it is also in our interests, and in those of the region and the international community. We also support the African Union and international efforts to bring peace and government institutions back into Somalia, but we think it is for the Somalis to resolve, we don't think external influence or intervention will bring peace to Somalia. We are calling on our brothers in Somalia to sit down and make an arrangement to bring peace to Somalia.
Baobab: Does your administration have any formal contact with the TFG?
Baobab: What are Somaliland's relations with the United Nations?
MO: Previously there was a limited UN engagement with Somaliland, coming via the UN offices for Somalia, based in Nairobi. But since the election we have been informed that there are plans to open a UN office in Somaliland, and that other UN offices may move from Nairobi to Hargeisa [Somaliland's capital]. We welcome that change in attitude from the UN and the opportunities it brings. The UN has evaluated the security level in Somaliland since the election, and we are now at the level which permits top officials to come to Somaliland. We welcome that very much.
Baobab: Since the election, I've been coming across articles talking about Somaliland's tourism potential. Is the government doing anything to promote this?
MO: We have a dedicated tourism ministry, and indeed historical sites, and the Red Sea. But these all require international and local investment and development. With increased business stability, we hope we will get that investment.
AS: I have no doubt that Somaliland's stability will lead to terrorist groups trying to target Somaliland. But at the same time we are strengthening the groups that deal with terrorism, such as our police and security forces. We are giving them very high priority and more resources. But there is no doubt that we will be a target for terrorists.