LONDON (ANN) Somaliland President Silanyo had the opportunity to place on record before world leaders the desire of the Somaliland people to be recognized as an independent state. He called for“an international discussion about the future of Somaliland, .
(After the usual cordial naming of the honourable chairman etc.)
This is the first international conference aimed at bringing peace and stability to Somalia which the Government of Somaliland has attended since 1993, underlining the goodwill and confidence with which we join this important gathering hosted by the United Kingdom. The broad representation of our delegation further illustrates the seriousness of our purpose here today. In addition to the Executive Branch of Government, the leaders of the bicameral parliament, the House of Elders and the House of Representatives, and of the two opposition parties—UDUB and UCID— are also here with us.
On behalf of the people and Government of Somaliland, I would like to express our profound appreciation to Prime Minister David Cameron, his Government and the people of Great Britain, for organizing this high profile and inclusive meeting. The participation of so many governments and international and regional bodies is in itself an eloquent statement about the determination of the international community to work together to end two decades of war and conflict which has brought about untold suffering to the Somali people, jeopardized the stability of the entire region and increased security risks worldwide.
We are here because we believe that Somaliland’s achievements — in making and sustaining peace, fostering reconciliation, forging a democratic system of government and harnessing the energies and aspirations of our people to develop Somaliland — as well as the challenges we face, are experiences from which others can draw lessons if a viable roadmap to peace is to be drawn up for Somalia. We are also here today to explain why recognition of Somaliland as a fully integrated member of the international community will enable it to make a more effective contribution to the quest for peace in Somalia.
More than any other delegation present in this room, we understand the enormity and complexity of the problems faced by the people of Somalia, and as their brothers and sisters, we feel an empathy that others cannot, however deep and genuine their sympathies. In addition to the bonds between our people, and geographic proximity, Somalia and Somaliland shared a destiny, for three decades, as a unitary state. In 1960, upon gaining its independence from Britain, and recognized as a sovereign state by more than 30 governments, Somaliland formed a union with Somalia. Unfortunately, Somaliland found itself marginalized politically and economically, and the resulting tensions led to a devastating war in May 1988. Shortly after the regime collapsed, in January 1991, Somaliland reclaimed its independence.
But the fact that Somaliland has existed as an independent state since May 1991, has neither obliterated the significance of the ties of blood, religion, culture and trade, nor shielded us from the international threats associated with the violence in Somalia. For the sake of our own people, the people of Somalia and the wider region of which we are a part, and in response to international concerns, we stand ready to help the world in the urgent and important task of finding lasting solutions to the problems in Somalia which requires active engagement with Somaliland.
During the past twenty years, the people of Somaliland have looked inwards for the strength and resolve to bring peace and stability to our land, while crafting a robust democratic form of governance, underpinned by local, parliamentary and presidential elections judged free and fair by international observers. When I lost the presidential election in 2003, by a mere 80 votes, I readily conceded defeat, mindful that building democratic institutions requires compromise, sacrifice, patience and models of responsible leadership.
In June 2010, after I won the presidential election, the incumbent, former President Daahir Riyaale Kaahin, transferred power in a peaceful and gracious manner, equally conscious of the importance of consolidating a political system which emphasizes personal responsibility and the collective interest. We consider this milestone as a major achievement for a people who had previously lived under the shadow of dictatorship.
Once they had laid down their arms, following a deliberately long and drawn out local process of national dialogue and reconciliation, the people of Somaliland focused their energies on rebuilding their homeland from the ashes, with comparatively little international assistance. The two decades of nation building, have been, simultaneously, difficult, frustrating and exhilarating. The journey we embarked upon has not been without its perils, but nor has it been without its rewards.
Somaliland has been rebuilt out of ruins. We inherited destruction, in the extreme, and in every sense of the word, from bombed out cities and villages, the absence of a functioning government, police force or economy, a population which consisted largely of returned refugees or who were displaced within, a nation awash with weapons but with few prospects of gainful employment and with many of the skilled living abroad. Internal conflicts, external threats and international indifference complicated the road to recovery. But at no time did the people of Somaliland lose sight of their ultimate goal: to stand on their own feet, with pride and dignity, through hard work, the art of political compromise and consensus building and by trusting their institutions for resolving conflicts and bringing communities together. It is because of the endurance of the ordinary men and women of Somaliland, and their strong desire for normality and a future for their children, that Somaliland has become an oasis of peace and an example of democratic governance in the region.
Somaliland does not, however, exist in isolation. Nor have we wanted to live apart from our neighbours and the community of nations and multilateral organizations which have invested the blood of their soldiers, resources, time and energy to bring peace to Somalia. Most of the core topics of this conference — security, stability, counter-terrorism and piracy — are the very issues we grapple with every day as a nation. For the past two decades of independent self-governance, our clear policies and actions with regard to regional security, prevention of terrorism, fighting piracy, hosting refugees and maintaining coexistence as well as cooperation with neighbouring countries, have attracted interest and attention. We assumed these responsibilities not only to safeguard the interests of others, but also for our own interests. We only have to look at our recent history to know that the primary duty for ensuring peace in our land rests, first and foremost, on our own shoulders.
The international community has, understandably, focused on the horrific tragedies which have plagued Somalia, brought home to all of us in graphic terms. No human being could remain unmoved by the images of war, famine and cruelty. Despite our lack of means, the Government of Somaliland last year sent a delegation to Somalia to deliver a modest contribution to famine relief. We could not fail to respond to the suffering of our Somali brothers and sisters.
It is unfortunate that the world has not been sufficiently ambitious and creative enough to work along parallel lines, stemming the violence in Somalia and looking for political solutions, while also consolidating the gains in Somaliland. The near exclusive focus on successive failures, and inattention to islands of success, may inadvertently communicate the wrong message, and thereby encourage wider instability and conflict. We in Somaliland have been puzzled by the lack of investment, be it political or financial, and it has left our people with the feeling of being outside the international fold.
We have come to this conference with three purposes in mind. Firstly, we are here because the political crisis in Somalia affects the security of Somaliland, and of the region as a whole, and therefore has a direct impact on the lives and well being of the people of Somaliland. We have a stake in the stability and future of our region. With porous borders, the terrorists pushed out of Somalia are likely to seek shelter or a staging ground in our territories. We frequently discover plots to blow up bridges and public facilities with no other aim than to destroy and de-stabilize, killing in the process innocent people. In October 2008, Al-Shabaab carried out a series of co-ordinated suicide attacks in our capital, Hargeisa, bombing the Presidency, the headquarters of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the office of the Ethiopian trade office. Forty people lost their lives and nearly one hundred were wounded. Our police and arms forces have foiled attempts since then because of the vigilance and active participation of our citizens in the security of their country.
Secondly, we hope to make a positive contribution, as a particularly concerned and informed member of the global community, in tackling the seemingly endless cycle of bloodshed in Somalia and the stalled mission of achieving reconciliation in Somalia. We have lived through war and appreciate the bitterness and intractable nature of a conflict between brothers. We know first-hand how the clan system can be used for destructive ends or for constructive purposes. We understand the language and ethos which promote war and peace, as well as conflict and reconciliation in Somali culture. But we also know how earlier generations of Somalis restored peace and reconciliation through customary methods with great success, and we have been the grateful beneficiaries of their wisdom and ingenuity.
Thirdly, we would like the world to understand that Somaliland can only be a visible and central partner in stabilizing Somalia as an independent and full-fledged member of the international community. Without recognition, Somaliland cannot participate in the international and regional bodies which have taken upon themselves the necessary and difficult task of promoting peace and reconciliation in Somalia, be it the United Nations, the African Union or the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Nor can Somaliland build upon its economic and social progress to date, which would allow it to better withstand threats to its own security and stability.
We are ready to share the lessons which have served us well, enabling us to restore peace and strive for prosperity and nation building. In contrast to the various regional and international fora on Somalia, our approach to peace-making and peace-building has been painstaking, low-key, inclusive, locally driven and financed and, most important of all, have been shaped by, and have responded to, the views, needs and analysis of ordinary Somalilanders. By putting our own people at the epicentre, we have endowed the process with the legitimacy and credibility necessary for a successful outcome.
Despite the commendable efforts of both African and non-African countries, as well as regional and international bodies, in hosting talks to establish a broad-based government in Somalia, the disappointing results should not, perhaps, have come as a surprise, a conclusion this conference would do well to dwell upon. The lack of accountability to their own people has been the single greatest weakness of the meetings attended by the leaders of the warring parties, exacerbated by a range of decisions which were seen as contrary to accepted norms in brokering peace. The change of political leaders, before the warring clans and factions have been reconciled on the ground, and before there is a broadly accepted political settlement, has, in our view, doomed these agreements to failure. To achieve lasting peace in Somalia, the priority must be given to the development of a thoughtful and considered approach to meaningful reconciliation which resonates with the people of Somalia and makes them feel secure. Any political settlement must be internally driven, all-inclusive and designed to allow the Somali people to share power.
We have come as a united delegation in the belief that this gathering in London will mark a historic watershed between Somalia and Somaliland. The decision to take part was in itself the subject of a prolonged and intense national debate. We believe it is time for a new political dispensation based on mutual respect and support. To move forward, we need a fresh and sober approach which shuns sterile rhetoric and political grandstanding and which, instead, reflects political maturity and self-confidence by seeking to produce a win-win result.
While Somaliland’s recent past sheds light on locally appropriate strategies for addressing conflict, the predicaments in which it finds itself today, as an unrecognized country, underscore a simple truth: unless people’s essential economic and social needs are met, the long-term prospects for stability and security in Somaliland cannot be taken for granted. With minimal international aid and technical assistance, our governments have been starved of the resources we need to provide basic services in health, education, infrastructure, access to clean water and sanitation, to strengthen the police and the institutions of justice, to improve public administration and to reduce our unemployment rate, among the highest in developing countries. A population boom during the past twenty years of peace further strains our capacity to fulfil needs and meet expectations.
As an example, our capital city, Hargeisa, relies on boreholes and a water distribution system developed in the 1970s for a population of about 250,000 residents; its population today exceeds one million. Colleges and universities have been set up throughout the land, in response to a growing demand for education. But without foreign technical assistance and scholarships, they cannot train the calibre of doctors, engineers, teachers and civil servants a modern Somaliland requires.
The list is long. This is not surprising, given where Somaliland stood at the end of the war in 1991. Where it not for the extraordinary determination of the people of Somaliland themselves, both within and in the Diaspora, to restore services and reconstruct their country, we would not have made the progress which is so evident today. The fact that the private sector accounts for over 90% of our GPD speaks volumes about the extent to which people have taken their destiny in their own hands. This same private sector, however, is forced to operate outside the international trading system, given Somaliland’s no-recognition status, and cannot benefit from global credit and insurance systems.
Financial limitations also undermine our ability to be more proactive in fighting sources of insecurity, including piracy. We lack a navy which can adequately patrol our long shoreline and keep away pirates pushed out of other areas. As this conference itself illustrates, peace and stability in a volatile region like ours requires close and sustained collaboration among nations, both near and far. With increased international involvement, through material and technical assistance, our ability to combat all forms of terrorism and piracy will be greatly enhanced, benefitting not only Somaliland, but Somalia and other countries with which we share borders. In this context, becoming part of the global financial system, and enjoying the full support of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and regional banks, on an equal footing with other nations, would go a long way in making it possible for us to meet the expectations the world has of Somaliland.
The publicity surrounding young Somali men who have left behind the comforts of their new homes in North America and Europe to fight alongside Al-Shabaab, including in the October 2008 bombings in Somaliland, is but one aspect of a wider problem: the presence, both in the west, but also in neighbouring countries, of individuals committed to fomenting armed conflicts and tension in our midst, in pursuit of personal political ambition. This is a problem which Somalia also faces. The tactics of Al-Shabaab are well known. It is also time to take the measure of others who, in pursuit of blind ambition, provoke senseless violence, and then retreat to their homes abroad, sacrificing the children of the people in whose name they fan wars. We are asking the governments present in this room to ensure that their countries, and their generosity, are not being misused to prolong the suffering of the Somali people, wherever they maybe.
I would like to end with a Somali proverb: a fire in your neighbour’s house will soon spread to your home. We have come in force to this conference, representing a broad political spectrum, because we are both able and willing to work with the international community to improve security and stability in the Horn of Africa. This cannot be achieved unless we are able to work together to contain and defeat the sources of instability and insecurity, be they war, terrorism, piracy, greed or the ambitions of individuals.
Thank you for giving us this opportunity to present our thoughts and to share with all of you our views and perspective.”