London conference "an opportunity" for Somaliland

More than two decades after it unilaterally asserted its independence from the rest of Somalia, Somaliland plans to lobby hard at a major conference in London in February for something it has sorely lacked since its inception: international recognition of its sovereignty.

"Somaliland will attend because 44 nations will be there and those are the ones we need to lobby and explain why Somaliland should be recognized; we see it as an opportunity," Abdillahi Jama Geeljire, Somaliland's Minister of Fisheries and Ports, said.

The London Conference, hosted by the UK government, is expected to bring together "senior representatives from over 40 governments and multi-lateral organizations... with the aim of delivering a new international approach to Somalia", according to a statement posted on the website of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Geeljire said: "Somaliland was invited on equal terms with those nations that will participate; it is a golden opportunity for our country and will give us the exposure we need to present our case. It will provide Somaliland with the opportunity to share with our Somali brothers our experience and how we achieved the peace and stability we enjoy today and they are searching for."

The larger Somalia has been embroiled in conflict since 1991 and has not had a functioning central government since then. One of the aims of the conference is to help pave the way for a permanent administration to replace the transitional one whose mandate expires in August.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons
Somaliland declared independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991

The meeting's agenda, which does not include the question of Somaliland's sovereignty, covers issues such as root causes of Somalia's conflicts, counter-terrorism, piracy and humanitarian coordination.

Mixed reactions

Somaliland's attendance required overturning a legal ban on participating in such international meetings. During a 5 February joint session of the bicameral parliament in Hargeisa, 101 legislators approved the change, with just three voting against it.

"It is a mistake and we should not be there [at the London Conference]," said Ahmedyassin Sheikh Ali, one of the MPs.

Ali said Somaliland had thrived in the past 20 years "because we stayed away from those conferences [about Somalia] and we should have done the same this time around".

He said parliament's decision was a "mistake equal to the one we made in 1960" - when the momentarily independent Somaliland, previously a British territory, chose to merge with the rest of Somalia, which had recently gained independence from Italy.

Ali added the best outcome from the conference would be a decision by the representatives of Somaliland "to reject any decision that will in any way drag us into the Somalia mess."

Mohamed-Rahsid Muhumud Farah, a veteran Somaliland journalist, told IRIN the conference should be about the Somalis talking directly to one another. The London Conference, he said, was a stage "where the UK government will dictate and the Somalis will have very little say”.

"The only conference Somaliland should attend should be one where Somalis talk, whether they agree to separate or reunite does not matter, but they should be talking," Farah said.