Somaliland: Special Relationship with Britain
Since the rebirth of Somaliland in 1991, Britain has given Somaliland the largest aid provided by a donor country. Nearly half of the total aid currently received by Somaliland and delivered through international development organizations originates from Britain. Moreover, the only bilateral aid that the State of Somaliland ever received from the world came from Britain. And the British government provided the largest fund to Somaliland Parliamentary elections held in 2005. In the diplomatic front, the record is equally impressive.
The only government Minster from the west who so far paid a state visit to Somaliland had come from Britain. The former British Minster for Africa, Mr. Chris Mullin visited Somaliland and held talks with the government. A group of British Members of Parliament also visited Somaliland in 2003. And the British Ambassador in Ethiopia is on regular visit to Hargeisa and keeps the contacts between the two counties updated.
In Britain, there is a growing number of British Members of Parliament, currently at 30, who collectively lobby for Somalilands search for more development aid and political support in British government. In a less visibly way, Britain also pushes for Somaliland case in the European Union and in other international forums. The British warning of Somalias Transitional Federal Government not intervene Somaliland is an indicative of these efforts.
One might assume that this special relationship between the two countries is a result of planned diplomatic efforts by Somaliland authorities, in pursuit of defined objectives or mutual agreement between the two sides. Others claim that it is related to past historical ties. I believe neither explanation can account for the current aid and diplomatic support that Britain provides Somaliland.
I argue that the British interest in Somaliland derives mainly from domestic pressures in United Kingdom, especially from the activities of the Somaliland lobby groups in Britain including Ministers, British Members of Parliament, Somaliland communities and members of international and academic bodies. The apparent lack of drive on the part of the Somaliland government in this process is regrettably, and although it can be partly explained by its limited diplomatic capacity, there is a deeper problem that lies with its inability to reflect on the changing dynamics of the international politics.
The governments overall strategy in this relationship should aim at moving Somaliland away from the current isolation by emphasising on its unique selling points. The world has now realised that pushing for a reconfiguration of the Republic of Somalia does not provide the solution, and it will soon learn that the alternative approach by the Islamists will not be a panacea either. The problem is not that solutions are difficult to find, but that the world has been rewarding bad behaviour for too long while ignoring positive work. Reasoning from this perspective and engaging in international and regional forums will certainly improve Somaliland diplomatic position and performance in international stands.
The government must initiate a framework for a bilateral assistance arrangement with Britain. If succeeded in this, it will certainly constitute Somalilands biggest move in its international relations so far. Flowing from this, it can also seek to use British influence for strengthening other relations.
Somaliland should also seek to be considered as a strategic partner in the war against terrorism. This will bring Somaliland closer to the international community and will help share information and technology. The British unwavering support for Somaliland has already inflamed some terrorist groups in the region, and as a consequence, Somaliland has been a victim of terrorism, following attacks on foreign aid workers including British citizens.
The British government can also put more pressure on the European Union to be more sympathetic in their aid policy towards Somaliland. Somaliland government needs to capitalize on this special relationship with Britain, the likes of which it has with no other European state. In the meantime, it has no other option left but to offer a robust defence of its hard-won achievements and to promote its relations with the international community.