Somaliland is a country that manages to consistently confound the naysayers. Some would have the wider world believe that such a country has little chance of surviving in such a tough, and often hostile neighbourhood. With its forbidding climate and unusual status, on paper at least the odds appear stacked against it, yet analysts have rarely factor in the resilience of the Somalilanders themselves. As in all things, context is king, and this is especially true of anything in relation to the Horn of Africa. Truculent neighbours, the machinations of foreign powers and the not always benign influence of the UN and the African Union all make for daily challenges. For all this Somalilanders remain remarkably positive, and have many reasons to be proud of their achievements to date.
If anyone wanted a person who symbolises the Somalilanders ‘can do’ spirit, they need look no further that the seemingly indomitable Edna Adan Ismail and her creation. Here is a woman (a very determined lady) whose drive and vision has resulted in a medical facility whose history is as remarkable as it services are proving transformative. Recognising the fact that accessing health should not be the preserve of the privileged few, Edna Adan has worked tirelessly to establish a hospital whose very existence adds lustre to the name Somaliland. Whilst some chose to focus on her gender, she set to the task of proving the sceptics wrong. The Edna Adan Hospital (http://ednahospitalfoundation.org/) is a facility that Somalilanders should do all in their power to support. For what has been established continues to develop, and has become an important knowledge hub, one that is hugely significant not only for the country, but also for the region and the wider world. This centre of health excellence works tirelessly to serve the country at large, an immense task that requires effective leadership and training. Here is a hospital whose reach is felt far beyond Hargeisa, and its work is seemingly never ending. In order to ensure that the vital work of the hospital continues it is essential that it is given the wherewithal to consolidate and expand its work. The harsh reality is that funding remains a constant challenge. Where some might shrug their shoulders or suggest relying on fitful foreign aid, in truth it is Somalilanders themselves who should embrace this cause and ensure that it is the envy of Africa and beyond. Kind words and praise do not pay for training, new equipment or lifesaving drugs, ultimately it comes down to donations in kind and in money. Keeping the shillings (and dollars) flowing is certainly an important way of demonstrating a commitment to cherish an institution which seeks to save and transform lives.
In society at large there are people who have political, economic and social power. It should be our earnest wish that such individuals exercise such power for the betterment of mankind. When considering those with power, in power or seeking power we would do well to remember Tony Benn’s Five Questions:
“What power have you got?”
“Where did you get it from?”
“In whose interests do you use it?”
“To whom are you accountable?”
“How do we get rid of you?”
Now there really is some food for thought.
Somaliland is alive with potential. Locals and members of Diaspora are increasingly eager to demonstrate what can be achieved. Inbound and outbound flights are full of the excited chatter of people who see fresh opportunities and a future. A key ingredient is hope, and Landers have a reasonable degree of hope at present. They look around them, and feel rightly proud of what has been achieved. They have a remarkable story to tell, and I am pleased to see that more and more people want to hear Somaliland’s story, as well as better understanding the Horn of Africa. The narrative is understandably charged with emotion, for today’s progress must never be allowed to obscure the fact that the modern nation was forged in times of trial and tribulation. Like the people of Rwanda, Somalilanders have known considerable suffering and as a result have no intention of allowing history to repeat itself. They too appreciate what it means to have endured threats and violence from their own kith and kin, and it behoves those from outside to make a far greater effort to appreciate the terrible price that was paid. Like Rwanda, in many respects Somaliland has had to learn to be self- reliant. Things have been tough, but here are a people who in their own way have managed to triumph in the face of adversity. In fact when it comes to nation building and future development there is much that Somaliland can learn from how Rwanda has gone about things.
Sadly, the fissure that is tribalism in politics and society appears to be deepening in all the Somali territories. Many prefer to see clan and party political associations first and the actual person second. Somaliland continues to make real progress, but in truth currently this is being impeded by self-seeking political carpetbaggers utterly devoid of vision. It is regrettable that in recent months various figures have been hawking themselves around different political parties in search of personal advancement. Such individuals seem far more interested in self-aggrandisement and professional preferment than they do in service. Furthermore, those desperate to walk the corridors of accountability often balk at scrutiny and bristle at any form of constructive criticism. Already there are those who resent anyone who shines a light on their activities, and seem intent on stifling debate. In the febrile atmosphere that often precedes elections there are always those who will denigrate, demonise and even threaten those who ask legitimate questions. We must all be on the lookout for those who will endeavour to use bully boy tactics as a means to gag the press, silence democratic debate and bring pressure to bear on those eager to exercise their democratic right. In a world of dissemblers and deceivers who speak the words of togetherness, yet conspire to divide and exploit, we must never forget the power of love.
The Horn of Africa is a region beset with challenges, the latest of which appears to be the proliferation of foreign military bases. To its credit Somaliland has demonstrated a high degree of patience when dealing with its neighbours, and appears to be making a more concerted effort to forge positive and purposeful relationships based on mutual cooperation. His Excellency President Ahmed Mohammed Silanyo deserves considerable praise for his years of service; for his is an extremely exacting role, one that he has always carried out to the very best of his ability. Those who rush to sit in judgment would do well to reflect on just what a responsibility being President is. Somaliland after all, is the nation it is today thanks to those prepared to serve and do their duty.
In many respects these are exciting times for Somaliland. Whilst the country is still very much a work in progress, it has a growing number of examples of what can be done when the right people get together. Anyone who has attended the Hargeisa International Book Fair will have witnessed Landers at their best. Similarly it has been heartening to see a number of new businesses being launched that are starting to make their mark, long may that continue. It is particularly encouraging to see so many female entrepreneurs eager to play their part in the national story. Any new jobs are especially welcome, all the more so as unemployment and under-employment continues to blight lives. Notable successes in the fields of fisheries and telecommunications underscore the business friendly nature of the country. The development of Berbera Port is another step in the right direction, but it is equally important that other towns and cities see development of their infrastructure. We all would do well to remember that Somaliland is far greater than the sum of its parts.
For all its undoubted achievements, Somaliland needs its friends and supporters to be candid. After all a friend who helps one to improve and aspire to greater is a friend indeed. Maternal and infant mortality rates remain truly shocking, and require a concerted drive to tackle the root causes of such deaths. Equally, a long-term drought and water management strategy is long overdue. Precious trees and ground-cover are being lost at an alarming rate, whilst human detritus is disfiguring and polluting a land whose rugged beauty needs protecting. The nation is alive with potential, and fortunate to be blessed with citizens, the vast majority of whom are playing a positive and purposeful role. There is an incredible hunger for education, and thus it is heartening to see so many Landers endeavouring to advance themselves either with formal education or via Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) such as those provided by www.futurelearn.com and the like. Citizens of all backgrounds want to play a purposeful role, given half a chance. That said, for all the good being done in many quarters, political and commercial advancement in Somaliland should not be dependent on the approval/patronage of the President’s wife or son-in-law, or the preserve of those with particular clan or political associations. It is imperative that every Somalilander (and those that reside legally in Somaliland) feels that they have a stake in the country, and that both appointments and promotions are based on merit, and merit alone.
Somaliland has successfully embraced democracy, whilst recognising the stabilising role to be played by the Guurti. Elders and Members of the House of Representatives can help diffuse possible tension, as well as ensure the country maintains an important cultural connection with its past. That said, there is a mood abroad in the country for fresh ideas, and it is imperative that people are prepared to listen, adapt and accommodate those who in the past might well have gone unheeded or been marginalised. Together such leaders must strive to be the guardians of all, for in so doing they will also be the protectors of those they hold especially dear.
It is marvellous to see members of the Diaspora returning in droves, and the locals proving as hospitable and determined as ever. Of course there are difficulties, some of them natural, others man made, but Somaliland as an entity is very much here to stay. Thanks to the marvels of modern communication Landers themselves from far and wide are beginning to appreciate something of their rich heritage. Sadly, photographs rarely do the country justice, for Somaliland is a land of the senses, and as such cannot be fully appreciated second-hand. 2017 presents us all with new opportunities. Let us all resolve to be more positive, more forward thinking, and if possible more discerning. One thing each of us can do is urge friends and associates outside Somaliland to visit, to explore and savour all that makes it such an extraordinary country.
Mark T. Jones