No illusions about the challenges facing Somaliland

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International recognition is one of many issues for the nation, says president-elect

Last week, the Republic of Somaliland’s independent National Electoral Commission announced the result of our country’s presidential election, which took place on November 13.

For a sixth consecutive occasion since 2003, Somaliland’s citizens participated in multi-party and largely peaceful elections, certified as free and fair by a 60-strong team of international observers, the result of which has been accepted by all three parties who entered candidates.

Just as notably, in a world first, the elections employed pioneering iris-recognition technology to register and identify voters, which is testament to Somaliland’s commitment to investing its resources in democratic institutions and the rule of law.

I am honoured to have been chosen by Somalilanders as their next president. Amid the celebrations on the streets of Hargeisa, my transition team has already begun the hard work of preparing to hit the ground running following my inauguration next month.

We are under no illusions about the scale of the challenges facing Somaliland.

Despite the peace and stability largely prevailing in Somaliland, security remains the paramount concern for many international actors in the Horn of Africa. The instability and terror campaign perpetuated by al-Shabaab beyond our southern border, in Somalia, and the acts of piracy across our coastline to the east, make us acutely aware of Somaliland’s role in supporting international efforts to combat these forces. 

My administration will remain committed to this agenda and continue to invest in security measures to protect our citizens and members of the international community residing and doing business in our country.

The economic headwinds facing Somaliland are equally fundamental. Our per-capita GDP is one of the lowest in the world. Unemployment is far too high, particularly among the 70 per cent of the population below the age of 30.

We are overly reliant on our livestock sector. Food constitutes Somalilanders’ single largest expense, but is increasingly imported, compounding the impact of currency depreciation on household budgets. The World Bank describes Somaliland’s private sector as “dynamic and highly entrepreneurial”, but its more than 90 per cent contribution to GDP reflects an absence of state investment.

To combat these dynamics, we will invest in Somaliland’s infrastructure to stimulate growth and create job opportunities. We anticipate that the development of roads, electrical grids, and both existing and new ports along our 850km of coastline will accelerate growth and help rebalance our economy.

Somaliland also faces a public health crisis, exacerbated by the Horn of Africa recently suffering its most severe drought in 35 years. A life expectancy of 50 years is significantly lower than elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, while a devastating 9 per cent of children do not live to the age of five. My administration will equip the Ministry of Health with the resources to radically lower infant mortality rates and promote greater access to clean water, particularly across rural communities.

These challenges and opportunities are cast against the backdrop of our enduring quest to secure international recognition

Similarly, educational attainment is lower in Somaliland than similar countries in the region. We aspire towards academic excellence and will introduce reforms to expand the literacy rate and improve the quality of our primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions.

Investment in our social infrastructure is, however, contingent on our ability to attract international investors to Somaliland’s shores. The $442m investment from DP World in the Berbera Port was an important milestone in our efforts to establish Somaliland as a hub for inward investment on the Horn of Africa — creating a strategic and secure location for infrastructure and an entry point to access the wider east Africa market.

We have developed important trading partnerships with the United Arab Emirates and Ethiopia of late, which we hope to build on and expand over the course of the next five years.

These challenges and opportunities are cast against the backdrop of our enduring quest to secure international recognition, which creates an enforced exclusion from international markets and global trading networks and compounds the socio-economic pressures that Somaliland faces.

Efforts to secure international recognition will of course continue under my administration, and will be combined with a strategic focus on achieving a network of bilateral trading relationships; but Somalilanders can be sure that we will not allow our international status to impede action on the reform agenda that I set out on the election campaign.

I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo, who showed great commitment to national security, expanding Somaliland’s international presence, and investing in housing and infrastructure.

But we are cognisant of where the government has fallen short in the past seven years. Corruption in particular remains all too present within Somaliland, and we will seize this opportunity to root it out and rebuild the state apparatus to work in the best interest of all citizens. This will include appointing a cabinet guided by the principle of inclusive meritocracy: I will oversee a highly competent ministerial line-up of experts in their respective domains, which has greater gender balance and is more representative of Somaliland’s population than before.

About 700,000 Somalilanders voted in this presidential election. An 80 per cent turnout in the context of a year of terrible drought, which caused the postponement of the elections, reflects the faith of the people of Somaliland in democratic institutions, and their high expectations of the incoming administration.

We are committed to repaying the trust that Somaliland has placed in us, and we look forward to rising to the ambitious challenges the electorate has set us.

Muse Bihi Abdi is President-Elect of the Republic of Somaliland

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