Interview With Somaliland's Foreign Minister

ADDIS ABABA, 16 December 2009 (Somalilandpress) – Somaliland is a self-declared state lying between the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

It got its independence in 1991 from the rest of Somalia. In 2003, the people of Somaliland endorsed a constitution. In a referendum held the same year, they proved to the world that they no more want to live with the rest of Somalia. However, Somaliland did not yet get due recognition from the international community. Kaleyesus Bekele of The Reporter spoke with Somali land’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Abdillahi M. Duale. Excerpts:

How do you see the relationship between Ethiopia and Somaliland?

I describe the relationship between Ethiopia and Somaliland as a strategic partnership with regard to trade, security, diplomacy among other things. The relationship has been growing tremendously over the years. It is very important to note that Ethiopia is the only country that has got physical presence in Somaliland. There is an Ethiopian office where officials deal with trade and diplomatic issues. We have a bilateral agreement on trade, security and we have an extradition treaty. We also have a strong diplomatic relationship with our neighbor.


What is your ministry doing to get recognition from the international community?

Yes, Somaliland is not a recognized state. But it is a de facto state. Ethiopia and other countries are dealing with us as a defacto State. What we are missing is due recognition. I think Somaliland will eventually be recognized because we are a functional State. Because we have fulfilled all the requirements of a statehood as far as Africa is concerned we are not the only state which preferred separation. A case in point is Eritrea, which today is an independent State. Burundi and Rwanda, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Senegal and Somalia. All these countries went their separate way.

Somaliland has its own defense force, police, currency and proper government. We have our own passport. We travel using our own passport. The Somaliland Ministry of Affairs has been establishing diplomatic ties with African countries as well as European countries. My ministry has been trying hard to convince the African Union that Somaliland should get due recognition. We are trying to promote the cause of Somaliland and the will of its people among the international community. We have offices in Ethiopia and in many other countries. Our diplomatic missions in Europe and North America are exerting maximum efforts in this regard. We also have a strong relationship with the African Union. We have repeatedly invited the African Union. A fact-finding mission of the African Union visited Somaliland and made an assessment and submitted its report to the AU.

What does the report say?

It is a very positive report. The report clearly indicates that the people of Somaliland support independence and that they are eagerly waiting for recognition from the international community. The fact finding mission learnt that the people of Somaliland do not want reunion with the rest of Somalia. Unfortunately, so far the AU is unable to give us recognition.


How are you dealing with the problem with opposition parties that you encountered in executing the upcoming presidential election?

The problem arose from the voters registration process. By the way, Ethiopia is the first country that came to us for mediation. Dr Tekeda Alemu, Minister of State with the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who is a very good friend of Somaliland, came up with possible peaceful solutions. We are trying to peacefully resolve the problem.

Some media reports indicate that Somaliland has great potential for speedy economic development. What are you doing to realize that?

Look at the map of Somaliland. We are situated in a very strategic geographical position. We have a great potential for the development of a fishing industry on the shores of the Indian Ocean. We have the Port of Berbera which is of a paramount importance for the region. We have a hydro-carbon potential. We have vast sedimentary basins which are very promising for the discovery of oil. We hired foreign companies which conducted geological mapping. We have prepared exploration blocks which are ready to be given to international oil companies. We know that previously foreign companies discovered oil reserves many years ago. The exploration work was discontinued because of several political problems.

Now, Somaliland is a very peaceful country. Our door is open to foreign companies who want to come and work with us. In this regard, we are holding talks with several foreign companies. International companies which want to prospect for oil in Somaliland are most welcome. Investment companies can come to Somaliland and could work with us in port development, oil and minerals exploration and developing fishing industry, which is untapped so far. There are a lot of opportunities.

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Tell us about the Port of Berbera

As I said, Berbera port can play a vital role in bringing about economic development in Somaliland. It is a port which Ethiopia and Somaliland could utilize together. We are inviting foreign companies to come and invest on the port to develop the port infrastructure. We are discussing with our Ethiopian counterparts on how Ethiopia could better utilize the port. Currently, the port is handling Ethiopia’s cargo. Particularly at this moment, food aid is being transported to Ethiopia via the Port of Berbera. We are discussing with Ethiopian officials the possibilities that Ethiopia could utilize the port in a better way. We are also deliberating on ways that we could jointly upgrade the road that links Ethiopia with the port.

There are ports of Djibouti and Mombassa in the region and Berbera could complement economic growth in the region together with these ports. We know that there is a competition and a competition is good for anyone. We believe that Berbera port will play an important role in fostering economic growth in the region.

I have heard that your government has hired a lobbyist group which is working on a document which insists that Somaliland should be granted recognition. The document is reportedly submitted to the US government. Your government expects the US government to introduce a bill on Somaliland that supports the independence of Somaliland. What is your comment on this?

The fact is that Somaliland has so many friends. We have many African, European and American friends. We have friends from the media and international organizations who are friends of Somaliland and support the cause of Somaliland. We have many friends who are lobbying for Somaliland.

These groups believe that Somaliland has a legitimate and legal case to ask for recognition. So these groups have committed themselves and are lobbying. Yes there are many friends who are promoting the case of Somaliland. We have friends in Ethiopia, in IGAD, SADC and ECOWAS. Our friends are saying, “Look Kosovo has got its independence! Why not Somaliland?” But we don’t have enough financial resources to hire a lobby group.

Tell us about your involvement in fighting terrorism and your cooperation with Ethiopia in this regard

As I said earlier, our relationship with Ethiopia is a strategic partnership. That is very, very important and everything comes under that strategic partnership. That includes security. In areas of cooperation, security is the most important issues to the region. The spread of terrorism and fundamentalism is a threat to the region. We need to be stable if we have to bring about economic development to the region.

There is a great cooperation between my country and Ethiopia in fighting terrorism. We have an extradition treaty. Anyone who committed a crime in Ethiopia cannot hide in Somaliland. We are actively working on that. We closely monitor terrorist activities in the region. We are alert in patrolling our coastal areas. We also patrol our border areas. We actively exchange information with Ethiopia. I can say there is a full-fledged mutual cooperation with Ethiopia in fighting terrorism because there is amutual interest.

Since 2002, there were 29 terrorist plots in Somaliland, including the one that targeted the Ethiopian office in Hargessa in October last year. Sucide bombers attacked The Ethiopian office, the presidential palace and UNDP. This is the only time that they succeed because we are always alert. We have foiled many other terrorist plots. It is not a peculiar problem to Somaliland. Ethiopia is also a victim of terrorism. Yes, we are closely working with Ethiopia in fighting terrorism. We are very proud of our involvement in fighting terrorism.

Ethiopian Airlines has suspended flights to Hargeissa. Did you speak with official of Ethiopian airlines on the possibility that it can resume its flight service between Addis Ababa and Hargeissa?

Ethiopian Airlines has never operated commercial flights in Somalia. It only began to fly to Somaliland after independence. Unfortunately, Ethiopian Airlines suspended operation to Hargeissa because of a forced measure related to security. We deliberated with officials of the Ethiopian Airlines and we agreed that we need to improve the efficiency of the security system at the Hargeissa Airport. The government of Somaliland is diligently working on that. We have taken serious measures. The Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation is working hard to ensure airport security.

We will invite our Ethiopian brothers and to look at the improvements made in enhancing security. I hope Ethiopian Airlines will resume its flight to Hargeissa.

What is your message to the international community?

My message is brief and clear. The people of Somaliland had established a constitutional state. The people of Somaliland have made it clear that they want to live on their own. They expressed their hatred for the illusion of creating a Greater Somalia. They are eager to see Somaliland recognized by the international community. So we plead that we need to be given due recognition.

I also call upon international companies to come and invest in Somaliland. I also call upon the Ethiopian business community to come and visit Berbera port. They can also see the business opportunities in Somaliland. The people of Somaliland are peace loving and friendly. We have a firm commitment to work with any country and to bring about economic development in the region.

Source: East Africa Forum

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