Dubai: Somaliland commemorated the 20th anniversary of its founding on Wednesday — a major milestone in itself considering the unfortunate plight of central-south Somalia which plunged deep into a seemingly bottomless quagmire.
After the hand-over of power President Silanyo, the new government immediately tackled many of the outstanding problems. It managed to considerably improve the economic prospects through intensified contacts with international partners who agreed to reiterate their support to Somaliland, while maintaining peace and stability in the face of challenges initiated from outside.
On the occasion of the state's founding anniversary, Gulf News interviewed Dr Mohammad Omar, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Somaliland.
What is your mission in the UAE?
First of all it is an invitation of the leaders of this country, especially Abu Dhabi. The aim of our visit is to promote Somaliland as a people and as government in the Arab world. The UAE takes a key decision in the Gulf states and in the Middle East as an international partner of the international community.
Is it a political partnership?
We are looking for a couple of things: economic cooperation. We have commercial validity of oil and gas in our country and also we have a long coast for fishing and maritime resources. Looking for potential investment. I think many countries are interested in funding. So that we can discuss how we can manage this wealth. We are interested in creating jobs in our country for the young people.
Why [is your country] you called Somaliland?
We were two independent states since 1960. We were colonised by Italy. We have a legal state.
What do you think of Arab countries?
This is our first mission and we will [also be in] contact [with] Kuwait which also invited us for this purpose. We [will] talk with the foreign minister [about] the Kuwaiti fund.
What do you think is the position of the UAE [about your country's] investment [and] political situation?
We've had from Emirati leaders [a] very positive position and [they] appreciate that Somaliland is peaceful, stable and democratic state. We are [totally opposite from] Somalia.
[How's] your relation with Somalia?
We always [wanted to engaged in] dialogue with Somalia government, but the problem is that we [don't] have [a] unified group to dialogue with. There are many groups fighting [for supremacy] as you know, fundamentalists trying to maintain power by force, pirates. When we find one unified group to talk [to], we are willing to talk and dialogue because we want really to have a good relation with Somalia.
There are countries [that are similar to] your situation like [South] Sudan or other countries, do you take these countries as examples for you?
Why not. Eretria was part of Ethiopia for more than 50 years and then they became independent and also South Sudan which now will be an active member in the international community.
Do you feel that you are distinguished by democracy from Somalia?
I can say that we have parliament that has been elected by the people. We have three political parties. Our population is about four millions. We have election [every] five years.
[How's] your relation with the Arab League?
We sent a letter to the Arab League to be a member, but they replied us let us wait for Somalia. The Arab League doesn't want to create more states. When there will be stability in Somalia, we can discuss that. The priority for us [is the] stability [of our country] then economic development and political diplomacy.
What is your relation with surrounding countries?
We live peacefully with Ethiopia which [has] about eight million population. We have many treaties with them. Also with Djibouti, good relationships. The other neighbours [like] Somalia we have some problems. Some terrorists and pirates coming to our seas and land [and] cause trouble.
What are your main resources?
Oil and gas are the most important resources for us. We are now drilling and exporting oil and gas. And many oil countries come to us to exploit. There are many western and Arab and Gulf countries [that] want to fund and invest. We need other countries to come and invest because oil and gas need much money.
Which countries do you want to develop relations?
We are interested in developing relations with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Our aim is to [develop] good relationship with Egypt which is the biggest country in the Arab world. But Egypt wants a big Somalia unified [with] Ethiopia because of the problem [with] water. Ethiopia has a big power on the source of water. We can understand that, but at the same time we want Egypt to understand us also. Therefore I am trying to make contact with Egypt.
Do you have political problems to be recognised by the other countries?
Our interior politics is very good, with the parliament, the parties and democracy. First we focused on the politics and now we are focusing on the economic level.
[Do] you [have] strategic [plans] of unifying with Somalia in the future?
The main work of our government is to bring the peace to Somalia because without peace we can do nothing. Then we can negotiate about the other issues [whether] to be [an] independent state or becoming a [federation] like the United Arab Emirates. There are different political options. You cannot negotiate if there is no peace. We have to accept some land as independent states.
Does Europe consider you as a key player to stop the pirates in the region?
Yes, for this reason I participated in many conferences about piracy in the world. And in particular in Dubai recently. We are useful partners in this issue to fight against piracy. It is no more a Somali problem, but regional and international. So we are working with the international community.
Are you getting economic help from other countries?
Yes. We [get] some assistance. Many Arab leaders promised to give us tangible help and also to invest in our country.
Are you getting recognition from other countries?
We have six embassies all over the world and we hope that many countries will recognise us as an independent state. We are like the Palestinians who have many embassies in the world. We are planning to have an embassy in UAE in the future.
What do you think of the Arab Spring?
We're worried about that and we have no official comment on that, but the people have the right to change their lives and leaders.
What about the Islamic movement in your country?
We are Muslims 100 per cent, but beyond religion [we follow a] democratic system. The Islamists are not marginalised, but they have to work in the sphere of democracy. As I've mentioned, we have three political parties. Our party is in power and the other two parties are in the opposition but they are in the parliament.
Do you think that this revolution will come to Somaliland?
No. I don't think so because we have elections every five years. Our party took power [last] year and perhaps we will lose the next election. That is democracy and the transparency in the politics.
What is your model of democracy?
We don't have a special model of democracy, but we follow the basic values of democracy like respecting the freedom of expression and the elections and parties. We have our local democracy which inspired from our heritage.
Do you have a cultural strategy?
Somali people are part of the Arabic world. The young people are very educated. We want to develop our Arab culture and make Arabic language and culture more accessible. We use English and Somali languages. It is part of our Arab identity.
What are your ambitions?
First of all we would like to be part of the Arab world, [for] Somaliland [to] work with the Arab [world] against the piracy, terrorism and extremists. Also we want to work with African countries.
Shakir Noori is a journalist and writer based in the UAE