June 25, 2012 ·13 Comments
The following interview was given to visiting Canadian journalists, scholars and researchers in Hargeisa by Mr. Liban Ahmed Ashur, the former Chief of State Protocol and International Cooperation at the Republic of Somaliland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Prior to our arrival we contacted him and asked if he’d be interested in sharing his perceptions and experiences here in Somaliland. He was happy to do so and we agreed to keep it to 30-45 minutes. After several initial attempts failed, we finally coordinated our schedules. Mr. Liban Ahmed Ashur is one of the young and active “Somaliland-Canadian” Diaspora politicians who devoted time, effort and resources for free and fair democratic elections to take place in Somaliland and for his candidate (the current President) President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo to win the historic June 2010 elections. Somaliland declared independence in May 1991, but has received no formal international recognition. The following interview took place at the Ambassador Hotel in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland.
Michael – From the Toronto Star:
Hello, Liban. First off, we’d like to thank you in advance for taking the time to speak with us.
Liban: No, Thank you for your perseverance and for taking the time to visit the Republic of Somaliland, see the reality on the ground, assess the country, relay the peace and stability you’ve witnessed here which I am hopeful that it will eventually encourage CANADA to further directly engage in contributing towards strengthening the solid foundation of our home grown efforts we “Somalilanders” built this peaceful country on, in addition to working with us to achieve our long list of development plans, vision and aspirations we have for our country. Furthermore, for the record, let me clarify that I’ am not here to speak on behalf of the government, but rather for myself. I would like to reiterate that my statements do not reflect the official position of the Republic of Somaliland government.
Michael: Right after the birth of this new government, you became head of Somaliland’s Protocol. How was that experience, and what did you wanted to change?
Liban: The experience was great, to be honest, in my whole career I have never met so many highly motivated colleagues as here. Protocol is about respecting the customs and traditions of a host country. Therefore, my office worked closely with the MOFA, the Presidential Palace and all government branches in general; it also provided advice on protocol matters for Presidential travel abroad. In brief, with the help of many great people within our government I believe that I have managed to address and correct many fundamental state protocol guidelines.
Michael: What makes Somaliland a sovereign state? Why should Somaliland
be considered its own country?
Liban: The British Somaliland’s protectorate became independent on June 26, 1960, and was the first Somali nation & country to become recognized as a state. A week later, Somaliland and former Italian Somalia united to form the Somali Republic. Their union was never ratified by their respective parliaments, and their 31 year-old painful union remained an informal partnership with no legal binding. Consequently, the initially hopeful union of the two young countries ended in disaster and culminated in brutal ten-year civil war between Somalia and Somaliland until they separated in 1991.Today, The Republic of Somaliland has a defined territory with clear international boundaries inherited from the former British Somaliland with permanent population. Moreover, Somaliland is in full control of its territory, permeates democracy and the rule of law throughout the country, has its own flag, currency, national anthem, elected parliament, elected President and Vice President.
Furthermore, the people of Somaliland re-affirmed their support for their country’s sovereignty in 2001 during a Constitutional Referendum that is consistent with the rights of people to self-determination as entrenched in the Charters of the African Union and that of the United Nations. On December 2002, we held our first local government elections, followed in April 2003 by the first Presidential elections, and then we held our first parliamentary elections on September 15th, 2005 in order to complete the long and difficult transition from a traditional clan-based political system to a stable multi-party democracy in Somaliland. On June 26, 2010 the second historic Somaliland Presidential election took place and again it was a huge success. The peaceful transfer of power via the ballot box, and the credible democratic election process – a rarity, was an additional boon to Somaliland’s reputation as ‘Africa’s best-kept secret’.
Catherin – From the Globe and Mail: Why do you think the international community has refused to recognize Somaliland? Are they afraid that recognition will encourage other separatist movements in Africa? Are these fears valid?
Liban: Despite Somaliland unambiguously fulfilling the fundamental conditions of statehood and can be considered a success story in African terms, yet the international community refuses to recognize Somaliland as a sovereign state. Not recognizing Somaliland, obviously demonstrates that the international community typically places more focus in Africa’s failures and conflicts than on giving credit to the sort of a real achievement we have registered here in Somaliland. Undermining Somaliland sadly also undermines the goals of promoting poverty alleviation, peace, stability and good governance in Africa. It has been over 20 years, yet the international community failed to present to the Republic of Somaliland with a comprehensible justification as to why they continue to refuse to recognize Somaliland and acknowledge its achievements. It is worth to mention that Somaliland was among the first African states to be free from colonial rule, and the recognition that we seek implies full respect of the borders we had at the moment of our independence from Great Britain. Somaliland is by no means the first African state to have entered into a voluntary union with another and subsequently withdrawn from that union intact. Egypt and Syria, Senegal and Gambia, Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau, and Senegal and Mali have all done likewise.
Therefore, failure to recognize the Republic of Somaliland’s achievements and isolating it would be a great discredit to human rights and to democracy itself, and would destroy the hard-won stability that Somaliland enjoys today.
Catherin: Why is sovereign recognition so important? What are some of the economic and political challenges that Somaliland faces because of its lack of official recognition?
Liban: Although Somaliland is a stable democratic state that respects the rule of law, we promote regional peace and security; we respect and are engaged in full cooperation with our neighbors, we are committed to fighting piracy and terrorism. However, our economic growth has been hampered by the lack of international recognition. Investors and major international companies have been deterred by Somaliland’s ambiguous legal status. Somaliland should be recognized as a sovereign state, it is a model of effective self-governance in a chaotic region, although I am aware that politics of international recognition are complicated, but South Sudan proves that they are not insurmountable. Therefore I look forward to the international community recognizing the reality on the ground and adjusting their policies accordingly would do much to help Somaliland. However, continuing to pretend that Somalia is a one state governed by the TFG will bring more of the same.
To answer the second part of your question, Somaliland faces many challenges due to the lack of official international recognition. Some of these crucial challenges are the lack of direct international assistance to the government to help develop and reconstruct the country and drastically help strengthen the government institutions. The other challenge is the nonexistent of meaningful direct foreign investment and the list goes on, it’s like tying up an extremely hungry being and then putting a plate full of food in front of him/her – hope you got the picture here – such critical challenges may lead to failures, weaken state institutions, deepen poverty, prevent development efforts, create internal security challenges in addition to increasing the political and economic turmoil in the Horn of Africa. Therefore, for Somaliland to move beyond its deep-seated structural crisis, for development to succeed in almost any context and to help our government to stay engaged for the long process of development in governance, social services, job creations and income generation Somaliland must get recognized.
Catherin: What are some of the strategies that the Government of Somaliland is using to try to get formal recognition?
Liban: I believe a government official should be answering that question – however, in my opinion I am certain that since we withdrew back from the painful union with the rest of Somalia since 1991 all the previous Somaliland governments as well as the current administration led by President Ahmed Silanyo have exhausted every conceivable effort in order to achieve our nations aspiration to get a legal formal recognition and become a full member of the international community.
Furthermore, the new administration led by H.E President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo re-affirmed to the nation and to the international community that it is committed to put together a policy framework that addresses and identifies the economic, social, legal, political, moral, cultural and environmental problems that the country is faced with.
Our President H.E Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo continually confirmed his administration’s plans to put together a program that improves the standard of living and the quality of life in the Republic of Somaliland. The President also expressed his administration’s determination to design and propose a development program that is not about the delivery of goods to a passive citizenry, but a program that is about active involvement and growing empowerment that will enable each citizen to live and function in a peaceful and a stable society that’s characterized by equitable economic growth.
Furthermore, the newly elected administration led by H.E. President Ahmed Silanyo assured its people and the international community that it is committed to fulfilling all the promises during our long KULMIYE Party campaign.
Therefore, today Somaliland is in a position of strength when it comes to designing a path forward. But such a process offers the chance to attain a fully recognized status in a way that relying on a strong emotive case or appealing to history does not. It is not easy for us here in Somaliland to accept that there is more that we need to do; indeed it may seem highly unfair to ask us to do so. Yet if it is the only realistic path to the recognition Somaliland deserves, then perhaps the current mediated pragmatic engagement with the rest of Somalia to end the deadlock may ultimately be worth it.
Rose – From the Toronto Sun: You have mentioned that the current government outlined its commitment to fulfilling all the promises during the long KULMIYE Party campaign you were part of, what were those promises and was it fulfilled?
Liban: During our long campaign we firmly fought against extremism, fought for and still extremely devoted to respecting and protecting civil and political rights. We tirelessly called on the previous administration to protect individuals’ freedom from unwarranted infringement by the government and private organizations, and to ensure one’s ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression. We fought for guaranteeing peoples’ physical integrity and safety; protection from discrimination on grounds such as physical or mental disability, gender, religion, race, national origin, age; and individual rights such as the freedoms of thought and conscience, speech and expression, religion, the press, and movement.
We fought for natural justice and procedural fairness in law, such as the rights of the accused, including the right to a fair trial; due process; the right to seek redress or a legal remedy; and rights of participation in civil society and politics such as freedom of association, the right to assemble, the right to petition, and the right to vote. We fought for Universal Declaration of Human Rights, called for peaceful dialogues which demonstrate our strong commitment to democratization, stability, peace & security.
Furthermore, to answer your question if these promises were fulfilled – my answer is yes – and I am certain that our President along with his administration are still committed to those promises, protect it, putting it into practice and living by it.
Rose: Does the recent acceptance of South Sudan as a new state increase the chances that Somaliland will be recognized? Why do you think South Sudan has been given statehood, while Somaliland has not?
Liban: Yes, I believe that the recent acceptance of South Sudan as a new state will help Somaliland’s quest for recognition. Furthermore, I believe your question as to why South Sudan has been given statehood, while Somaliland has not could be a valid question, but the regional organizations and the international community in general will be the best to answer that question – don’t you think?
Rose: Do you think that the Government of Somalia employed its foreign relations, in order to obstruct Somaliland’s quest for recognition? And how have Somaliland managed to engage in foreign relations without official status?
Liban: To be politically correct here, I cannot really assume, speculate or publically accuse our already suffering brothers in Somalia and say that they have employed their foreign relations to block us from getting recognized – however, some people may validate such accusations, but I am not here to accuse or judge and I can only speak about our own efforts to become a functioning member of the international community.
Furthermore, yes, Somaliland managed to engage in foreign relations without official status. We enjoy great relations with our brothers and neighbors i.e. the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, the Republic of Djibouti and we are working on establishing a comprehensive cooperation strategy with our brothers in Somalia. Internationally our foreign policy has made many breakthrough achievements and I believe we can capitalize on those efforts.
Michael: How did Somaliland manage to build a state without international intervention or aid money? Does the Somaliland case provide an alternative model of state development to the conventional intervention approach?
Liban: We were actually very fortunate, Somaliland’s peace conferences and reconciliation process was without international interference; therefore being free from foreign involvement is the reason for our success. Our peace meetings took places in broken buildings and under the trees, our peace conference in Borama took 5 months because we wanted time to convince and persuade each other to reach an agreement. Government officials and citizens alike boast about the success of the Borama conference, and insist that local ownership of the reconciliation process and the absence of international interference explain why Somaliland has found peace while the south continues to fester.
Rose: Regarding the London Conference – Do you think the Somaliland government’s decision to participate in the London Conference was the right decision? Do you think Somaliland benefited from it?
Liban: President Ahmed Silanyo’s leadership vision, astute judgment on attending the London Conference, prudent policies in sketching Somaliland’s path to recognition while delineating its bright economic prospect to the world clearly demonstrates that he is the right man for the job with a full mandate to lead our nation. After a broad, continuous and balanced national consultations with his government, legislative houses, ruling party, opposition parties, tribal leaders, scholars, civil society, business community, national figures and influential citizens it has been unanimously agreed that President Ahmed Silanyo’s decision in attending the London Conference was wise and a political breakthrough. Consequently, his astute judgment provided him an opportunity to express the following:
• His nation’s voice and their right to be heard
• The Republic of Somaliland’s political stance since it withdrew from the painful union with the rest of Somalia and declaring independence in 1991
• To exhibit his nations single-handed achievements in trouncing anarchy, violence in addition to maintaining peace and stability after the demise of the Somali state.
• To state his administration’s position on the insecurity in the region and in the Indian Ocean posed by piracy and terrorism
• To convey his nations hearty support for the world to extend a helping hand to assist their neighboring brothers and sisters in Somalia solve their political differences and move beyond their deep-seated crisis
• To seriously appeal to the international community in fulfilling their commitments in increasing their financial support to the Republic of Somaliland in order to achieve the long awaited development
• To corroborate his government’s commitment to collaborate with the international community to assist stabilize the Horn of Africa and contribute to security initiatives in the high seas
• To call on the world to support his country’s young and unique democracy since it’s a rarity in the region.
• To stress his strong support to ending the anarchy, instability and violence in Somalia, while serenely establishing an inclusive legitimate authority to protect its citizens, achieve prosperity and improve services to our brothers and sisters in the troubled Somalia.
Furthermore, the President’s decision to attend the London Conference was a chance to petition to the world that it has been over twenty-years, yet the international community failed to present to the Republic of Somaliland with a comprehensible justification as to why they continue to refuse to recognize Somaliland and acknowledge its achievements.
It was a chance to significantly publicize that the people of Somaliland re-affirmed their support for their country’s sovereignty in 2001 during a Constitutional Referendum that is consistent with the rights of people to self-determination as entrenched in the Charters of the African Union and that of the United Nations.
It was a chance for our President to proudly enlighten the conference about the Republic of Somaliland’s unremitting and enormous unforced achievements in fulfilling the aspiration of its nation by holding democratic, free and fair elections.
It was chance to outline that the people of Somaliland took advantage of the constant peace and stability to improve their sources of revenue through private sector-led growth and economic development through trade and investment. That the Republic of Somaliland’s current status is not by chance nor it was a coincidence, however it was earned through great sacrifices, perseverance and hard work; and it succeeded against all odds.
It was a chance to outline that Somaliland’s existence should not be seen as a threat to Somalia or to any entity in the region, yet in reality Somaliland’s success in terms of reconciliation, power sharing, consensual politics, democracy and good governance should be an example for Somalia to emulate.
It was a chance to outline that the peace and stability in Somaliland since extricating from the painful union caused a vast flow of refugees from Somalia, integrated in the society these Somali refugees are now living peacefully and respectfully in Somaliland where thousands of them have established businesses.
Additionally, it was a chance for our President to reiterate the need for the international community’s continued support to the Republic of Somaliland and to the current administration’s efforts in the fight against poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, disease, terrorism, piracy and all related threats.
The nation here was pleased with the final communiqué of the Conference especially when it recognized the need for the international community to support any dialogue that the Republic of Somaliland and the TFG or its replacement may agree to establish in order to clarify their future relations. Some may interpret that this statement may not offer support for the Republic of Somaliland’s bid for independence, however it puts the international community on the record for supporting dialogue in resolving the differences between the Republic of Somaliland and Somalia.
Rose: Do you think your neighboring countries – Djibouti and Ethiopia – are sympathetic with Somaliland’s case? How do you view the leaders in those countries?
Liban: We are fully engaged in cooperating with our brothers in Djibouti and Ethiopia. We work together on improving the regional security, development, economic cooperation and in numerous areas. The President went on official visits to both Djibouti and Ethiopia to reconfirm and strengthen the brotherly relations and the solid foundation we have established with our brothers in Ethiopia and Djibouti. All Somaliland officials at all levels enjoy great brotherly and working relationship with our neighbors, and I believe that will grow and continue because we are all interconnected.
The leaders in both countries are wise leaders who are committed to advancing their nations and making their countries a beacon of development and stability. Leaders in both the Republic of Djibouti and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia carried out wise and comprehensive policies that enabled their countries to develop fast and the investment from multinational companies grew at enormous rate, their astute policies geared towards a stable and consistent foreign policy which respects the sovereignty of its neighbors, seeks to use peaceful diplomatic means to resolve any conflict or dispute and putting the interests of their people first made their countries a beacon of hope and permanence.
Michael: Why President Ismail Omar Guelleh matters in the region?
Liban: Despite all the political rhetoric from those who are devoted to accusing President Guelleh of eliminating his political opponents, President Guelleh is one of the region’s most influential, reformist leaders, balancing his country’s traditional conservatism with his vision of a modern and culturally diverse state playing a stabilizing role in the frequently tense regional politics of the Horn of Africa.
Considering his country’s meager resources, President Guelleh is a man who has made promises and kept them; he has insisted on excellence and achieved nothing less; he has defined the role of leadership and fulfilled it and sees his country as a strategic bridge between the West, Asia, the Arab Peninsula and Africa. Since becoming the President groundbreaking initiatives have been rolled out at an astonishing rate, the country registered sustained yearly growth rate of approximately 6%, became a magnet for private sector capital investment attracting foreign direct investment inflows that now top $200 million annually. Furthermore, the country significantly improved its finances, paying current salaries and maintaining reserves while becoming a significant regional banking hub, with over $600 million in dollar deposits. In 2000, Dubai Ports World took over management of Djibouti’s port and later its customs and airport operations. The result has been a significant increase in investment, efficiency, activity, and port revenues. Simply, through munificence political compromise and dedication, President Ismail Omar Guelleh has achieved notable successes while shouldering the great responsibility of leading Djibouti. Hence, in the eyes of his nation his opponents and political critics appear to be just power hungry with aspirations to seize power through conspiracies and creating anarchy in an already volatile region not to mention their failure on providing their nation with a better political agenda or a comparative national development plan.
Rose: During our lunch conversation you have outlined the current administration’s commitment towards women and engaging them in the decision making, you have backed your statement mentioning that the President appointed three women ministers in high profile ministries i.e. education, health, labor and social affairs. You have also mentioned that you have an educated and experienced First Lady; can you elaborate as to why it is important to have a First Lady with such caliber?
Liban: Our First Lady Madam Amina Waris was the mother of the nation during the armed struggle with the former dictator Siad Barre; she was an instrumental support system and the backbone to our leader at that time and currently the President of the nation. She is kind and known for her lively personality, the Republic of Somaliland’s First Lady has been always actively engaged in education and social reforms in the Republic of Somaliland for many years and she continues playing a major role in spearheading national and regional social development projects. Her education and work experience in the United Kingdom as the head of the BRC (British Refugee Counsel) attests to that.
To be continued
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By goth Mohamed