Somaliland wants to reopen talks with the newly elected government of Somalia on security, economic cooperation and development, according to the autonomous region’s foreign minister.
Speaking at a conference in London to mark the 26th anniversary of Somaliland’s contested declaration of independence, Saad Ali Shire said that his government intends to capitalise on the February election of Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed by pushing for substantive talks on future collaboration.
“We started talking to Somalia in 2012, and we’ve had a constant dialogue since then but with the exception of issues around aerospace we haven’t gone very far to achieving anything. We think the previous government were not very committed to talks. The present government says they are more serious so we hope we’ll be able to make progress.”
The neighbours have had an uneasy relationship since Somaliland’s 1991 bid for independence, which to date has gained the recognition of only eight countries, including the UK, France and South Africa. Yet while Shire insists that a diplomatic offensive to win over the international community is steadily gaining support, he hopes that the issue of independence will not be an impediment to enhanced relations with Somaliland’s troubled neighbour.
“Eventually we’d like to see an independent Somalia and Somaliland – two independent countries that collaborate on many issues. There are many issues that we can talk about – security, aviation, other economic issues, and cooperation on social development and health. I’d urge the international community to put pressure on the Somali government to make sure talks are productive.”
The region remains high on policymakers’ agendas following the inauguration of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who is attempting to catalyse humanitarian aid and longer-term development support while quashing the Islamist militants of Al-Shabaab. In May, the UK hosted a major international conference on Somalia attended by the Somali government and foreign donors. Shire warned that Somaliland, which did not attend the conference, was often unfairly overlooked by the international community because of its relative security and political stability.
“We have the feeling that perhaps Somalia is getting more attention at the current time as a result of the problems they are having and Somaliland being peaceful, stable and democratic is not getting the same attention. We feel that the international community should reward Somaliland for doing well and should not give an incentive for failure by just focusing on problems in Somalia and elsewhere.”
Both countries require immediate, large-scale financial assistance in a bid to fight a regional drought that aid organisations say has decimated livestock and places more than 6m at risk of famine. Shire called on the international community to provide immediate humanitarian assistance and longer-term development assistance to better prepare for future droughts.
Shire estimated that up to 80% of Somaliland’s livestock have been destroyed by the failure of rains. That provides an impetus to attempts to diversify an economy dependent on pastoral agriculture, he argues, pointing to government plans to boost investment in ports, economic free zones and the wider maritime economy.
“The combination of human and livestock population pressure and climate change has created a situation where the land has degraded tremendously and its carrying capacity has been reduced. Nomadism is no longer tenable and we need to change the way we live.”
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