Somaliland Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohamed Yonis: An African success story

Guest Commentary

The Horn of Africa — a region comprising Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Yemen — has proved to be one of the world’s most vexing trouble spots for the last 50 years. Cold War rivalries, civil war and tribal conflict have produced staggering humanitarian suffering and a dangerous breeding ground for terror.

While the world’s attention has focused largely on Somalia as the source for much of this instability, there is a good news story in the Horn of Africa that goes largely unnoticed: Somaliland.  

In June 1960, Somaliland gained its independence from Great Britain and was recognized as a sovereign state by 35 nations, including all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. Five days later, the government of Somaliland chose to unite with Somalia to create a “Greater Somalia, uniting all the people of ethnic Somali origin.

The union was an unqualified failure. The central government in Mogadishu brutally repressed the people of Somaliland, killing 50,000 of its citizens, displacing another 500,000, bombing its cities and laying over 1 million land mines on its territory. In 1991, the people of Somaliland convened a Grand Conference, revoked the Act of Union and declared the independent Republic of Somaliland based on the borders of the former British Protectorate of Somaliland.

Since that time, Somaliland has developed into a strong, dynamic democratic state.  A formal constitution was approved in 2001 by 97.7 percent of the population in a national referendum that international observers assessed as free and fair. The constitution provides for the separation of powers and ensures the protection of active opposition political parties, a free and pluralistic media and fundamental human rights and civil freedoms. Nationwide local elections took place in 2003 and 2012, and parliamentary elections in 2005.  Presidential elections were held in 2003 and 2012, and produced a peaceful transfer of power.

Most important for the United States, Somaliland has been on the right side of the all the important issues. Our government stands with America in the fight against terror. We rigorously enforce the U.N.’s arms embargo against Somalia and readily share threat information. Somaliland has cleared its coastal waters of the scourge of pirates by aggressively apprehending and jailing them. Internally, we have demobilized clan militias and integrated them into unified police and military forces.  

Economically, Somaliland is a haven of free-market policies and entrepreneurship. With a per capita GDP of $350, Somaliland ranks ahead of Tanzania, Eritrea and Ethiopia. Many government services, such as vehicle licensing, are delivered through the private sector. The port of Berbera provides a lucrative transport hub for trade with Ethiopia. Somaliland boasts a highly competitive telecom industry, offering mobile and landline services that are among the cheapest in Africa. Foreign direct investment is growing. Coca-Cola has opened a $17 million production facility to supply soft drinks, water and juice products to the region. Canada’s Nubian Gold is currently prospecting for minerals. Energy, power and infrastructure projects are high priorities.

It is time the world recognized Somaliland as a sovereign, independent state. Our region occupies territory where global social, political and economic fault lines converge. Non-recognition prevents Somaliland from participating fully with international partners to confront these shared challenges. Without the permission of Somalia, navies cannot use our ports to fight piracy. Interpol and foreign governments cannot work with our security services to combat trafficking of people and banned goods. Recognition would significantly enhance our ability to coordinate with international and governmental financial institutions to prevent illicit money flows. International institutions need a sovereign partner to work with in confronting serious environmental issues.

International recognition of Somaliland would also send a powerful signal to the rest of Africa and the world. To quote a 2001 report by the Brenthurst Foundation, “At a time when ‘ungoverned spaces’ have emerged as a major source of global concern… it is deeply ironic that the international community should deny itself the opportunity to extend the reach of global governance in a way that would be beneficial both to itself, and to the people of Somaliland.” Far from undermining security, recognition of Somaliland would enhance state capacity and strengthen regional stability.

Until now, Somalia steadfastly refuses even to broach the subject of an independent and sovereign Somaliland. This is unfortunate. We offer a credible example that stable, peaceful and transparent democracy can succeed in the Horn of Africa. My government is committed to playing a responsible role in international affairs and we will struggle, peacefully, to gain our rightful place on the world stage. We look to the United States, as the paragon of human rights and responsible governance, for support. Formal recognition of Somaliland’s independence not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing. It would enhance America’s security, promote regional stability and offer a powerful incentive to the rest of Africa that good governance pays.