Independence and self reliance are essential characteristics of the peoples of the Horn of Africa. People who for centuries have lived by their wits have survived in a seemingly barren and hostile terrain. To the wider world this steely determination causes considerable puzzlement and results in outsiders misreading the situation time and again. For many foreign journalists and policy makers it is easier to fall back on hackneyed stereotypes or look elsewhere. Periodically outsiders decide the region warrants some interest and dust off the old clichés and recycle them shamelessly. Seemingly intelligent individuals ask inane questions and rarely venture beyond the obvious and so it would appear that some in mankind would prefer not to learn.
The current drought and the resulting famine have elicited the usual headlines. Footage of emaciated infants and forlorn mothers stare out from news reports. Heads of NGOs make impassioned pleas whilst for a time pooling their efforts for the common good. Of course there are strict guidelines as to what constitutes famine and as such the large international NGOs with their superannuated staff adhere to these protocols as if their livelihoods depended upon them, this invariably means they will wait until the eleventh hour before putting their co-ordinated plans into action. Anyone would think that there was an aid industry that requires a tragedy to justify their existence.
For all the regularity of such events it seems all the more surprising that no international giving indices have been established. Some nations with very healthy bank balances such as China, India and Germany would certainly not welcome such an initiative as they invariably prove to be rather parsimonious when it comes to charitable giving. Maybe the UN should be prevailed upon to produce league tables of giving, then again perhaps not the UN, as it is already excessively wasteful and bureaucratic. UN funders ‘buy’ influence shamelessly and seasoned observers know that there are vested interests who have little or no interest in optimising resources.
As states such as Somaliland and South Sudan seek to navigate their way through a complex web of intrigue that makes up life as part of the international community they will soon discover that seemingly intractable political problems at home seems as child’s play when compared with this. Duplicity and insincerity would appear to be the cornerstones of much diplomacy and younger nations soon learn that there is little room for sentiment when it comes to playing with the big boys. Self-interest is largely the order of the day and those alliances that are forged invariably fall back on that old adage – ‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend’. Having achieved international recognition South Sudan is likely to fall prey to those eager to fleece it of its birthright and thus it will need to assemble a talented and determined team of young diplomats capable not only of holding the line but thinking ahead and anticipating risk. Anyone who traces the route of the Nile can foresee potential tensions and flash points, when these flare up all the warm words at a nation’s birth are soon forgotten and the diplomats will require all the intelligence, memory and skill of a chess Grand Master.
Somaliland’s situation is all the more problematic. Currently endeavouring to free itself from a marriage it no longer desires it finds its partner unwilling and unable to accept that things have changed. Whilst it has largely liberated itself from Somalia’s capricious embrace it is yet to be granted the final annulment it so desperately seeks. Many in the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) cannot bring themselves to accept what has come to pass, whilst some in Somaliland are utterly incapable of talking of anything but the quest for a decree nisi. The UN periodically plays the role of a half-hearted marriage guidance counsellor, yet repeated counselling sessions in Djibouti and Nairobi have ended in abject failure. Add to this civil war, Jihadists, drought, maritime piracy and the machinations of various powers in the African Union (AU) and beyond and it is little wonder that many people are at a loss as how to proceed. It is understandable that some in Somaliland feel a sense of exasperation and injustice, but equally Somaliland’s Government must shoulder some of the responsibility for the lack of progress. There is no room for naivety in foreign affairs. The sight of President Silanyo glad handing tyrants such as Robert Mugabe at the South Sudan Independence celebrations was truly distasteful, and this was compounded by the fact that staff/advisors felt it was beneficial to Somaliland’s cause to release such images. If Somaliland truly believes in the justice of its case it has no need to seek endorsement from kleptomaniacs and blood stained despots. Silanyo and his officials should be investing time in establishing cordial relations with a raft of smaller African states and even the likes of the Maldives, Mauritius and the Seychelles. Such nations have much in common for example limited access to water, deforestation, youth unemployment and the fact that they are often overlooked by the wider world. By coming together and establishing cultural ties especially in regards of the arts and sport much can be achieved. Such smaller nations empathise with Somaliland and are far more likely to support Somaliland in its quest for the recognition it so ardently desires.
The situation facing governments throughout the Horn requires a redoubling of effort at every level. Those elected to serve their nation must endeavour to lead by example. In Somaliland Government some ministers have little or no idea of what hard work is, arriving late at their offices and barely putting in an hour or two a day before they disappear off in their land cruisers for yet another heavy lunch. True and lasting respect will only come through hard work and on current evidence some in the Silanyo Government would be hard pressed to score 3/10 in this regard.
With the region briefly in the international media spotlight, albeit for many negative reasons the peoples of the Horn deserve to see statesmen like behaviour. Whilst there will be much wringing of hands this is not a time for countries to hold out the begging bowl. Nations need to demonstrate their resourcefulness, resolve and determination to address difficulties with or without the help of the world beyond. As Ramadan approaches there will be a need for minister to demonstrate a sustain commitment and resolve not token charity for the benefit of the media.
Mark T Jones