This is a decisive time for Somaliland. On 24 June, a new container terminal was inaugurated at the port of Berbera. This has set our country on the course to become a port and commercial hub in the Horn of Africa.
By Muse Bihi Abdi
We have every reason to achieve this: peace, security and willingness to ensure stability. Somaliland aims to be a responsible partner in an unstable region, both through external security cooperation and internal negotiations to bring under-represented groups in the east into the government.
We have ensured sound engagement with the AU, the UN and the EU Institutions as well as its member states. Our foreign policy has taken a positive change towards participatory and inclusive processes.
This container terminal inauguration marks the first step of an agreement that was concluded in 2016 with the Dubai port operator, DP World, who has committed to invest $442m in Berbera. The annual port logistics capacity of Somaliland has already skyrocketed from 150,000 to 500,000 containers and can receive the largest container ships in the world. Furthermore, thanks to the new port infrastructure, these ships are no longer kept waiting several days but several hours only.
On course for a crescendo development, we are confident to see Berbera receive two million containers per year in the near future – making Berbera a credible alternative to Dar Es Salaam, Mombasa or Djibouti.
An alternative that has already been selected by several international operators. Thus, in September 2020, Swiss trader, Trafigura, announced that it would move to the port of Berbera to supply Somaliland with oil products and respond to the growing need for hydrocarbons in Ethiopia.
We are convinced this is the first of many such moves. In fact, within the framework of the 30-year agreement that binds DP World to Somaliland, DP World has also committed to building an attractive free zone around the port. This will include depots, offices and services to facilitate investment in Somaliland.
Also, Berbera will soon have an international civil airport. Finally, in 2019, a $400m road project was launched to connect the port to the Ethiopian border city, Tog Wajaale.
Progress so far
The actions we are taking in Berbera are also being taken everywhere for the benefit of the 4.5 million citizens of Somaliland. Our capital, Hargeisa, which was in ruins when we became independent from Somalia in 1991, is still home to one million inhabitants. Shopping centres have opened, hotels have been built, cultural centres offer live music and dancing, you can eat very fine camel in restaurants and there is even an Ikea and a Coca-Cola bottling plant!
The Edna Adan Hospital opened in 2002 to provide maternity services in Somaliland. Funds were raised through personal assets, government, and private donors, as well as the community itself. Today the hospital provides services to reduce maternal, newborn, and child mortality, including antenatal and neonatal intensive care as well as paediatric and adult care.
The quality of life for our citizens has increased a great deal. International runners meet at the annual Somaliland marathon. The annual literature festival has built our reputation abroad: it includes both Somali novels and poems.
There is an encouragement for women to have a career. It is now more common to see some becoming doctors, entrepreneurs or teachers. To improve women’s rights, in 2018, Somalia passed a law condemning rape. Women’s participation in the independence of Somaliland was instrumental. Edna Adan was particularly one that we are proud of, who participated in the peace process and also is an advocate to abolishing FGM. In fact the civil society has taken a strong importance in the lives of Somaliland’s population and have been instrumental in the process to peace.
Effect of international community’s refusal to recognise the state
And all of this even though our country, thirty years after its independence, remains excluded from the international community who still fails to recognise Somaliland as a state. Because our country is excluded from international trade agreements, it is much more complicated for investors to arrive and we are cut off from international aid.
There are many obstacles that prevent us from acting as fast as we would like to overcome the immense challenges that lie before us: in terms of education, illiteracy remains widespread and unemployment prevails, we lack power and infrastructure, and access to water, food and healthcare is even more difficult due to the repeated droughts we have experienced over the last few years.
This medley of events pushes our young to exile. This is despite the fact that there are many examples of good education, such as the Abaarso school of science and technology in Hargeisa, which shows that children can have brilliant academic careers and reach the most prestigious university-level institutions in the world.
So why keep Somaliland away from the international community when all arrows point to the fact that our people are committed to self-determination?
Since 1991, has Somaliland not organised several presidential and legislative elections, as well as several local elections and were elections not held once again in June 2021? Did the UK and the US not finance updated Somaliland electoral registers with a biometric iris recognition system? Did Somaliland not form its own army, national police and bilateral border control posts? Does Somaliland not celebrate the 20th anniversary of its constitution, which has been massively adopted by all the clans of our country?
The future for Somaliland and its people, is now tangible with the completion of the first phase of Berbera Port , this has made our strategic vision in taking our place on the global map by making it a major trade hub in the region. With the new terminal, along with the second phase of expansion and economic zone along the Berbera corridor, we are now firmly positioned to further develop and grow our economy through increased trade, attracting foreign direct investment and creating jobs.
Yet, the international community persists in deeming our country a separatist entity although its stability could be a role model for the region. In Somalia, presidential elections were set for 10 October following a month of one of the worst political crises in recent times. In Djibouti, president Ismaïl Omar Guelleh was re-elected in April 2021 for his fifth consecutive term while the opposition remained silent.
Given this regional context, many countries are considering Somaliland to establish diplomatic representation. This is what the UAE did, following in the footsteps of Kenya who committed to opening a consulate, and most recently Taiwan opened an East-African representation office on our territory. Furthermore, a dozen countries have already agreed to provide a visa to those with a Somaliland passport.
Also, the international recognition of Somaliland is very beneficial on an economic level. Today’s economy is mainly based on the exportation of livestock and the remittances of our diaspora who send money back to their family. With the support of the Taiwan technology assistance group, our potential is greater for advancement in process management as well with the country’s Ministry of Telecommunications and Technology.
A three-year plan will involve training qualified staff, launching a cross-ministry data exchange platform, and improving the Somaliland government’s internet management.
We can, of course, mention agriculture due to our production of incense, gum arabica, henna, and oilseed or sesame products. Our subsoil contains large reserves of coal and oil.
In terms of finance, thanks to Dahabshiil, Somaliland has one of the largest African money transfer companies. Furthermore, 3.5 million people from Somaliland can pay their bills and cover their daily expenses via SMS using the Zaad mobile money transfer system.
We aspire to play an active role in the AfCFTA, which has been established earlier in 2021. All Somaliland desires is to play our part. All Somaliland desires is to be recognised.
Muse Bihi Abdi, is the president of the Republic of Somaliland