The quest for business and new opportunities means that much of Africa is proving to be an increasingly attractive proposition for a whole raft of companies. Where once the continent was essentially a no-go area for many commercial concerns the current dynamic is such that there has been a fundamental re-assessment. Somaliland is just one of a number of African countries eager to capitalise on this spirit of engagement, yet for all the opportunities for purposeful and profitable relationships potential pitfalls await. The seemingly dazzling world of multi-million dollar deals is beset with dangers and currently few if any African countries are properly prepared to ensure that mechanisms are in place in order to minimise risk.
In recent years a range of companies: Africa Oil Corp, Canmex Minerals Corporation, Consort Private Ltd, Petronas and Range Resources Ltd have shown interest in the Horn of Africa. The shopping list of items sought by these companies is extensive: bauxite, coal, copper, gold, iron ore, manganese, tin and uranium to name just a few. Oil and gas are invariably primary motives for engaging with the region, but the recent tri-partite negotiations involving China, Ethiopia and Somaliland have demonstrated the desirability of access to strategic ports and collaboration with regard to the development of transport links. President Silanyo’s recent travels to Beijing and Addis Ababa have underlined the significance of such partnerships, yet both he and his delegation would be the first to admit that such negotiations have been a steep learning curve. China has a wealth of experience in bi-lateral (or in this case tri-lateral) trade agreements with African nations, invariably Beijing includes clauses related to Taiwan and they are consummate professionals when it comes to ensuring that such negotiations work to their advantage. Seasoned observers of the recent negotiations concerning the port of Berbera were not at all surprised to see that it was a Hong Kong based company – Petro Trans Company that was selected by Beijing to be the Chinese partner in the project. China knows only too well that Hong Kong connotes a more internationalist commercial message, one perceived to be free from the idealogical straightjacket of the power brokers in Beijing. The Chinese are highly skilled negotiators, who like Somalis are very conscious of heshima (loss of face) and invariably put in place a strong negotiating team eager to ensure that China secures the deal it desires in a manner of near feigned indifference as opposed to a case of I si, I si (give me, give me).
The levels of diplomacy and negotiation that Somaliland is now having to enter into requires specialist knowledge of a number of areas including: the energy and port sectors, international treaties as well as maritime and commercial law. The stakes are now so high that it is imperative that the Government of Somaliland give serious consideration to investing in using the services of individuals and organisations that can help protect the country’s interests. Whilst it is vital to enter into negotiations in a spirit of positivity and pragmatism; due diligence is also essential as is having the legal safeguards, expertise and expertise to hand to prevent things going awry or to handle them if they do. Companies such as Zaiwalla & Co – “Specialists in international commercial arbitration and litigation” can provide a wealth of guidance and insight that helps elucidate the mechanisms and processes necessary to survive and prosper in the complex world of commercial and diplomatic negotiations. Over the last two decades Somaliland and its people have demonstrated a remarkable ingenuity and capacity to survival. No one denies that the country and its Diaspora possesses a wealth of talented individuals, but as more and more people, organisations and governments take in interest in Somaliland now is the time for the country to give serious thought to engaging and utilising specialist expertise to help it fulfil its potential and safeguard its interests.
Mark T Jones