SOMALILAND PRES­I­DENT: WE’RE ON THE PATH TO IN­DE­PEN­DENCE

▶ Muse Behi Abdi hails deal with DP World and ex­presses con­fi­dence that So­ma­lia will recog­nise sep­a­rate state

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - CHAR­LIE MITCHELL Hargeisa

DP World’s $442 mil­lion ex­pan­sion of Ber­bera port in Somaliland will put the break­away state on the path to for­mal in­de­pen­dence from So­ma­lia, its pres­i­dent says.

The Horn of Africa state de­clared in­de­pen­dence in 1991, when So­ma­lian pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Siad Barre fell and So­ma­lia erupted into chaos. But in the years be­tween, its cam­paign for in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion has fallen on deaf ears.

Somaliland has its own mil­i­tary and po­lice forces, a func­tion­ing govern­ment and in­sti­tu­tions, and its own cur­rency, the Somaliland shilling.

So­ma­lia still claims own­er­ship over the ter­ri­tory, al­though its in­flu­ence there is min­i­mal.

But Somaliland Pres­i­dent Muse Behi Abdi told The Na­tional: “Mo­gadishu has no con­trol over our coun­try.”

Mr Abdi ac­knowl­edged that peace with So­ma­lia would only emerge with ne­go­ti­a­tion.

“We are sure that one day we will be recog­nised by So­ma­lia, as Ethiopia did with Eritrea,” he said.

Mr Abdi and his govern­ment ex­pect the DP World de­vel­op­ment, which was de­signed to trans­form Ber­bera into the Horn of Africa’s most im­por­tant port, to bring in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion as other in­vestors and gov­ern­ments fol­low the Dubai port op­er­a­tor’s ex­am­ple.

“DP World is a big in­ter­na­tional com­pany that dared to come to Somaliland and I hope that a lot of other com­pa­nies will fol­low,” he said.

With de­vel­op­ment, growth and bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion, the world would soon take no­tice, he said.

“We should first clean our house,” Mr Abdi said. “We will con­tinue to build our coun­try in dif­fer­ent fields to con­vince mem­bers of the United Na­tions to recog­nise and co-op­er­ate with us.”

The two sides had been ex­pected to re­sume talks in March but ne­go­ti­a­tions fal­tered af­ter the sign­ing of the Ber­bera port deal, which by­passed So­ma­lia.

The So­mali Par­lia­ment in Mo­gadishu de­clared the move “null and void” in March, caus­ing its re­la­tion­ship with Hargeisa to sour. Mean­while, So­ma­lian Pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Ab­dul­lahi Mo­hamed has said only his govern­ment could sign such agree­ments.

But Mr Abdi main­tained: “He can­not con­trol us, he can­not come here, he can­not have any im­pact on the ex­pan­sion of Ber­bera port.”

The UAE has strong ties with Somaliland and nearby Punt­land, a semi-au­ton­o­mous So­ma­lian state where DP World runs the Bosaso port.

But the emi­rates are in a diplo­matic dis­pute with So­ma­lia, the govern­ment of which has found it­self un­able to pro­vide for its re­gions be­cause of con­flict and eco­nomic col­lapse.

Over­run by vi­o­lence and ex­trem­ism and lack­ing in­vest­ment, many So­ma­lian states have been pulled into the con­tin­u­ing Qatar dis­pute, which be­gan in June last year when the UAE, Saudi Ara­bia, Bahrain and Egypt sev­ered ties with Doha.

The UAE and Turkey, an ally of Qatar, are among the largest in­vestors in So­ma­lia.

While the UAE is most ac­tive in Punt­land and Somaliland, where it also op­er­ates a mil­i­tary base, Ankara op­er­ates a port and enor­mous mil­i­tary cen­tre in Mo­gadishu, throw­ing into ques­tion the cen­tral govern­ment’s prom­ise to re­main neu­tral in the dis­pute.

In April, the So­ma­lian army seized a UAE plane car­ry­ing $9.6m des­tined for the Punt­land Mar­itime Po­lice Force, trained and fi­nanced by the UAE since 2014.

As the UAE be­gan with­draw­ing its sup­port in re­sponse, Doha do­nated 30 buses and two cranes to city of­fi­cials in Mo­gadishu.

In an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with

The Na­tional in April, Punt­land Pres­i­dent Ab­di­weli Mo­hamed Ali im­plored the UAE to re­main en­gaged, declar­ing: “Mo­gadishu is not So­ma­lia and So­ma­lia is not Mo­gadishu.”

As Somaliland pushes for of­fi­cial in­de­pen­dence, cen­tred around the DP World Ber­bera port, it ap­pears any hope of a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with So­ma­lia has been dashed.

Mr Abdi de­clined to com­ment on whether the UAE would act as a spon­sor for Somaliland’s in­de­pen­dence bid, as the US did for South Su­dan in 2011 by urg­ing other states to back it.

In re­cent years the UAE has pur­sued peace and pros­per­ity in the Horn, which strad­dles the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, vi­tal ship­ping routes which have come un­der threat from pi­rates, and more re­cently Houthi rebels in Ye­men.

Abu Dhabi took an ac­tive role in help­ing to bro­ker a peace deal be­tween Ethiopia and Eritrea in July af­ter two decades of war, and in June pledged Dh11bn in eco­nomic aid to Ethiopia, which is un­der­go­ing sweep­ing re­forms un­der dy­namic new prime min­is­ter Abiy Ahmed.

There was no So­ma­lian rep­re­sen­ta­tion at the of­fi­cial port sign­ing cer­e­mony on Thurs­day, al­though rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Dji­bouti, Ethiopia and the EU were present.

“They are not in­vited, they are not wel­come,” Mubarak Is­mail Taani, First Sec­re­tary of the Pres­i­dent of Somaliland, told The Na­tional.

“It is a crime, ac­cord­ing to our laws, for So­ma­lis to come to Somaliland.”

AFP; Pawan Singh / The Na­tional

Left, Flag-wav­ing was pop­u­lar as sol­diers and other mil­i­tary per­son­nel of So­ma­lia’s break­away ter­ri­tory of Somaliland march past dur­ing an In­de­pen­dence day cel­e­bra­tion pa­rade in the cap­i­tal, Hargeisa on May 18, 2016. Above, Muse Behi Abdi, pres­i­dent of Somaliland, speaks at the pres­i­den­tial palace in Hargeisa on Oc­to­ber 10

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