Raila a strong voice in So­ma­liland’s bid for in­de­pen­dence

Hargeisa on a charm of­fen­sive for sup­port in bid to gain recog­ni­tion

Daily Nation (Kenya) - - SUNDAY REVIEW - BY SUN­DAY NA­TION COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Last Fri­day’s So­ma­liland’s In­vest­ment Con­fer­ence in Nairobi may have pro­ceeded un­no­ticed by many. How­ever, un­known to most Kenyans, the event also served a ma­jor po­lit­i­cal pur­pose for So­ma­liland, in­clud­ing rekin­dling ties with Op­po­si­tion leader Raila Odinga.

Ac­cord­ing to ini­tial ar­range­ments, the for­mer Prime Min­is­ter was sup­posed to at­tend the event as chief guest — but opted out at the eleventh hour. None­the­less Mr Odinga, who is African Union’s High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for In­fra­struc­ture Devel­op­ment, is un­der­stood to have met the So­ma­liland del­e­ga­tion in pri­vate, ahead of the event.

So­ma­liland, which has claimed au­ton­omy from the main So­ma­lia govern­ment, is on a mis­sion to ini­ti­ate re­la­tion­ships with re­gional states as it pushes for recog­ni­tion at the African Union and the United Na­tions. And Mr Odinga, who has con­sis­tently led the push for Kenya to recog­nise So­ma­liland as an in­de­pen­dent state, is re­garded as a valu­able friend and part­ner in these ef­forts.

Mr Odinga’s cur­rent post­ing to the AU has par­tic­u­larly ex­cited So­ma­liland. His ap­point­ment in Oc­to­ber was widely hailed by So­ma­liland govern­ment of­fi­cials, with some pun­dits in the Hargeisa cap­i­tal sug­gest­ing Pres­i­dent Muse Bihi’s ad­min­is­tra­tion could now com­fort­ably push through its agenda with the help of a for­mi­da­ble ally.

But the AU en­voy is not the only Kenyan ally the Hargeisa govern­ment counts on. There is also Trade Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary Pe­ter Munya, who has oc­ca­sion­ally pushed So­ma­liland’s case as well. Munya, who mo­men­tar­ily lob­bied for the recog­ni­tion of Hargeisa by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity while he served as chair­man of the Coun­cil of Gov­er­nors, was also listed among key guests of last Fri­day’s event.

For their pre­vi­ous pos­i­tive ges­ture, it ap­pears Odinga and Munya are tar­gets of So­ma­liland’s wider and well mapped out strate­gic ap­proach for po­lit­i­cal au­ton­omy.

Per­haps well aware of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the mat­ter, both lead­ers kept off from the So­ma­liland event.

Ac­cord­ing to the Chief Ad­min­is­tra­tive Sec­re­tary of the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs, Mr Ababu Namwamba, Kenya is yet to for­mally re­ceive any re­quest for the re­ferred recog­ni­tion, and that if it came through “it would be sub­jected to the spirit of the AU res­o­lu­tion that up­hold re­spect for the sovereignty and ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity of its mem­ber states.”

“We re­spect that So­ma­lia is a fed­eral state and in­deed a good neigh­bour. The task at hand is to build a uni­fied fed­er­al­ist, safe and pros­per­ous So­ma­lia,” says the For­eign Af­fairs of­fi­cial.

Dur­ing the Fri­day event, So­ma­liland govern­ment of­fi­cials re­it­er­ated their state’s po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic au­ton­omy and called for di­rect busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal deal­ings with Hargeisa. So­ma­liland’s For­eign Af­fairs and In­ter­na­tional Co-oper­a­tion Min­is­ter Yasin Mo­hammed Hiir en­cour­aged Kenyan in­vestors to take ad­van­tage of the in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties in his coun­try.

“Come and work with us in build­ing the great na­tion of So­ma­liland, we have so many op­por­tu­ni­ties," Mr Hiir said as he ad­dressed So­ma­liland In­vest­ment Con­fer­ence in Nairobi on Novem­ber 30. The Kenya Na­tional Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try vice chair­man James Mureu ob­served that in or­der to re­alise the dream for Pan African­ism, Africa needed free trade.

“Our fore­fa­thers who fought for free­dom had a vi­sion to see us trad­ing and work­ing to­gether. If we are go­ing to achieve that dream, we must make the con­ti­nen­tal free trade agree­ment op­er­a­tional,” said Mr Mureu.

Like Kenya, So­ma­liland is a for­mer British pro­tec­torate that gained in­de­pen­dence in June 1960. It later uni­fied with the Trust Ter­ri­tory of So­ma­lia (colonised by Italy) to form the So­mali Repub­lic. How­ever, the union col­lapsed in 1991 fol­low­ing two decades of civil war that left thou­sands of So­ma­lis dead. In May 1991, So­ma­liland broke off from So­ma­lia and de­clared self-in­de­pen­dence. How­ever, the state has not yet suc­ceeded to re­gain in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion. The semi-au­tonomous state in north­ern So­ma­lia has so far only been af­forded ob­server sta­tus by the Com­mon­wealth.

Mr Odinga is among top politi­cians on the con­ti­nent who have per­sis­tently called on their govern­ments to recog­nise Hargeisa, ar­gu­ing So­ma­liland would help sta­bilise the re­gion.

In Au­gust 2016, So­ma­lia re­acted fu­ri­ously to Mr Odinga’s re­marks that the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity should recog­nise So­ma­liland as an in­de­pen­dent state. So­ma­lia’s am­bas­sador to Kenya, Ga­mal Has­san, termed the then Cord leader’s re­marks as ir­re­spon­si­ble and dam­ag­ing the coun­try’s ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity.

Mr Odinga made the re­marks at Chatham House Lon­don where he de­liv­ered a pub­lic lec­ture: “I am a strong sup­porter of the full recog­ni­tion of So­ma­liland. I think So­ma­liland has a very strong case,” he said dur­ing a ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion at the fo­rum.

The for­mer PM’S com­ments came just a week af­ter Mr Munya, then Meru Gover­nor, also called for recog­ni­tion of So­ma­liland as an in­de­pen­dent en­tity. He spoke af­ter he led a Kenyan del­e­ga­tion to Hargeisa in a bid to con­vince lo­cal lead­ers to re­move trade re­stric­tions on mi­raa (khat) busi­ness.

As PM, Mr Odinga vig­or­ously pushed for So­ma­liland’s case — cour­tesy of his in­flu­ence in govern­ment. On May 20, 2011, for in­stance, the Kenyan Govern­ment ex­pressed its readi­ness to ex­tend diplo­matic recog­ni­tion to So­ma­liland “in the near fu­ture”. The state­ment was made by For­eign Af­fairs as­sis­tant min­is­ter, Mr Richard Ony­onka, dur­ing an event held in Nairobi to com­mem­o­rate So­ma­liland’s 20th an­niver­sary of In­de­pen­dence. The Min­is­ter, who was al­lied to Mr Odinga’s Or­ange ODM, stated that Kenya would en­cour­age the AU and In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Au­thor­ity on Devel­op­ment (IGAD) “to fi­nally ac­cept So­ma­liland as a sov­er­eign state”.

A woman holds a flag dur­ing the So­ma­liland In­de­pen­dence Day cel­e­bra­tions in Hargeisa on May 18, 2016. So­ma­liland is not recog­nised by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity as an in­de­pen­dent state.

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