February 11, 2003
Somaliland formally doesn't exist, even if the country has had its own government, peace and stability, own currency, flag, and so on, for over ten years. Without explicitly recognising Somaliland, the European Commission has now started a direct cooperation with its government in a major development project.
The European Union (EU) has approved an extensive project to support rehabilitation of the core road network in Somaliland, with a "total budget" of euro 4.5 million. According to a release from the Commission, this will be coordinate by the Somaliland Roads Authorities. The project concentrates on road connection to Berbera, a town that has developed into one of the most important commercial harbours in this instable region.
The access to port facilities in Berbera is especially vital at the moment, when the Horn of Africa is experiencing a food crisis. A substantial part of goods to and from Ethiopia now goes through Berbera as the country now is landlocked. Berbera is also a major entry to most of Somalia, being the safest port facility here.
The EU communiqué thus described Somaliland's roads as the region's lifeline: "With no railway network and with air travel being far beyond the reach of most Somalis, roads are crucial channels for trade and communications." Noting that the port of Berbera had been growing in importance, it stressed the need to continue improving the road between the port and the region. Further, "the volume of transported goods grows constantly," the statement said.
But according to the EU and all other countries, Somaliland doesn't exist. Officially, the area is called North-vest Somalia. I practical terms, however, both the UN and most donor countries have started to treat the government in Hargeisa, the Somaliland capital, as any other government. The simple reason is that it is the only functional state authority in war-ridden and anarchist Somalia.
Somaliland recalled its past, being a recognised entity as a British colony, in its unilateral declaration of independence in 1991. While the rest of Somalia collapsed into constant civil war between rival clans since dictator Said Barre was overthrown in 1991, Somaliland has been a quiet oasis of economic growth and relatively democratic institutions.
Officially, the international society supports the transitional government in Mogadishu and a demand to all parties to the Somali conflict - including Somaliland - to recognise Mogadishu and participate in the peace process. Somaliland however refuses to "interfere with Somali internal issues" and the Mogadishu government doesn't even control the entire capital.
As the Somali peace negotiations keep on failing, the international society has increased its presence in Somaliland and given indirect recognitions. Mogadishu being too insecure, most "UN offices in Somalia" are based in Hargeisa and formally cooperate with the Somaliland government.
A main problem fro Somaliland during its de facto independence has been access to international finance for development. Neither the World Bank nor the IMF will cooperate with Somaliland to provide needed investments. The EU's sponsorship of the country's road rehabilitation programme therefore is a major first step in foreign financing of development projects. It is also a significant sign that the West is more favourable to a possible recognition of Somaliland.
Even if Somaliland can point to a solid historic justification for its declaration of independence, the Hargeisa government meets heavy resistance from the African Union. African governments are deeply concerned that the recognition of de facto independent states may lead to a sharp increase in liberation movements on the continent, where few national borders coincide with peoples' borders.
The principle of the "sacred colonial borders" is even present in the African Union's charter. This principle, on the other hand, is Hargeisa's best argument for not being sidelined with Somali warring fractions. While Somalia was an Italian colony, Somaliland was a British colony. The country was a recognised independent state for one week in June 1960, before it entered into a union with Somalia.
During the Barre dictatorship, the Somaliland autonomy was unilaterally removed - a breach of the union treaty, according to the official view in Hargeisa. Thus, Somaliland was in its right to cancel the union treaty and declare independence in 1991. As there was no one in Mogadishu to negotiate with, the decision had to be unilateral. Noting the chaos in Somalia, many Western diplomats agree with Hargeisa's arguments - unofficially.
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