Failure to recognise Somaliland’s independence means aid that could save lives of people hit by drought and cholera is too slow to arrive, says foreign minister
A child peers out from behind her mother as they wait for food aid in Gumar, Somaliland, where villagers are suffering form famine and drought.
Somaliland’s foreign minister has said that the international community’s refusal to recognise the republic 26 years after it declared independence means aid is taking far longer to reach people on the brink of famine.
Though Somaliland, on the Gulf of Aden, has 4.4 million inhabitants and its own currency, army and parliament, in the eyes of the world it is part of war-torn Somalia. More than 1.5 million people have been affected by the drought afflicting the state, and most of its livestock has been wiped out. In recent days, the drought has been compounded by an outbreak of cholera in the east.
Saad Ali Shire, Somaliland’s foreign minister, said: “Lack of recognition is proving a major problem. We do not receive bilateral aid. All aid goes to the third parties via the UN. The UN has very professional people, but the bureaucracy that goes with these many channels is huge, and there is a high administrative cost. If we were recognised, we could receive aid bilaterally, and attract international investors – so creating a more resilient economy that is less dependent on livestock.
“I don’t think people took our warnings of famine seriously until the start of the year. It seems the international community does not seem to respond until there are emaciated and dying children on their TV screens.
“The assistance now through the UN is very slow and bureaucratic. There is no lack of will, but it often takes months for aid to reach the country as it has to go through so many levels.”
Somaliland, a former British colony, declared independence from Somalia in 1991 and has been praised for its relative political stability and lack of conflict.
Now, the country’s leaders are reopening a battle for diplomatic recognition, believing that if they can persuade one swing state in the African Union, such as Ghana, to recognise the country, the rest of the international community will follow. The drought, and crisis in neighbouring Somalia, have added to the urgency.
“We have always had droughts, but they used to be once every 10 years. Now they are once every two years due to climate change,” said Shire. “This year, we have had the worst drought in living memory across east Africa.
“The drought has destroyed 80% of the country’s cattle and we are a pastoral economy. The bureaucracy has been so slow that in large parts of the country little or no aid has arrived.”
Others estimate that about half of the country’s 18 million livestock have died.
Shire claimed the Somali government in Mogadishu was increasingly assertive in trying to appropriate a disproportionate amount of international aid sent to the region.
The UK and the US are by far the two largest donors to the UN famine appeal and have been at the forefront of efforts to rouse the international community to improve security inside Somalia.
Insisting that its claim for legal recognition would not worsen Somalia’s existing problems, Shire said: “We have stood the test of time. We have lasted 26 years. We are a mature democracy and country, and we believe in democracy.”
The UN has expressed concern that presidential elections in Somaliland would not be held until November, but Shire said they had been delayed due to drought and promised they would go ahead.
Children drink water delivered by a truck in the drought-stricken Baligubadle village near Hargeisa, the capital city of Somaliland, in this handout picture provided by The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies on March 15, 2017.
“From 1991 to 1997, we had conflict, civil wars and upheavals, but we have managed to resolve these issues – unlike Somalia – through reconciliation, demobilisation and better governance,” he said.
Shire said the international community was spending $2bn (£1.5m) a year to improve security in Somalia and questioned the point of giving it new weapons. “We suffer from the syndrome of being the good child. Naughty children get all the attention. The international community seems to be willing to reward failure, and penalise success.
“Somalia would benefit from our independence. We would be be able to share our experience with them on how to achieve reconciliation and prosperity. We want nothing from Somalia. We do not want land or money from them. We want our independence.”
He also urged the international community to rebuff Somalia’s recent call for a lifting of the arms embargo to defeat Islamic militants al-Shabaab. “The place is already awash with weapons. What they need to do is gain the confidence of the people. The government does not need new arms. It needs to collect the weapons that are already there.”