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Published On: Thu, Dec 24th, 2015

Somaliland: Berbera, a port after waiting

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Standing on a low table of his vast air-conditioned office, Ali Omer Mohamed, as everyone calls Ali Hoor Hoor, reviewed on an aerial photo of the different sectors of the port which it is responsible for twenty years. There docks, here the containers park later privatized the oil terminal in 2014 … and the possible extension of the wharf which would switch the port of Berbera, and at the same time the small Somaliland and its 3.5 million inhabitants, in a new dimension.

Back behind his desk, buried in a huge leather armchair, Ali Omer Mohamed summarizes: “What we want is a bigger port, more business with our Ethiopian and Somali neighbors and more free zones. “A punctuation of silence, a sip of milk tea, then:” The importance of this port is immense. “One of its executives, slouched at his side, agrees. For now, Berbera is a mere dot on the map of maritime traffic between the Horn of Africa and the rest of the world. It represents the lung Somaliland economy apnea who lives in the shadow of its neighbor Djibouti.

There, 750,000 containers pass each year, against just 32,000 on the Somaliland coast. From here we export mostly livestock – camels, goats and sheep – to the Gulf countries. Regardless, Ali Omer Mohamed relishes. At the mouth of the Gulf of Aden, the four hectares of its area are envious. Soon Berbera could step into the call of air caused by the current economic growth of Ethiopia. “Why do not compete with Djibouti? “Even dare owner himself. In his chair, the colleague appears to agree.

At the other end of the 937 km of the ‘Berbera corridor “, Addis Ababa plans to take to soon pass through the Somaliland port near 30% of its imports, against only 5% today. To feed its double-digit growth and its population of 95 million people, Ethiopia need another access to the sea than that offered by Djibouti, real bottleneck of its foreign trade. Port Sudan and Mombasa, Kenya, are a little too far. Massawa, Eritrea, is unavailable due to open conflict with the enemy brother. Berbera, he is within reach truck.

End of 2014, Ethiopia and Somaliland signed a corridor development agreement for a renovation of the road, some customs facilities or the possible construction of a railway. Since then, much more. Yet the future of Somaliland plays probably along this road between Berbera and Addis Ababa.

Self-declared independent from Somalia in 1991, this large region like England, bordered by Ethiopia and Djibouti, aspires to an official recognition that the international community rejects him, despite a quarter century of stability, three democratic presidential elections to pale many African regimes and security snags rare in a troubled region. And if the emergence of the port of Berbera allowed him to appear, finally, on maps of the world? “Berbera Corridor Development starts here, in port,” insists Ali Omer Mohamed.

The man of power in the region and would recall it. In recent years, international investors are jostling at the door to get the right to build the extension of the port, on the one hand, that of managing all then. The French Bolloré Africa Logistics was one of the first to come forward. The Dubai Ports World Group, already present in Djibouti, Somaliland has recently approached the government, forcing it to reshuffle the cards among the handful of declared candidates.

For now, beyond the windows of the office’s general manager, the port of Berbera purrs. A carrier container dock beating Malaysian pavilion patient the time that its cargo is unloaded, in dribs and drabs. Off, four other ships waiting their turn to dock, three of which convey the diesel needed to produce expensive electricity Somaliland. It’s ten in the morning and soon the platforms will empty to let the dodger the afternoon.

Aside from some groups of workers looking for a shady refuge, the place has so far not a stronghold of regional trade. In the center of the sleepy village, a foreign businessman, however, confirms the potential of the port: “More and more shipping companies are trying to come here. Last year, imports increased by 30%, there is a market. “It remains to overcome some inherent problems in Somaliland: the country with no legal existence, banks are rare. “Without banking system worthy of the name, we pay all in cash. I do not know where the money goes … “he said. And train length.

The first corridor feasibility study is European and date of 2003. This 27-page document stresses the need to invest in infrastructure. Twelve years later, the road leaving Berbera to Hargeisa, the capital, goes straight into thorny covered landscapes and plunged repeatedly in the bed of rivers, dried up at this time of the year. Buses and small trucks back this ribbon of asphalt, narrow and smooth over several tens of kilometers, and then pierced with potholes on the last portion used in Hargeisa. As it stands, the road would not survive long in the daily pass hundreds of trucks.

In a café in the capital, while the muezzins compete public space after powerful speakers, Rooble Mohamed, a child of the country addicted to Twitter and astute observer of national subtleties, attempts a social explanation for delays Somaliland: “People here are not used to seeing the government implement major infrastructure projects. The leaders of the clans have enormous power and can not be involved in any agreement. In fact, everyone does not realize the potential of the port for the country. “By then, it hangs. And not just because of clan leaders.

“We did not know how to properly assess the needs of a complex project and we had difficulty obtaining external technical assistance,” justifies the Foreign Minister Saad Ali Shire. Added to this is the unique situation of Somaliland. How, for example, receive loans to finance the rehabilitation of the road, estimated at 275 million dollars, almost the equivalent of the national budget without international recognition of Somaliland state? During summer 2014, a donors conference expected to be held in Kenya was canceled under pressure Mogadishu. Legally, Berbera is still in Somali territory and independence of Somaliland face at the bottom of the agenda of the central government.

“At the heart of stability”

If Mogadishu can cancel a conference, what will it be when signing a contract with a juggernaut in the port industry? “They may try to interfere, but legally we can be related to countries or foreign companies,” retorted the minister. Optimistic, Saad Ali Shire will not be dismantled and announces the allocation of port concession in mid-2016. Hargeisa is not the first announcement of this type Between … local interests and the appetite of international groups, the small Somaliland struggles to not get rid of his treasure too easily.

In his office at the Academy for Peace and Development, a think tank funded by European funds, Mohamed Farah summed up the game balancing which the Somaliland authorities are constraints: “The government takes 80% of its revenues from the port . How can you offer this to a foreign company without guarantees? This puts the government in a difficult position. Yes, we want to develop the port, but we also want to benefit. We must not forget that the corridor is at the heart of the stability of Somaliland.”

A hard-won stability that the state of the road reveals fragility. Leaving Hargeisa towards the border with Ethiopia giant traffic always seems too rickety. The border town of Tog Wajaleh is just a dusty town where people exchange Somaliland shillings, US dollars and Ethiopian Birr. Customs here also contribute to the coffers of the state. On the other side of the rope that marks the boundaries of the self-proclaimed republic, bitumen is nickel. The Ethiopians have fulfilled their part of the contract for the Berbera corridor one day into reality. It took two and a half years with a Chinese loan. Classic this side of the border. But that luxury which, Somaliland has no access.

Vincent defeated contributor to World Africa’s special envoy to Somaliland.

Sources: Le Monde Afrique – French journal

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