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Somaliland: Ten Years of Freedom

Somaliland Forum press release, 18 May 2001

Somalia—When the people of Somaliland returned to their homes in 1991, mostly from neighbouring Ethiopia, where they had fled en masse in 1988 from Barre of Somalia’s genocidal pogroms, they came back to a devastated land: their cities were in rubble and the country a wasteland riddled with more than 2,000,000 deliberately planted mines. A traveller reported back then about their capital city, Hargeisa:

Have you ever seen Pompeii? a UN official had said to me in Djibouti. That’s Hargeisa now. Only it wasn’t a volcano that destroyed the place—it was man.

Long Ago, in the 1980s, Hargeisa had more than 150,000 residents. A Mecca for traders, it was the second-largest city in Somalia, and the biggest in the northern region. That region ... declared independence in May [1991] under the name Republic of Somaliland. Hargeisa is its capital city. But it’s a capital with a difference: no electricity, no telephones, no offices and no running water. Little food, little medicine, little shelter. And not very many roofs. Mark Abley, Fighting for Survival, The Gazette (Montreal), December 14, 1991, p. e1.

Despite the great odds facing them from the devastation and the virtual destruction of their homes as well as all the infrastructures of their country by the Barre regime of Somalia, the people of Somaliland collectively decided to tally the results of their union with Somalia, which had lasted 30 years from the day when their newly independent state of Somaliland amalgamated with Somalia. They could not find a single positive development from that union: they had not received any development programs from Somalia for the twenty years between 1960 and 1980, that is even before the start of the popular revolt in Somaliland, although they had provided about 80% of the state revenues. Accordingly, whatever the future offered, they decided to reclaim their sovereignty and, took their destiny in their hands. Exactly, ten years ago, on May 18, they reinstated the Republic of Somaliland within its colonial frontiers.

From a Slow Progress to a Steady Progress

During those ten years, the people of Somaliland,without any significant help from the outside world, have quietly rebuilt their homeland, while the world has poured billions to sort out the problems of Somalia proper. The homes have been roofed; the schools have been rebuilt; even two new universities have sprung in a country which, under 30 years of Somalia rule, never had a university, and businesses have been restarted from the scratch.

Now Somaliland is the success story of the Horn of Africa that the world ignores. Its cities are booming; its airline companies link all the countries of the Horn of Africa; its telephone companies compete to provide cellular services to customers; its cities are so peaceful and stable that they put to shame the capital cities of many countries.

Paul Harris of the Scotsman’ wrote (The Scotsman June 21, 2000, Wednesday, P. 12):

In Hargeisa new buildings are springing up, many of them plush mansions being built by an emergent business elite capitalizing on a modest economic boom.

All cars sport Somaliland licence plates and many bear bumper stickers proudly proclaiming ‘I love Somaliland’.

But government officials are starting to worry that failure to get international recognition will stymie future development in the country. Without it Somaliland cannot establish international links with foreign airlines or postal services.

Worst of all, it cannot access development funds from the World Bank or International Monetary Fund.

Unique Democratic Institutions

Somaliland has also forged unique democratic institutions that African countries should well heed to copy; its bicameral parliament is a combination of both tradition and modernism; the senate consists of traditional elders, whereas the house of representatives consists of modern day representatives. The judiciary is independent and the press is free.

May 18 marks the 10th anniversary of Somaliland’s new independence from Somalia. During these 10 ten years, the people of Somaliland have patiently rebuilt their country and tried to heal from both the physical and mental destruction brought on them by the former Somalia government. During those ten years, the people of Somaliland had worked with all the neighbouring countries interested in maintaining friendly relationships with them, thus increasing the peace and the stability of the Horn of Africa. At the same time, during those ten years every attempt was made to thwart the independence and the freedom, and indeed the economic progress of the people of Somaliland who had to start their lives from ground zero in 1991.

We Are Somaliland, Not Somalia

Though this may sound strange, some of the most concerted efforts to derail Somaliland’s independence have come from the very world body that is supposed to safeguard the rights of the people of the world: the United Nations. The Secretariat of the United Nations and some of its agencies have worked hard to push Somaliland under the carpet in a quest to revive Somalia. For 10 years to this date, the Secretariat’s memos avoid to mention Somaliland by name, and try to project false and negative images about Somaliland by deliberately confusing it with Somalia.

The UN Secretary General’s recent report to the Security Council on the situation in Somalia illustrates this unjustifiable practice of lumping together the two distinct states of Somaliland and Somalia. This is all the more outrageous given the fact that the Secretariat’s files report under the names ’Kosovo’, ’East Timor,’ entities which have less historical existence, and less population than Somaliland.

UN officials often try to justify their trampling on the rights of Somaliland’s people for self-determination by invoking the OAU’s principle of the inviolability of colonial borders. However, Somaliland, just like Eritrea which separated recently from Ethiopia with the blessing of the UN, cannot serve as example for the application of this principle, since Somaliland had its own colonial frontiers inherited from Britain on June 1960, and was juridically a state on its own, before its merger with Somalia on July 1st, 1960.

The government of Italy has also tried to thwart Somaliland’s quest for international recognition by siding with efforts to resurrect Somalia, its former colony. More recently, Djibouti, the smallest state in the Horn of Africa, and the one that has actually benefited the most from Somaliland’s heroic reconstruction efforts, has been busy trying to destabilize Somaliland.

Appeal to the International Community

On this 10th anniversary of the rebirth of Somaliland, we extend friendly hands to all the nations of the world. We reiterate that we, as a people, have stood united in reconstructing our country and, in spreading the benefits of peace and economic growth in the Horn of Africa. As we have said many times before, we neither seek nor want revenge on Somalia. We wish Somalia well, and wish success to those engaged in pulling Somalia out of its chaos and lack of government. We have even expressed our willingness to help with the reconciliation of the Somalia factions. But we are not Somalia. We have a government, a parliament, a constitution, and a struggling but peaceful country. Today, on the 10th anniversary of the reinstatement of our independence, we again stand free, united, and fully committed to safeguarding our sovereignty and way of life.

Better Response Needed From the International Community

Somaliland deserves a better response and cooperation from the UN instead of the unfair and unjustified treatment that it has gotten so far. The machinations of some governments, and the undeclared war that some UN bureaucrats, particularly African ones, have exercised against Somaliland, must stop.

We say to the responsible leaders of the world: extend a hand of recognition to our patient, and hard-working people who are ready to further peace, goodwill and prosperity in their region and, indeed, throughout the world.

A prominent scholar has said: On a continent where success stories are rare, Somaliland’s modest progress deserves a better response than the international cold shoulder it has received so far. This is especially true because its brand of peacemaking is real, grounded in the cultural traditions of its people and not in the benevolent but ill-informed efforts of foreigners. (Gerard Prunier. Somaliland Goes it Alone. Current History, May 1998, P.225-28.)

While Somaliland has so far coped well with being outside of the major international organizations, it needs to be part of international institutions such as the international monetary systems, the International Postal Union, and other world organizations to continue the economic growth and attract international investors. Somaliland has earned its place in the community of nations at no cost to anyone. The world should not hold Somaliland hostage to the chaos in Somalia or the agenda of a particular country or the biases of some UN bureaucrats. The world should deal with Somaliland on its own merit.

Sincerely, The Somaliland Forum