Dubai: Somaliland, an autonomous region in the Horn of Africa, wants to replicate the “Dubai model” in a bid to attract foreign investment, develop infrastructure and generate employment opportunities.
“We are looking at … building free zones like Jebel Ali. We have already created a tax regime that reduce tax on foreign investment … In many ways we are looking up to the Dubai model of business promotion, ” Mohammad A. Omar, Minister of Commerce & Foreign Investment, told Gulf News.
Omar was on a visit to the UAE last week where he met with representatives from both the local private and public sector in effort to boost Somaliland’s credentials on international development.
Located in East Africa, along the Gulf of Aden, Somaliland shares its borders with Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia but is not a country in its own right. In 1991 Somaliland declared independence from Somalia but has struggled to gain international recognition. The majority-Muslim African country has its own government, military, policy, currency and even passport; though the latter two are recognised by very few countries, if any.
Rich in natural resources Somaliland has already handed concessions to British-based Oil Company Genel Energy, who are currently undertaking assessment tests in the African region, and RAK Gas from the UAE, among others. Omar said the Somaliland government will be approaching other oil and gas companies, including from the UAE, to apply for further concessions.
Omar said he had met with officials from Sharjah Aviation Authority, Sharjah Aviation Services and Air Arabia to discuss the development and operation of Egal International Airport, located in Somaliland’s capital Hargeisa, and Berbera Airport. Sharjah Aviation Authority and Sharjah Aviation Services did not return requests for comment while Air Arabia have denied their involvement any such discussions.
“Air Arabia wishes to make it clear that it has not gone into any partnership with authorities in Somaliland and has no current plans to do so. However, the airline is aware that there are ongoing talks between Sharjah Aviation Services and Somaliland authorities about potential collaboration,” an Air Arabia spokesperson said.
Egal International and Berbera Airpor recently underwent a major facelift following a $10 million (Dh36.7 million) grant from the Kuwaiti government. Omar said there is huge potential for aviation services in Somaliland with its population of around 3.5 million. He added that the region also has a large international diaspora and is near countries such as Ethiopia which has a population of 90 million. He said he would like to see a carrier from the Middle East operating an East Africa hub out of Egal International.
But foreign investor confidence remains a contentious issue for Somaliland, which has operated as a country for the past 20 years despite not being internationally recognised. This week government ministers from Somaliland and Somalia will meet in Turkey for another round of talks on Somaliland’s bid for independence.
Omar said Somaliland’s participation in the global economy and its ability to provide security and stability to the region “must be rewarded by the international community with political recognition”.
Pressed about the Arab Spring, the presence of Al Qaida in North Africa and Al Shabab in Somalia, and general instability in Africa, Omar said Somaliland is immune to all that, “despite being part of a tough neighbourhood”. He pointed to Somaliland’s growing economy and democratic government.