May 23, 2011

Somaliland: Kenya Opens the Door to Hargeisa

A Kenyan recognition of Somaliland might come within the near future according to the Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs who spoke on the topic during the recent celebration of Somaliland’s 20th Anniversary. 

Below is an article published by Somaliland Press:

The Kenyan Government on Friday [May 20, 2011] expressed its readiness to extend diplomatic recognition to the Republic of Somaliland in the near future. Kenyan Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Richard Onyonka said during an event held in Nairobi to commemorate Somaliland’s 20th anniversary of Independence that his country will support Somaliland as an independent state. The Minister made it clear that his government will encourage the African Union and Igad to finally accept Somaliland as a sovereign state, which has been described recently as one of few democracies in an otherwise the turbulent region.

Somaliland expatriates who attended the event with Mr. Onyonka welcomed the Minister’s remarks and said Somaliland is a deserving country and should have its voice on the international stage. “We have managed to remain stable in a very volatile region and this should push the global community to recognize our sovereignty from the bigger Somalia,” Mohamed Saleh told Tehran based PressTv.

Sources in Nairobi said that last year the Kenyan government was deeply divided over the issue with President Kibaki strongly opposed to Somaliland recognition while his Prime Minister Raila Odinga was a strong advocate for Somaliland. He is said to be one of the closest friends of Somaliland’s former leader Mohamed Ibrahim Haji Egal. Mr. Odinga was joined by the Deputy Speaker of the Kenyan National Assembly Farah Maalim, who is himself an ethnic Somali from the North-eastern regions of Kenya. Mr. Maalim visited Hargeisa several times including during the inauguration of President Ahmed Silanyo in July 2010 after June elections.

The Deputy Speaker also submitted a report detailing their findings and recommendations on Somaliland to the Kenyan Speaker of the National Assembly Kenneth Marende. Mr. Marende approved their findings however according to Kenya’s former MP Peter Aringo the report is before Parliament awaiting debate and approval.

 A few months ago more than a dozen Kenyan members of Parliament visited Hargeisa to study the political situation in Somaliland and to learn more about its indigenous home-grown conflict resolution strategies. It is believed the visit looked at a whole raft of issues including the maritime piracy development, Somalia’s weak Transitional Federal Government’s failure to resolve its own issues and the increased engagement of the international community with Somaliland may have pushed Kenya to seek ties with Hargeisa.

Kenyans who have called for their government to recognise Hargeisa argue Somaliland would help stabilize the region and stop Somalia’s expansionism dreams into Kenya and Ethiopia’s eastern regions with Somali ethnic populations. They have also advised their government to take other necessary measures to counter continued instability in Mogadishu including the formation of the so called buffer zone, Azania inside Somalia.

Kenya is a key regional player and has paid important roles in the formation of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) which often operates from Nairobi rather than Mogadishu. Sources in Nairobi say the Kenyan Government is becoming increasingly worried about al Shabaab, maritime piracy off the coast of Somalia and TFG’s lack of resolve and ability to deal with internal disputes. If Kenya does announce its formal recognition of Somaliland other regional powers are expected to follow including Ethiopia, the base of the African Union.

Somaliland’s orderly and jubilant twentieth anniversary celebrations on 18th May 2011 have drawn favourable reactions from around the world. European and North American policy makers have begun to reassess their own individual stance in the light of continued regional conflict and the changes rippling out from the Maghreb, the Middle East and Sudan. Whilst there is a degree of reticence to come out publicly at present there has been a dramatic increase in diplomatic and commercial interest in Somaliland that seasoned commentators see as a prelude to full recognition. Sources close to the British Government indicate that should various key African nations declare their willingness to fully recognise Somaliland it would be well disposed to follow suit.

Somaliland is equally attracting leading international companies with the likes of Coca Cola and Western Union already establishing franchises. International analysts say this sort of activities will promote investment interest and business confidence in the region. The Somaliland government also says a French bank in the neighbouring Djibouti will soon open an office in Hargeisa. Djibouti Air, the main international carrier for the tiny Red Sea nation, has already begun twice weekly services from Dubai to the Somaliland port city of Berbera.

This week Djibouti also sent a large delegation led by the former Djibouti Defense Minister Ougoureh Kifle Ahmed to take part in the independence day celebrations. Mr Ahmed told AFP that there is a possibility that Djibouti will recognize Somaliland. “The door is open to all possibilities for the modification of former boundaries,” he told AFP.

Like Kenya, Somaliland is a former British protectorate that gained independence June 1960. It later unified with the Trust Territory of Somalia (the former Italian Somaliland) forming what became known as the Somali Republic. However, the union collapsed in 1991 following two decades of internationally-hidden civil war that left more than 50,000 Somalilanders killed. In May 1991, Somaliland declared the restoration of its sovereignty however it has not yet managed to regain international recognition. Somaliland has already forged a range of commercial relationships and has been afforded observer status by the Commonwealth.