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
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.”
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