February 1, 2012 ·23 Comments
OPINION | February 1, 2012
By Willis Pickard
While Scottish Liberal Democrats are playing a full part in the debates about the country’s constitutional future, they should not forget problems facing other less fortunate small lands. The plight of Somaliland is a case in point and is exercising the Scottish branch of Liberal International.
The first problem Somaliland confronts on the world stage is that people confuse it with lawless Somalia. It is an immediate neighbour and shares Somali culture but is largely peaceful and enjoys a recent record of solid democratic progress. So are its achievements in the troubled Horn of Africa lauded? Not a bit of it, because neither Britain nor the European Union, nor the international community in general recognise its existence.
Yet in 2010 Somaliland, which was born out of British Somaliland (whereas Somalia owes its boundaries to the former Italian colony) passed one of the key tests of a democratic state. In a tightly contested election for the presidency, the incumbent but losing candidate handed over power without conflict or bloodshed. International observers testified to the fairness of the election process.
One of these observers was Gillian Gloyer, a committee member of LI in Scotland. She told the LI AGM that voter registration had been a problem, not least because Somalis are vague about their exact date of birth. So it was decided that all potential voters would have their birthday marked as January 1.
The largely rural economy needs the stimulus of foreign investment. But an unrecognised country is not an attractive prospect. So, given the contrast between Somaliland and anarchic Somalia (not to mention a tiny third territory, Puntland, which is home to many of the region’s pirates). why does the international community leave the only bright light in diplomatic darkness? Britain’s official interests fall to our embassy far away in Addis Ababa.
Boundaries in Africa are often a reminder of arbitrary colonial map-drawing. Yet the Africa Union does not want to add to its members’ problems by recognising breakaway territories. Or that at least was the plausible position until South Sudan was allowed to spring into being as a way of resolving long-term conflict in Sudan. Surely peaceful Somaliland, after half a century of self-determination, qualifies for its place in the sun.
The country is not perfect. It is poor and socially conservative. It has had recent experience of tribal violence. Last month 22 journalists who protested against the closing down of a television station were briefly imprisoned. But its considerable achievements deserve recognition, not isolation. The British Government has heard the Somaliland case, but has not listened. It probably won’t act unless the European Union as a whole does so.
Liberal Democrats instinctively sympathise with the Somaliland case. Pressure from within our Government coalition and especially though the Foreign Office would help make Europe pay heed. I hope Liberal International will promote the Somaliland’s case.