The Speech by the Somaliland Foreign Minister at the Wilton Park Conference Wilton Park Conference
Ministers, Distinguished guests, Ladies & Gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me as the Foreign Minister of Somaliland to participate in this international conference in order to share our experience in piece-making and state-building with you in the search for piece and security in Somalia. We see the invitation as recognition of the important role that Somaliland can play in the regional affairs and as an opportunity to present our national views to the international community. What our attendance also shows is the increasing political maturity in Somaliland and our ability to contribute to the regional stabilization efforts. Achieving international political recognition remains our goal.
We meet on a bleak anniversary: it is 20 years since Somalia collapsed into anarchy. Many Somalis have been killed. Huge numbers have been displaced. Development has gone into reverse. Poverty figures are off the scale. The international community has spent enormous effort and large sums of money trying to establish a peace, but to no avail. Meanwhile this failure is largely ignored in the media except when its consequences – such as piracy and Al Shabab– are felt in distant capitals. Surely the Somalis deserve better than this. Surely there is a better way to achieve peace, promote legitimate Government and put Somalia on the road to recovery. I believe that Somaliland’s story can help inform an alternative policy.
I want to share with you today our experiences particularly, in conflict-resolution and state-building, in hopes of drawing some lessons about how peace and stability in Somalia could be achieved, and suggest some ways Somaliland and the international community can help.
Somaliland’s Peace & State-building Process
Somaliland’s success in resolving its internal conflicts and establishing a legitimate, functioning State rests on several factors. First, the end of the struggle resulted in an eventual victory for the Somali National Movement (SNM) after the overthrow of Siad Barre in Mogadishu in January 1991. While the SNM enjoyed widespread support in Somaliland, the war in Somalia ended with no clear victor. This led to the establishment of a number of competing armed groups, none of them powerful enough to overcome the others, resulting in ongoing violence and instability.
Second, the conflict-resolution process inside Somaliland between the northern clans was a purely indigenous phenomenon where parties to the conflict were subject to direct pressure from those affected to reach compromises. For example, several reconciliation conferences were held inside Somaliland. Many other meetings were held under trees where the proceedings were visible. But in Somalia, the attempts to resolve the conflict were launched from outside Somalia by an international community with very divergent aims and interests. Attempts to bring the parties together took place outside the country in luxury hotels, conveying a lack of urgency and pressure to reach an agreement, and robbing those whose peace was at stake of any leverage over the proceedings. The resulting message was therefore the reverse – it incentivized participants to delay reaching agreement and enjoy for as long as possible the personal advantages conferred by taking part.
Third, the conflict-resolution approach in Somaliland drew on a tried and tested tradition of local methods designed to defuse disputes between neighbouring communities. Clan elders were active participants in the process. Clans often played a mediating role in bringing other clans together and intermarriage was used to seal the bond between rival communities. There was also an important religious element. Meetings usually began with verses from the Koran and a reading of the Hadith by the Sheikh. This helped to set the tone of the negotiations and remind the participants of their religious duties. However, in the case of Somalia, the conflict-resolution approach was essentially a Western model which paid insufficient attention to the African cultural context, thereby neglecting these means so critical to mutual understanding and success.
Turning more to State-building, we can see a similar dichotomy between successful local efforts and failed international ones. Somaliland’s democratic processes and institutions clearly show a commitment to maintaining a legitimate form of Government accountable to the people through the ballot box and other feedback mechanisms integral to a stable, law-abiding and transparent government. Having established peace in Somaliland, democratization process followed. First political parties were formed and local elections followed. Presidential elections took place in 2003 and 2010 and then first Parliamentary elections for 35 years were held in Somaliland in 2005. Last week I myself appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Lower House – at their request – to discuss our foreign policy and with particularly focus on the Horn of Africa. Such accountability exists in Somaliland.
In contrast, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia was launched from outside and lacks any real legitimacy because the members of its parliament have not been elected by the communities they purport to serve. Indeed, many parliamentarians never attend its debates. Of course, the security situation is a major obstacle to the normal functioning of the Government. It is all part of the vicious circle which lies at the heart of Somalia’s problems. The failure to establish a legitimate, functioning Government prolongs the instability, which in turn prevents development and intensifies the poverty on which extremism feeds.
In Somaliland, the success of our conflict-resolution and state-building efforts has been carefully documented by an independent organization, the Academy for Peace and Development, which is currently led by Mohamed Saeed Mohamed. The Academy should be the first port of call for anyone wishing to understand the indigenous approach to resolving these problems. I know they would be delighted to share their wisdom and to assist with making connections.
How can a State be reconstructed in Somalia?
Understanding these differences and key elements of success, we respectfully suggest some lessons be drawn in formulating a radically new approach to the question of governance in Somalia, and one which tackles the root causes of the its problems: the failure to use traditional conflict resolution mechanisms at the local level, the lack of a legitimate and functioning government, and appalling levels of poverty. For example, around 45% of the population is believed to live below the poverty line; 1 in 6 children are acutely malnourished; and there are 2 million in need of emergency humanitarian assistance despite two successive good rainy seasons.
In our view the approach should be as follows: There should be a sustained effort by political actors inside the country and by the international community to encourage the people of Somalia to adopt a grass roots conflict resolution approach within Somalia. This approach should draw on traditional African conflict resolution methods and upon Islam. Once areas of peace have been established there can then be an attempt to create democratic institutions at the local level. This in turn will facilitate development and help reduce poverty.
In parallel, the international community needs to find ways to incentivize local communities to reach agreement together, rather than giving their representatives reasons to procrastinate and other excuses for ongoing conflict. It also needs to abandon its short-term vision and adopt a more realistic timeframe. The attitude of the international community is driven all too often by divergent interests and fixated on seeing Somalia first and foremost as a security problem. This leads to an emphasis on treating symptoms – for example piracy – rather than on solving the underlying problems.
The approach should recognize the reality that Somaliland does not see itself as part of Somalia. We withdrew from the voluntary union we went into in 1960. While the international community has not yet politically recognized Somaliland, we are increasingly accepted as credible partner for the international community in many areas. We are not interested in reunion with Somalia. Somaliland is a democratic, independent state that has achieved a lot for its people since 1991 and contributed a lot to the regional and international community and seeks for international recognition.
We acknowledge that a shift in approach in Somalia will require a change in established attitudes, as well as greater creativity. Failure to do so would not only prolong Somalia’s present agony but actually increase the threat of extremism and terrorism that the Transitional Federal Government is supposed to combat.
To sum up, the new strategy in Somalia should move to one of bottom-up conflict resolution and state-building. This would see the country address head on the underlying fractures and do away with the short-term, band-aid approach which has characterized the international community’s efforts in the past.
How the Somaliland Diaspora helped
The Somaliland Diaspora has played a critical role in supporting State-building and Somali Diaspora could do the same for Somalia. There are at least three ways in which they can help:
The first is to continue supporting the economy by means of the remittances to their families. In the case of Somaliland, these funds have been a critical source of investment, without which the country would be in much worse shape.
Second, when stability returns, the Diaspora could invest in enterprises which create jobs and so take the unemployed off the streets, helping to consolidate peace and stability and generate economic growth.
Third, the Diaspora is a considerable repository of technical know-how which could be harnessed to the benefit of Somalia. In other words, pursue a strategy of ‘brain gain’. For example, the International Organization for Migration has an interesting programme which involves bringing skilled Somalis back to the country for limited periods of time in order to help share their knowledge and skills.
Other ways Somaliland can play a positive role
In addition to sharing lessons, Somaliland can help to create economic opportunities and promote regional security. First, Thanks to our strategic location, my country offers opportunities for improving the transport infrastructure of the region, in particular better transport links between Ethiopia and the open sea, as well as links into the North-South road corridor in Africa, via the Berbera Corridor. The EU has of course agreed to fund a study about how to develop the Berbera Corridor and improvements are being made to the port itself.
Second, every country in the region has a role to play in promoting security. Somaliland is obliged to spend large sums to defend itself against the threat of terrorism. We cooperate willingly with our neighbours and the wider international community – in exchanging information about potential threats. We also enforce the UN arms embargo against Somalia. Meanwhile, we prosecute any Somalilanders guilty of piracy. We also deny bases to pirates in our country and, in practice; our waters are largely free from pirate attacks. Of course we receive international assistance in the security sector. Given more resources we could do more to help.
I would like to use this opportunity to say a bit more about the achievements to date of our new government, and how the international community could support Somaliland. Since it came to power in July 2010, the current government has strived to significantly enhance the prospects and opportunities for Somalilanders, and to fulfill the expectations of the electorate. Its achievements so far include:
Increasing revenue collection from $40 million to $70 million;
Paying civil servants and soldiers a living wage while cutting down on surplus numbers;
Making primary education free, and thereby removing the perverse incentive for excessively large classes which have been diluting the quality of the teaching;
Drafting new laws on the Budget, Public Finances & Accountability, Procurement and Customs;
Building new roads.
Establishing renewed positive relations with in the international communities.
In the latest Government budget, the allocations for education have increased by 145%, health by 80% and agriculture by 50%. The Government also plans to spend $2 million a year over the next five years building dams to help conserve precious water in our largely arid country.
Of course, it is still early days and there is still much work to do. We look to the international community to assist. To be more specific:
We need more development assistance and we see our priorities as being health, education, governance, water and security. While we very much appreciate the humanitarian assistance which the international community has provided over the years, it does not promote the long-term growth that we need to lift more of our people out of poverty. Nor does it make the economy more resilient in the face of worsening drought conditions or other unforeseen developments which are beyond our control. Development assistance in these priority areas will allow us to make investments and improvements in the places most at need that will best serve sustainable growth and stability. We are happy that some major donor countries are directly supporting our government.
Another area is Foreign Direct Investment. Somaliland wishes to prioritize labour-intensive industries which would add value to Somaliland’s raw materials, such as hides and skins or fish. But for this we need an Investment Promotion Agency which could help market the opportunities both to individuals in the Diaspora interested in purely financial investments and to companies which might be interested in locating business activities in our country. We have in mind a small agency staffed by Somalilanders with business backgrounds and strong commercial networks in the Diaspora. It would proactively market the opportunities, support Government Ministers on their overseas visits and use a variety of marketing tools. The World Bank and UNCTAD are potential sources of technical advice, but such an operation needs funding, including suitable offices and equipment.
We also need help in diversifying our exports. Over 90% of Somaliland’s exports consist of livestock which is exported to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Gulf countries. These exports are highly vulnerable to interruptions, such as embargos on the import of livestock from the Rift Valley, which Saudi Arabia has imposed periodically. We need help to address cattle health issues, gain access to EU veterinary certificates for meat exports and negotiating entry points to the EU market.
By helping to consolidate Somaliland economically, the international community will help to reinforce our role as a cooperative partner in tackling extremism and terrorism. It would also help to build strong example for how peace and stability could be achieved in Somalia.
I believe that the ideas I have outlined today would help create a greater stability in Somalia facilitates legitimate Government and economic growth, and so helps lift more people out of poverty, while also reducing the tendencies towards insecurity.
But after 20 years of failed experiments, such a strategy depends on people being realistic, abandoning the current approach to Somalia’s problems and moving towards a bottom-up strategy based on conflict resolution at the local level. At the same time, Somaliland should be supported and strengthened as bulwark against extremism and, more positively, as exemplars of what can be achieved in the same cultural context. Accepting realities, which is the sub-title of this conference, sums it up perfectly.
I stand ready to discuss these issues in detail, and in particular to share Somaliland’s own experience of resolving conflict at the local level and building democracy from the bottom up. Meanwhile, Somaliland will continue to support regional and international efforts to eliminate the scourges of terrorism, extremism and piracy from our region.
Dr. Mohamed A Omar
Foreign Minister, Republic of Somaliland