By Hassan Ahmed Yusuf
Born in 1947, Mohamed Behi Yonis is better known as one of our nation’s great diplomats. His educational background is an inspiring one; he holds a Masters degree in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, a bachelor’s degree in political science from Miami University, a certificate in Conflict Management from the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution and a Diploma in Education from Teachers Training College in Hargeisa, and Gohrde College in Germany.
President Silanyo handpicked Mohamed B. Yonis to become Somaliland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs on 25 June 2013, and since then the Ministry’s profile and mandate has expanded domestically and internationally.
There is no denying that Minister Yonis’ former positions have given him a head start in foreign relations; however that should not take away his efforts in forming new and fresh relationships as a Minister to enhance Somaliland’s profile at an international level and strive closer to achieving recognition for the nation.
Since his appointment, Minister Yonis has redeveloped the Ministry’s human resources, infrastructure, policies and procedures, communication, and has established many services to citizens including visas, entry permits and business certificates. He has also sent much time and effort to restructure the Ministry to better equip it to fulfill its mandate, including recruiting experienced Somalilanders who are experts in number of fields, to work as Advisors in Legal, Communication, Political Affairs and International Cooperation fields.
Nevertheless, the Minister’s quest for improvement did not stop there; Somaliland also saw a vast improvement on international relations with other countries. In June 2015, Minister Yonis took part in the 25th World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town, South Africa, where he represented Somaliland and presented it’s case to a high-profile crowd of public and private sector leaders, including President Jacob Zuma and other senior officials within the South African Government.
He used this international platform to discuss the many obstacles facing Somaliland today, including low employment rates amongst the youth, inequality and potential avenues to tackle these issues through fairer policies and encouragement of foreign investment. Minister Yonis showcased Somaliland to world leaders, and presented our nation’s achievements including the peace and stability enjoyed here and its economic development potential to new investors.
This marked a momentous moment for Somaliland’s relationship with South Africa both on personal and economical levels.
Other achievements under Minister Yonis’ leadership at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation include drafting Somaliland’s first Foreign Policy and Recognition Seeking Strategy presented to the Presidency.
Spearheading Somaliland’s first Investment Conference co-hosted by the UK Government held in London 2014, which showcased Somaliland’s investment potential to a large number of European investors.
Leading a high-level delegation comprising Minister of National Planning and Development, Dr. Sa’ad A. Shire, and former Foreign Minister, Dr. Edna Adan, to Brussels for the first Somaliland Recognition Conference at the European Parliament in January 2015. Minister Yonis and the delegation met senior Members of the European Parliament, officials from the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and European media outlets to present Somaliland’s achievements and case for international recognition.
The Minister attended the African Development Bank’s Annual Meeting in May 2015, which was celebrating the Bank’s 50th anniversary and hosting the election for the new President of the Bank. This was the first time Somaliland was represented at the African Development Bank. Minister Yonis met a number of high-level officials including Heads of State during his trip to Abidjan, Ivory Coast. He also secured several million dollars worth of funding from the Bank for water projects for Somaliland, with potential support for energy and infrastructure.
In an attempt to address the impact of the large number of refugees traveling to Somaliland to escape the civil war in Yemen, Minister Yonis met senior officials at UNHCR in Geneva, Switzerland to discuss the Yemen refugee crisis and its impact on Somaliland. The first Minister to engage the leadership of UNHCR in Geneva to highlight the difficulties caused by the large influx of refugees, Minister Yonis was able to obtain greater support for Somaliland.
Minister Yonis has been instrumental in strengthening relations between Somaliland and Ethiopia. He orchestrated the first visit by a large Ministerial delegation from Ethiopia, including the Minister of Finance and Economic Development and the Minister of Transport, to Somaliland in November 2014 and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under his leadership facilitated Somaliland’s participation in the first International Trade Fair held in Addis Ababa. Minister Yonis has been at the forefront of trade negotiations with Ethiopia, including development and use of Berbera Port; reduce trade barriers for Somaliland’s private sector to enter the Ethiopia market; and securing cheaper electricity into Somaliland. On the social sector, the Ministry secured a large number of scholarships to Somaliland students provided by Ethiopia in significantly larger numbers than under previous administrations.
Minister Yonis has strengthened relations with many countries through formal and informal meetings with senior Government officials including Kenya, Ethiopia, Turkey, Egypt, U.A.E, Norway, Belgium, Ireland, U.K. and many more. He has continued to raise Somaliland’s profile and achievements through interviews with leading media outlets including CNBC Africa, NRK Norway, Sky News, CNN, KTN Kenya, and the Guardian. One cannot buy this type of exposure; it’s through hard work and determination and above all belief in his great nation’s potential that drives Minister Yonis to work tirelessly for his people and aim high in presenting Somaliland’s case to the international community.
The Minister’s immense efforts for international recognition should not be overlooked. He is often criticized of travelling frequently but as Foreign Minister his obligations consist of forming strong, noteworthy and sustainable alliances with foreign countries, and this cannot be obtained sitting behind a desk in Hargeisa. However, Minister Yonis’ overall reputation within Somaliland is a respectable one, he is seen as a humble, educated and dedicated man, who’s years of hard work have now been invested in his country. He is worthy of our gratitude and our continuous support in his future endeavors. The number of firsts achieved during his short period as Minister indicate the great potential that Minister Yonis still yields and with his continued efforts, Somaliland’s aspirations for international recognition is much closer to becoming a reality.