by Abdirahman Mohamed Dirye
Twenty years after unilateral declaration, Somalia continues to eclipse Somaliland and globetrotters see a journey to Somaliland as a risky business. The assumption that Somaliland is like Somalia, where the gun rules, has not an iota of truth to it. By contrast, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Somaliland operates according to the rule of law, where the ballot paper changes the sitting president. A biased media too preoccupied with Somalia, a confluence of terrorism, starvation, and the woes of war, hardly covers the positive stories of Somaliland, such as durable peace and democratisation. World-wide news consumers are led to believe that Somaliland is a part and parcel of Somalia and thus making a trip there is like committing suicide. But it is a de facto country and has informal links with Ethiopia and South Africa, amongst others. So far no courageous country has stood by Somaliland by establishing full diplomatic ties.
Somalia’s ongoing and complex troubles often make the headlines and overshadow the milestones of Somaliland, such as the restoration of law and order, a rich democracy, and the running of a system without any help from external sources. If Somalia followed suit, all of the death and destruction could be avoided.
Somaliland is an oasis of stability. Over the years, thousands of returnees from the Diaspora have heavily invested in the private sector. They have built four-star hotels such as the Ambassador Hotel in the capital (www.ambassadorhotelhargeisa.com), beverage factories, money transfer firms, and private airliners. Unlike other Africans who wait for their governments to do everything on their behalf, Somaliland nationals have also raised funds to build infrastructure, including bridges. Despite the fact that it is an internationally isolated nation, it is still economically viable and progressing.
Although Somaliland is 20 years old, very few foreigners know about it. Popular Arab media ignore Somaliland’s breakthroughs. The media is a spitting image of the countries that they operate in – if it is a liberal democracy, the media too is free and closer to the truth, but if it is working in an old-fashioned, authoritarian regime, freedom is not in the dictionary.
Somalilanders have done everything to give their country the international limelight and present their case, but the media works against them, sometimes deliberately. Therefore, Somaliland rarely catches the headlines. This tiny nation is struggling with the negative perception that it is associated by name with Somalia and foreigners often confuse Somaliland with Somalia. Some people in Somaliland even suggest changing the name to avoid the stigma associated with it.
Somaliland is a controversial issue among African states. Africa’s semi-failed countries like the Sudan threaten to walk out whenever some AU member states like Ethiopia and Uganda suggest a more serious look at the matter. Despite the country’s strategic location, the Somaliland case for statehood remains outstanding. On the other hand, Somalia, which has topped the list of failed countries for ten years in a row, has gained unprecedented interest from heads of African states. Nonetheless, the concerted blockade of Somaliland by the international community might not be the answer. By accepting Somaliland as a member of ‘a family of nations’ Somaliland will certainly offset the creeping danger of the Jihadists in Somalia.
The author is a Somaliland volunteer and activist based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.