Somaliland leader pitches ‘sovereignty’ on US tour

Somaliland leader Muse Bihi Abdi on Monday pitched sovereignty and separation from Somalia in a speech delivered to an audience in Washington.

Speaking in a keynote address at the Heritage Abdi explained at length the important points that illustrate the history, situations and desires of the region in the northwestern Somalia that has been seeking complete independence from the rest of Somalia since May 1991.

“Somaliland first gained independence and international recognition on 26 June 1960,” he told the audience, adding that Five days after independence, Somaliland united voluntarily with Somalia with the aim of creating a “Greater Somalia”, officially known as the Somali Republic.

Mr Abdi, himself a former pilot in the Somalia Air Force, is leading a region that declared itself independent of Somalia in 1991, shortly after the regime of Siad Barre began to collapse and civil war ensued.

Yet in 30 years, no sovereign state in the world recognises Somaliland as independent, even though some treat it as a de facto state. And the US itself says its official policy is to treat Somaliland simply as an autonomous region of Somalia, just like other federal states.

But Abdi, on his first official tour of the US said Somaliland no longer feels a part of the “Greater Somalia.” This region envisaged to include five former colonies inhabited by ethnic Somalis in British Somaliland, Italian Somaliland, French Somaliland (today’s Djibouti), the current Somali Region of Ethiopia and the then Northern Frontier District of Kenya).

Abdi depicted that unity between the British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland that formed the Somali Republic in 1960 failed to yield the desired result.

The story is based on how northern regions were treated during the civil war. When rebel group Somali National Movement (SNM) established in 1981, the military government of Siad Barre turned brutal, especially when the rebels and the government army fought in 1988 in the cities of Hargeisa and Berbera. Somaliland immortalised that brutality in a monument made out of one of the downed Somalia jets, in Hargeisa.

When the dictatorial regime in Mogadishu was defeated by rebel groups, it opened a window of opportunity for the promoters of Somaliland to declare independence from the rest of Somalia.

Since then, Somaliland has often run like a de facto state, having a Central Bank and currency, army and police as well as regular elections since 1991 with some embassies in Mogadishu also having consulates in Hargeisa.

But no one formally endorses its independence, which is why Abdi’s trip to the US was closely watched by both Somalis and Somalilanders. His official itinerary says he was to meet with Molly Phee, the US top diplomat for African affairs. At the Heritage Foundation, he told his audience Somaliland wants to build stronger ‘bilateral’ ties with Washington.

“Several nations – including Ethiopia, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Kenya, Taiwan, Turkey and the UAE – have diplomatic offices in our capital,” the president remarked, adding that the United States should join their ranks.

“With this presence and regular visits by senior U.S. officials, we will be able to cooperate more closely in a number of key areas,” he added, mentioning some areas of collaboration that could attract the US.

“Somaliland has successfully deterred threats to our homeland and piracy in our territorial waters,” Abdi stated, adding that “Our Coast Guard works with partners such as the UK to guarantee the safety and security of maritime trade through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, and we work with foreign partners and international NGOs to minimise illicit trafficking and smuggling networks.”

Somaliland though struggles with gender equality question. Last year’s much-delayed municipal elections returned no female winners despite having contested in several seats. Abdi deplored that international partners including the US focused on empowering the government in Mogadishu, offering considerable assistance in the form of expended financial resources, diplomatic resources and military resources, with little to show for the effort.

The president reiterated that instead, Somaliland’s stability and reliability is increasingly recognised as an asset for advancing the interests of countries who share the same values.

He made the point by emphasising that the Somaliland port of Berbera and a freshly inaugurated international airport are situated in a strategic water course such as the Gulf of Aden and Bab el-Mandeb Strait that have emerged as a vital strategic link in maritime trade routes connecting the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean.

President Abdi further indicated that “Great power competition in Africa will continue for the foreseeable future.”

“In this environment, the United States should make clear its support for governments that embrace democratic governance and stability in the midst of threats, instability and external pressure,” he indicated, hinting that Somaliland falls in that context.

“Given above, Somaliland believes that the international community has a moral obligation to support Somaliland’s pursuit of international recognition,” the Somaliland leader went straight to the point.

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