By: Jenifer Parker
Somalilandsun – Since Somaliland won its independence in 1991, it has faced the challenges of building an economically successful and democratic state in a region where authoritarianism has thrived amidst economic collapse. Despite its success in establishing an independent currency and a democratic system of government that has seen the holding of several peaceful national elections, the country is still struggling to win international recognition. Although Somaliland enjoys increasingly good relations with most of its neighbours in the Horn of Africa, it still has some way to go to find a final settlement of the border dispute with the neighbouring autonomous region of Puntland.
Progress in diplomacy
The development of good diplomatic relations with Somalia and countries outside the region is similarly fluid. There are promising signs. As globalriskinsight.com reports: ‘Somaliland’s Foreign Minister, Mohamed Bihi Yonis, has said that with the new government in Somalia as a willing regional partner, he is confident that bilateral recognition would soon follow.’
Negotiations have been facilitated by Turkey offering to host talks between Somaliland and Somalia in Istanbul. However, Somalia still adheres to a policy of unification, wants to control the region’s airspace and does not accept Somaliland’s rights over the development of its oilfields.
Mohamed Yonis, writing for International Business Times earlier this year, saw that there were positive signs for future US recognition: ‘…Somaliland has been on the right side of all the important issues. Our government stands four-square with America in the fight against terror. We rigorously enforce the UN’s arms embargo against Somalia and readily share threat information.’ The US also looks favourably on Somalia’s policy of demobilizing clan militias and integrating them into the military and police forces, and its continued efforts to fight piracy in its coastal waters.
Fighting drug crime and piracy
Record drug seizures were also made during 2014 by the Combined Task Force 150, the naval coalition based in Bahrain and operating off the Horn of Africa. President of the International Organisation of Security and Intelligence, John Obdola, said: ‘Drug traffickers, working closely with transnational crime and terrorist groups, have been rapidly expanding their operations in East and West Africa, which pose the biggest security threat that affects the region.’ The traffickers are most active in Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya and Tanzania, while Somaliland seems to be alone in the region without a serious drug trafficking problem, or a problem with the use of imported narcotics amongst its population.
The drug of choice here is the traditional home-grown Khat, which according to a 2010 study still ‘represents a significant economic drain on the Somaliland economy.’ There is also a problem with glue-sniffing among the homeless street children of Hargeisa, who are mainly Oromo illegal immigrants from Ethiopia. However, the widespread use of heroin, described by heroin.net as ‘one of the world’s most dangerous and illicit drugs [which] wreaks havoc on the human body and mind…’ and which is common in other countries in the region, is absent in Somaliland.
In 2011 the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director, Yury Fedotov, met with the President of Somaliland, Ahmed Mohamed, and Minister of Justice, Ismail Muumin to discuss the ongoing counter-piracy work it undertakes in the region. A major part of these measures was the renovation and refurbishment of the Hargeisa Prison, which follows a similar initiative in Puntland. The combination of judicial reform, coordinated leadership and a regional strategy provided both effective means of dealing with the 350 convicted and suspected pirates then held in Puntland and Somaliland, and a future deterrent.
Somaliland is rich in resources, particularly in its under-developed oilfields. Although operations by the Turkish oil company, Genel Energy, were halted due to the dangerous security situation across the border in Somalia, Genel executives have recently indicated that exploration will resume soon into developing Somaliland’s extensive oil reserves. Expansion of Somaliland’s energy sector will impact on the country’s annual budget and enable greater spending on projects that will improve the lives of many. New energy resources are set to be developed all over East Africa, which could herald a period of growth that will raise standards of living in the entire region.
There is still the hurdle of international recognition of Somaliland, which has hampered the development of a sound finance and banking sector. However, international investment has been further stimulated by improved relations with China, and the interest shown by the Guangzhou Dongsong Energy Group in developing Somaliland’s fisheries. The Canadian telecommunications company, Optelian, is cooperating with Somcable to complete an undersea fibre-optic cable to bring high-speed broadband to Somaliland by 2015, and the EU has provided funds for the improvement of health care and veterinary services in the country.
Improvement in health services
In marked contrast to other countries in the region, Somaliland has excellent heath care services, and patients come from Somalia and Ethiopia to attend the Edna Adan University Hospital in Hargeisa. This is a non-profit hospital founded by and named after the former First Lady and Foreign Minister of Somaliland. It offers modern procedures and equipment in a clean environment as well as vital nursing and midwifery training.
Somaliland had one of the world’s highest infant mortality rates and maternal mortality rates, although this has been reduced by 50% with the training of women from the villages who were then able to go home and start making a real difference to people’s lives.
In many ways, the 76 year old Edna Adan represents the best of modern Somaliland, embodying a philosophy of practical care that she absorbed as a child from her doctor father, who she would help by washing his equipment and turning old sheets into bandages. She said: ‘He taught me compassion. He taught me generosity… one of his favourite expressions was, “If you cannot do it with your heart, your hands will never do it.”‘
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