/ 22 May 2014

Recognition of Somaliland is overdue

Celebrating independence: Women dance after casting their ballots in Hargeisa
Celebrating independence: Women dance after casting their ballots in Hargeisa

The African Union is proving exactly as far-sighted as its architects hoped; it is a tremendous force for good for our continent. Year by year, its authority and influence grow as it provides an indispensable platform for Africa to come together to address our many opportunities and challenges.

As we look around our continent today, the need for the AU’s intervention – both in response to terrible emergencies (as we have seen in Nigeria) and to accelerate wider progress – has rarely been greater. So I am genuinely reluctant, on behalf of my country, to add to an already packed agenda. But I believe the AU should no longer put off recognising Somaliland as an independent country and full member.

It is not the first time, of course, that our young country has asked the AU to take this momentous step. President Dahir Rayale Kahin, my predecessor, first applied in 2005. The result was an AU mission that looked at what our leaders and citizens had built together since we declared independence in 1991. It found that our progress was “unique” in African political history and recommended that the AU “should find a special method of dealing with this outstanding case”.

Eight years later, Somaliland is still waiting. We celebrated our 23rd anniversary as an independent nation on May 18 but we still find ourselves denied recognition by our own continent.

This matters to Somaliland – and to Africa. Our country has much to celebrate. From the ruins of a bitter conflict, we have forged a nation that is an oasis of peace, stability and democracy in a troubled region.

Power is transferred peacefully through democratic elections. State institutions, including the police and armed forces, are in place. Terrorists find no safe haven within our territory. Nor do pirates operate off our coast.

Given the terrible damage that years of conflict have caused, we remain a poor country. But free education has been introduced for children. Our economy is slowly being rebuilt. We have a great deal in which to take pride.

However, the lack of formal recognition from our fellow African countries and the world community remains a serious brake on progress and our hopes of improving the lives of our citizens. It makes it much more difficult for us to gain access to international aid or loans to drive development.

We are denied a seat at the table when the future of the Horn of Africa is being discussed.

I understand, of course, the reasons for caution. But, after 23 years as a functioning independent country, the time has come to recognise the reality on the ground. Our citizens left no doubt about where they saw their future when they voted overwhelmingly for our continued independence in a national referendum in 2001, a referendum judged free and fair by outside observers.

It is also important to remember that the AU mission to Somaliland specifically accepted that granting us membership would not open “a Pandora’s box” and entice other territories to follow our example. One of the principles of the AU’s foundation was respect for borders at the time of independence. Somaliland’s request for recognition does not contradict this doctrine.

Perhaps even more importantly, we believe our case for recognition is even stronger now than in 2006. The intervening years have shown that our country is built on sound foundations. Relations between us and Somalia, with which we had a disastrous union for three decades, have also improved. We have agreed on an ambitious agenda of co-operation, to work together to tackle terrorism, extremism, piracy, illegal fishing, toxic dumping and other serious crimes.

Such co-operation is important not only for our two countries but also for the wider region and the world. The Horn of Africa remains a source of tension and conflict. But Somaliland cannot play its full role in helping spread peace and stability unless we are treated as full partners by the international community.

The AU was born out of the hopes of new countries believing that together they could help each other grow and prosper. Over the past 23 years, Somaliland has shown what can be achieved with courage and hard work.

We are now asking for the chance to be accepted as full members of the African community so we can build on the solid foundations we have put in place and help drive progress across the continent. 

Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo is the president of Somaliland.