While Somalia has been in the headlines for a very long time, the former British protectorate to the north has been quietly building a functioning state, although one that has not been recognised as such.
Their Foreign minister, Mohamed Yonis spoke to New Europe about this little known land and what formal recognition could mean for the peaceful part of the Horn of Africa.
Yonis has a background with the UN in the Middle East peace process and in Darfur and experience with the African Development Bank.
Both Somalia and Somaliland became independent in 1960 and decided to combine in a Somali Republic, but this was never ratified and Somalia became a dictatorship after a 1969 coup by Said Barre Mohamed Said Barre. He attacked Somaliland, killing between 50,000 and 100,000 people with a further 500,000 fleeing abroad.
In 1991, Somaliland pushed back and restored their independence. “Of course, we are not recognized yet, but we are a de facto independent state, and we are behaving like any other states in the world,” says Yonis, “but we have decided to go the practical way and talk to our neighbors in Somalia to see if we could resolve our issues through dialogue.”
Yonis continues, “We have rule of law, and we have proper human rights procedures in the country, we have freedom of expression, and media, and I think Somaliland has proven to the rest of the world that it is a nation that needs to be recognised, that needs to be supported.”
However, the comparative peace and stability has not helped as they wish. “Most of the attention is wherever there is a war. If you are doing very well as a peaceful nation, no one is really interested in you,” says the Foreign minister.
There certainly has been war. Not only between warlords, a US intervention that is documented in the film Black Hawk Down and more recently the Islamic extremist Al Shabbab, who have been spreading terror in large parts of Somalia, now on the defensive after an international effort to restore stability to Somalia.
Yonis is supportive, “We are very happy that the world is supporting Somalia’s stability. And we do believe as Somaliland that we could play a role.” He adds, “They are our brothers, we have the same culture, the same language.”
Somalia has had more than attention, “it is frustrating when you see billions and billions of dollars going into a war zone, where there is chaos and anarchy, and we are doing well and we aren’t getting anything. But of course we’d like to tell the rest of the world, do whatever you can do to support Somalia but please encourage those who are helping themselves.”
Yonis continues, “I must say that we are on the forefront of institutions of security; Somaliland is fighting terrorism, fighting piracy, and we have actually managed to remove pirates from our own waters, we have managed to create a purple zone for both Ethiopia and Djibouti and we are interacting with the international community when it comes to fighting terrorism, and I think we have done well.”
Noting that half the budget is spent on security and counter-terrorism, Yonis says, “We are spending a lot of our money on security to try to ensure that there are no terrorists within our reach within our country or within other neighboring countries.”
He adds, “I think it’s important for the world to realize that we are investing that much, not only on securing Somaliland, but we are securing our neighbors and I think we are also securing the streets of Europe.”
Yonis also points out that they have had five elections, all being judged as free and fair, and there is another presidential and parliamentary election this year, with EU support.
But what Yonis wants, is international recognition, achieved through dialogue. “We hope we will have a way forward, and I think we want to handle that thing in a very peaceful manner, and have that dialogue rather than having a fight.”
Recognition isn’t for pride or vanity. Yonis says the lack of recognition is causing serious problems, “I think it is actually affecting us to have access to the development institutions like the World Bank, or the African Development Bank, or the European Investment Bank, we cannot access loans and grants and money from those institutions, we cannot also have proper financial institutions, we lack proper banks and proper insurance, and I think it hinders the development of the country.”
There have been successes and there are 22 UN agencies in Somaliland and the EU is also represented. There is also an appreciation for Somaliland’s support in the region.
“I think many of them actually realized and appreciated the role Somaliland is playing when it comes to terrorism, piracy, illegal fishing, human trafficking, and the rest,” he says.
“Somaliland, in my view, is a key part of the international community. And I think recognition would have given us that opportunity to be there at the forums where people discuss these issues,” he concludes.