By Dr. Edna Adan Ismail
Dr. Edna Aden delivered the following speech at a conference at the EU foreign affairs committee on the world democracy day.
On this day which is designated ‘World Democracy Day’, I present the Honourable Members of this House the case of the people of Somaliland who until now have been denied their Democratic Human Rights to Self-Determination.
British Somaliland Protectorate was established in 1884 when its boundaries were defined by Anglo-French, Anglo-Italian and Anglo-Ethiopian Treaties which are the boundaries within which Somalilanders have always lived. The date of our independence was established through a Decree from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and took place on the 26th of June, 1960. This proves that our independence did not come about through armed conflict, nor was it ‘self-declared’. Our sovereignty came about through a legal, majestic and binding Royal Decree while our neighbour Somalia was still under Italian rule.
Somaliland’s existence, as an Independent State is therefore a historical fact and continues to be today’s reality. We were the first Somali country to become independent and the 12th independent African nation. We therefore hold seniority over the other 42 African countries who were still under Colonial Rule at our independence but who are today in the African Union and who are supposedly to determine our fate.
At independence, Somaliland became a member of the United Nations which was immediately recognised by 34 UN Member States, including the five Permanent Members of the Security Council.
64 years later, since we have neither resigned from our membership in the UN, nor given away our sovereignty to anyone, we still claim ownership of our independence and that of our membership in the UN. In fact, it is former Italian Somalia who ‘piggy-backed’ on our existing UN Membership when it became independent one week after Somaliland.
The fact that Somaliland was the existing ‘mother country’ to which Somalia united is also overlooked by the International community who grants our former junior partner Somalia a de-facto position of ownership and seniority over Somaliland. Honorable Gentlemen, Somalia does not legally own that position nor can Somaliland be considered a ‘break-away state’ because Somalia who we allowed to join us, neither owned or bought Somaliland, nor annexed us through a military conquest
It is also worth mentioning that the Act of Union, which would have formalised the unification of the two Sovereign Somali states, was never ratified by the Parliaments of the two countries.
This makes the 31year union between Somaliland and Somalia, from 1960 to1991, only an informal and turbulent partnership that culminated in a brutal ten-year civil war before our separation in 1991, and is therefore, a union which was never legally binding on either side.
We all remember the union between Senegal and Gambia which lasted only six months, and that of Egypt and Syria, which lasted three years. Just as we did, these countries went into a voluntary union in good faith as sovereign countries. When their union failed to satisfy the aspirations of their respectful people, they separated without any punishment from the international community. On the contrary, Somaliland is being punished for doing the same.
We at least gave our union a much longer trial and only separated from it after the military regime of the Somali dictator Siyad Barre perpetrated war crimes and acts of genocide against our people. We withdrew from that union when Government airplanes indiscriminately bombed our major cities. We withdrew from it when tanks and heavy artillery pounded civilian dwellings without pity. We withdrew when the flattened our schools, hospitals, mosques, and 90% of our cities. During the 10 long years of genocide and mass killings of civilians, the world did absolutely nothing to stop the carnage of our people. Where was Democracy then when of thousands of women and children became massacred, when over half a million became internally displaced and when an additional million sought shelter in camps in Ethiopia, Djibouti and Yemen ?
To this day, we keep discovering mass graves and so far over a hundred have become registered by UN Forensic Experts. Sadly, the International Community chooses to reward the perpetrators of these war crimes with billions of taxpayers’ money when the victims are being denied a hearing and their ‘Day in Court’.
After the liberation of Somaliland in 1991, the hard won peace and stability that we enjoy today were achieved through the sheer determination and initiative of our men, women and that of our traditional elders. Unlike the 16 peace conferences for Somalia that were held in different countries and which were heavily funded by the international community, peace in Somaliland is totally home-grown and was brokered and funded entirely with our own resources. That is why it holds to this day because we wish it to hold.
Since Somaliland’s victory over the defeated troops of Siyad Barre and our subsequent separation from Somalia in 1991, we have held a series of self-funded Peace, Reconciliation and Reconstruction conferences in Somaliland.
The first conference was held in Berbera in February 1991, when our traditional Elders unanimously agreed to let ‘bygones be bygones’ and urged our people not to seek revenge, nor have malice for any persons from Somalia still living in Somaliland. Consequently, ten thousand Somalia troops that became stranded in Somaliland after the war were fed and sheltered for three months until a safe corridor could be secured for their return to Somalia.
Neither the UN nor International Peacekeeping forces were needed to escort the returning prisoners of war back to their country, Somalia. The protection of the prisoners while they were in our country was assured by the troops of Somaliland.
This general amnesty still holds and Somaliland is proud to have a large number of labourers and merchants from Somalia living and working in Somaliland without any restrictions or fear for their lives. That’s what Somaliland’s Democracy is all about !
Several other Peace conferences have been held and the most notable being the one in Burao in May 1991 when the separation from Somalia was formalised. The second major conference was the Borama Congress in 1993 when we developed the National Charter that became the Blueprint for the civilian and democratic system of Government that has been in place since that time in Somaliland.
During the Borama Congress, the 500 representatives of all the clans of Somaliland elected for Somaliland the first Elected President and Vice-President (Our Late President Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal who died in South Africa in 2002, and Vice President Abdurahman Aw Ali ).
Immediately, Somalilanders had no choice other than to rise to the challenge and get on with the daunting task of rebuilding Somaliland on a self-help basis.
Reconstruction took place without the benefit of a Marshall Plan, without the political recognition that the country deserves, without international support, but with only our meagre resources and our determination to rely on.
The Borama Congress was followed by the Referendum in 2001 for the adoption of the Somaliland Constitution which became approved in May 2001 by an overwhelming majority of 97% . Voters also re-affirmed their support for the country’s sovereignty which is consistent with the rights of people to self-determination as entrenched in the Charters of the African Union and that of the United Nations.
In December, 2002, we held our first Local Government elections and Parliamentary elections. In April 2003 we held our first Presidential elections. Having completed our long and difficult transition from a traditional, clan-based political system to a stable multi-party democracy in Somaliland, we have held several other elections which have all been peaceful, democratic, and which have all been witnessed by the International Community including the European Union. We are preparing for another free and democratic presidential election soon.
Many “recognized” countries in Africa cannot boast of such an exemplary record. In Somaliland,that is what we call Democracy in practice.
Less than three years after our separation from Somalia, Somaliland became the second African State after South Africa to achieve a general and voluntary Demobilization of its Militia. We Demobilisation our Freedom Fighter without international assistance and without international troops to make it happen. We all know how many times this has been attempted in Somalia with the help of Peacekeeping forces from 27 countries and we all know how these have failed.
We brokered our demobilization, we paid for it with our own resources, and then incorporated the demobilised militia into our National Army. That army protects Somaliland to this day.
After 24 years, Somaliland is a country of hope and determination. Landmines have been removed and over a million refugees have returned home from refugee camps or from the Diaspora. Thousands of dwellings have been rebuilt and major economic infrastructure has been repaired.
Today, we have an economy that is increasingly attracting foreign investors who wish to do business in Somaliland. Above all, Somaliland is at present building a society founded on peace, justice, and the rule of law.
We stand neither for cessation, nor for the revision of Africa’s borders and reaffirm our commitment to the peace and stability of the region which includes unreserved respect for the unity, and territorial integrity of States. Somaliland was among the first African States to be free from colonial rule, and our demand for recognition implies full respect of the borders received at the moment of independence from Great Britain.
The good relations we enjoy with neighbouring States are the cornerstones of our foreign policy, which envisions a more stable, democratic and prosperous Horn of Africa.
At first our development was directed towards the reconstruction of private dwellings, shops, schools, hospitals, ports, airports and other public property.
Our system of free market economy seems to fully agree with the entrepreneurial character of our people and is seen in the dramatic economic growth that exists and which has earned us the description of
“ A rare African Miracle”.
Today, we have more hospital beds, more universities and more young people attending schools than we have ever had in our past history. We have more advanced telecommunications and electronic money transfer system than many countries in Africa.
Somaliland has mineral resources that have not yet been exploited. We have oil, gas, coal, and the world’s largest gypsum deposits. In addition to this, we have an 850 kilometre-long coastline that is rich with marine resources, waiting to be exploited.
The deep-water Port of Berbera serves as a major outlet/inlet for land-locked Ethiopia with a population of over 70 million. Berbera airport also has the longest runway in Africa having been built by the USA as one of the six landing sites for the Columbia shuttle.
Regretfully, even though Somaliland is a country that can be considered a a rare African success story, the former Organization of African Unity, as well as the present African Union, have spent more time and effort over Africa’s failures and conflicts instead of giving credit to Africa’s achievements similar to the shining example we have in Somaliland today.
Undermining the achievements of Somaliland, sadly also undermines Democracy nor does it promote peace, stability, and good governance in Africa.
Independence and sovereignty for Somaliland is a reality with no turning back of the clock. What remains is for the international community to come to terms with that reality and to arrive at the only possible and just conclusion: recognition of Somaliland as a rightful member of the world community of nations.
Failing to do that would be a great discredit to human rights and to democracy itself. It would destroy the hard-won stability that Somaliland enjoys today, and would result in another mass exodus from the Horn of Africa that would scatter our people to the four corners of the world again.
The people of Somaliland have made a clear choice. The question now is, will the international community respect the choice of the people of Somaliland ?
Thank you very much for your kind attention.
Edna Adan Ismail