It has been 25 years since Somaliland obtained independence from Somalia and still the country is waiting to be recognized as a sovereign state. Somaliland has its own permanent population of four million, a flag, national anthem, currency, its own banks and military, many of the key ingredients to becoming a fully fledged country. Somaliland has been hailed a success as it continues to be a peaceful and stable country and has had remarkable progress in its education and health sector. But not everything is rosy as the country is faced with a drought that is threatening people’s livelihoods and one of the major exports for the country; livestock. Capital’s Eskedar Kifle spoke to Dr. Saad Ali Shire, Foreign Minister of Somaliland about the current situation of the country
Capital: What was the purpose of your visit to Addis Ababa?
Dr. Saad Ali Shire: I was part of a delegation led by the our President who visited your country and we had a meeting with the Prime Minister. The purpose of our visit was to touch base with the Ethiopian authorities. The last time this occurred was June, 2015. Normally, our President comes once a year to see your Prime Minister to talk about different issues of mutual interest; economics, the Berbera Port, security, cooperation and other development issues like electricity, water, education, health, and a whole range of other topics.
Capital: What are the major issues that got attention at the meetings?
Ali Shire: One of the issues of mutual interest is the development of the Port of Berbera. Recently we signed a deal with Dubai Ports World to extend the port so it can handle container traffic destined to Ethiopia. We also spoke about how we can cooperate on about building the road that connects Berbera Port to the border town of Togo Chale.
Capital: What is the latest on the expansion of the Berbera Port?
Ali Shire: We are now preparing for the handover, there are a number of things we need to do before the conclusion of the concession and the hand over. Right now we are in a preparatory stage and hopefully by the middle of next year or earlier, we should be finished and the extension project will start.
Capital: Ethiopia’s import, export activities have been mainly through the Djibouti Port. What does your relationship between Somaliland and Djibouti look like currently?
Ali Shire: We have a very good relationship with Djibouti they are our neighbors and I have been there myself meeting with the president and foreign minister and other ministries. The building of Berbera port will not mean less traffic going through Djibouti. The demand for import and export in Ethiopia is growing so fast that there will be plenty of goods to handle for both and there is actually enough traffic for additional ports.
Capital: So there is plenty of business to go around for everyone?
Ali Shire: Yes, this is not a case of either I have it or you have it. It is enough for everyone.
Capital: Can you give me an overview on what Somaliland’s current situation is, especially with regards to politics and economy?
Ali Shire: Somaliland is a peaceful, stable democratic state in the Horn of Africa. We are currently in the process of presidential elections which will be held next March. Economically we are doing well, but we are faced with a drought, which is not limited to Somaliland of course. So there is that problem, the rains have not been good this year and I would like to appeal to the international community to provide assistance and support to the people that are affected.
Capital: How many people have been affected by this drought?
Ali Shire: It is mainly the coastal and eastern regions that are particularly affected at this stage. The vice president has made an appeal to the international community and so far we a fact finding mission has been sent out to collect information about the people’s situation, the livestock, the pasture and water. Hopefully the final report will come out soon and then we will present that to the international community to respond.
Capital: Ethiopia has and continues to deal with the effects of the drought in the country as well. How severe is the situation in your country?
Ali Shire: I think the effect will be very serious because we have two rainy seasons; the spring rainy season and the autumn rainy season. The first rains were erratic, well below average, and the second rainy season almost fully failed. This is having a serious effect on the condition of the livestock and people could lose their animals which is their livelihood.
Capital: The fact that Somaliland is yet to be recognized as a sovereign state, how does that affect your efforts to get assistance from the international community?
Ali Shire: Somaliland is recognized as a defacto state, so we deal with countries, international organizations, businesses as a country because we fulfill all the conditions of a state; authority, permanent population, defined boundaries, ability to enter into agreements with others and all that. But I think having sovereign recognition would make things much easier. Because then we would be able to get loans from international financial institutions, things would be much better.
Capital: What is the current situation in the process of recognizing Somaliland as a sovereign state?
Ali Shire: We are appealing to the international community, we have been going to different countries asking them to recognize us as we believe we deserve, and is our right. We have a moral right, a legal right and a historical right to be recognized. We want to be a member of the independent countries in the Horn of Africa. We believe we will be able to contribute, not only to the development of Somaliland but the region as a whole.
Capital: What does the relationship between Somalia and Somaliland look like? There was an instance last year where the Somalia government included Somaliland in its political process.
Ali Shire: I want to make this very clear Somaliland is not part of the political process, federal process of Somalia. We have our own elections to deal with. We have started to have conversations with them, there were several meetings since 2012 but few things were agreed upon. The talks are currently suspended until a new president is elected there, then it will resume after that.
Capital: Looking at the peace and security issue in the region, obviously Somalia has a lot of challenges, especially with terrorist activities. How have you been affected by that?
Ali Shire: Yes we are affected by anything that happens in the region whether it is instability and war, whether it is peace and prosperity, we are all interconnected. We work as a region to ensure that the region is as peaceful and secure as possible.
Capital: How advanced is your military?
Ali Shire: We have an army, we have a police force, coastal guard, all the different military forces that every country has in the world. I believe we have a very good army.
Capital: You have been doing really well in the education sector, how did you manage that? What about other sectors such as health?
Ali Shire: Education is absolutely important and critical. No country in the world can develop without education. From 1991 to now, we have been able to make remarkable progress in this sector. in 1991 where there were hardly any schools, today we have more than 1,000 primary schools, in 1991 there were no universities, currently we have 30 plus universities, we have about 25,000 students in higher education. So really we have come a long way, still we have to go a longer way.
Capital: So what do you attribute your success to? You have a stable peaceful country that has showed remarkable progress in different sectors.
Ali Shire: We have created a foundation of peace and stability, that is really the foundation of progress. If you do not have those things, you cannot have development. Unlike Somalia where the international community tried to reconcile the situation, we have decided to reconcile among ourselves.
Back in 1991, 93, 97 we had a series of reconciliation meetings that laid the foundation and through the efforts of the government we were able to make that progress. Of course I should not forget the assistance we have received from the international community in building these schools and hospitals and so on.
Capital: Are you getting foreign direct investment? What is the driving force of the economy currently?
Ali Shire: Not a lot but yes there are some foreign investors; DP World is one of them, we also have several oil companies involved in exploration, there are others such as Coca Cola. So we do receive investors but not as much as we should have because of the lack of recognition.
The primary sector of our economy is livestock, services, agriculture industries that are currently very small. Our main exports are livestock, hides and skins and gums. The yearly export revenue from livestock is between 300 and 400 million.
Capital: What about with regards to freedom of expression, democracy, human rights, women’s rights, how do you see these issues?
Ali Shire: Our constitution guaranties the basic human rights of all citizens; women, men, it doesn’t really matter. We abide by the constitution. I don’t believe there are people that are behind bars unconstitutionally. Of course all governments put people behind bars but that is when they break the law. I think our record is good when it comes to human rights.
Capital: Somaliland remains one of those countries you don’t hear much about, most people may not even know it exists. What would you like people to know about your country?
Ali Shire: I want people to know that Somaliland is one of the most stable democratic countries in Africa. I believe we have made tremendous progress. We contribute to regional stability and we can play a more important role as a recognized state.