It was a Tuesday morning, 14th Oct, 2014, my first time in the relatively cold but marvellous London that has always been an adventurous destination for me, attending UK-Somaliland Trade conference, at One White Hall in the heart of Westminster. After, numerous requests from close and great friends of mine, I have finally decided to take the pen and reflect on that thought-provoking experience. My views, expressed in the following lines are solely my personal analysis of the conference proceedings.
Let me start by thanking the UK’s FCO for the invitation (UK is also generously paying my scholarship in the University of Bristol – which I will reserve for another day!).
It was immediately apparent that the conference was well-organized and carefully designed with diverse participants from around the world (mostly based in the UK). I have attended humanitarian or development meetings before, organized by the INGOs/UN or governments, but it was my first time to participate such a high-level trade/investment forum, hence both a learning experience and networking space for me.
The forum was the first of its kind, exclusively for Somaliland, and the high turnout and the positions of the delegates were significant gesture of the International interest in the little-known but resource-rich country, Somaliland.
In attendance were the president of Somaliland, Ahmed M. Siilanyo, UK’s Ministers for Africa and International Development, half a dozen of Somaliland ministers, many International and UK investment companies as well as successful local entrepreneurs.
The articulate and well-prepared speeches from the key speakers, including the president to the minsters and the CEOs, and other key figures were absolutely inspiring and informative. Many of the people I have talked to expressed they either had little or no information about Somaliland before this conference, but all of them had one thing in common – their increasing interest in Somaliland and their believe that it is both strategic and potential area for investment.
I will not hesitate to highlight three of the most convincing presentations in the conference, according to me, as it is worth giving the credit to those who deserve it. They were from 3 great individuals, whom I personally knew/know very little about them. It is only the way they have engaged their audiences and so effectively passed their respective messages that forced me to say the following:
- Dr. Edna Adan – Chairperson and founder, Edna Hospital: her well-planned and self-explaining presentation (about the hospital) was aided by her unique eloquence and the passion she has the very topic she was taking about. I have to say, she has made the hall bit more lively and Somaliland is very lucky to have her.
- Hon Hussein Duale, the SL’s Minister for Energy & Resources: I assume there were two reasons for his great presentation; the interest of the topics (oil exploration, minerals and energy) he was talking about, and the extensive knowledge/experience he has the field. I can’t think of a better person to expound our untapped resources. The intelligent manner he was responding to anxious investors’ questions was mesmerising and convincing.
- Dr. Sa’ad A. Shire, SL’s minister for Planning and Development: The depth of the information he provided the participants, supported by statistical data with fast growing trends, were clearly exceptional and remarkable. For a foreigner who want to have the most possible data in few minutes, he has given the optimum package. I was proud of having him in such a portfolio. Congratulations to you all!
I have to note my appreciation to all the speakers, and in no way this can be translated that they have not passed their message (indeed they did), but I had to let my heart reflect the day!
Finally, during the one-day meeting, my take-aways were:
- For Somaliland it was a unique marketing opportunity to ‘sell’ its investment opportunities to the world, considering the fact that It has always been a challenge to get such a platforms to boost the Somaliland’s name and attract potential investors.
- The UK government has shown its commitment to supporting Somaliland’s strive to sustainable progress and development (am not sure of recognition though!). Indeed both ministers from the UK government underlined their full endorsement for the British companies to investment Somaliland. Let me quote the UK’s minister for Africa, James Duddridge concluded his well-articulated speech “My message to you is simple and clear, go forth and invest Somaliland” as a strong confirmation.
- It has also proved the fact that Somaliland has a lot to do when it comes to foreign policy, attracting foreign investment as well as achieving International recognition. To put it more simply, it was one of the first steps to a long and expensive, but worth, journey.
- As some scholars might have suggested, I strongly feel that Somaliland should focus on development, trade and investment. We have wasted so much time on searching ‘recognition’. Why don’t we become the ‘Taiwan of Horn of Africa’. Let’s capacitate our young and able men and women and aim to be the hub of Africa’s trade. It may sound impossible, but it is us who can prove or disprove our dreams by either believing in ourselves or turning it empty dreams!
Finally, at personal level, a great moment for me was the joke I had with the president, about a similar experience he had in the UK in the 1960s. I surprised him (as we came out the final session) “I was in Bristol for the same mission you have been to Manchester ages ago………!”, walking beside him were the his ministers of presidency and foreign affairs (seen in the pic. Above). At least we all congratulated to each other, as I disappeared to capture my bus to Bristol. Till next time, I said bye to the showery London’s busy rush hour and the little confusing but sophisticated undergrounds trains!
Jama Ismail Noor is a candidate for MSc in International Relations at the University of Bristol, after winning the Chevening scholarship for 2014/15. In the past he has worked with a number of INGOs/Co. in Somaliland, Somalia and East Africa. He also has an MBA and undergraduate degree in Economics.