Hargeisa Oct 24th, 2009 (SomalilandPress)-While violence in Somalia rages on, its less well known region of Somaliland is making tentative steps towards statehood
Hargeysa, Somaliland] With daily reports of chaos and violence wracking Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, the relative peace and tranquility of Somalia’s second largest city, Hargeysa, stands in stark contrast. The presence of foreigners freely walking and driving in the streets, and the absence of fear from kidnappings and killings in the capital of the Somaliland region, is something its larger sister city cannot boast.
Hargeysa, the city in the dust is Somaliland’s capital, a self proclaimed independent state having broken away from Somalia and declared its own administration in 1991, when Somalia was just beginning a civil war which has raged on ever since. While there are reports the self-directed authority runs its day-to-day tasks smoothly, the state remains unrecognized by any country or international organization.
For more than 18 years, Somaliland, situated in North West Somalia, has maintained some semblance of peace.
Somaliland’s formal borders were drawn in 1886, when the British established a protectorate over the northern regions of Somalia on the coast of the Gulf of Aden. It remained a British protectorate for nearly 80 years, until it gained its independence on June 26, 1960. Less than a week later it entered its ill-starred union with the former Italian Somalia in response to calls from Somali nationalists wishing to unite all the lands on which Somalis lived.
Bordered by Ethiopia in the south and west, Djibouti in the northwest, the Gulf of Aden in the north, and two other de facto independent Somali territories in the east, Maakhir and the Northland State, Somaliland occupies a crucial position.
“If the international community supported the independence of Namibia and Eritrea, then it should also be prepared to give the Republic of Somaliland a chance,” said Somaliland educator Mohamed Samatar Yusuf to The Media Line.
“Why should we force a relatively prosperous and peaceful nation to merge once more with the warring clans of South Somalia at the hands of which it suffered such oppression and hardship before and during the civil war?”
There are signs things are less than calm and peaceful beneath the surface.
In 2002, Dahir Riyale Kahin, a former colonel in the Somali army came to power and was later accused of taking part in what many Somalilanders have termed a genocide, but what others have termed ‘the irresponsible attack of tribal run government policies in its own territory’. He was sworn in as president shortly afterwards. Yet his re-election in 2003, the first public one-on-one election, was seen by some independent observers as a “free and fair election” and an example of Africa democracy.
However, his term in office has recently come under attack by the government’s main opposition party, Kulmiye.
Earlier this month the party condemned the incumbent president’s term extension which they described as “unconstitutional”, following the postponement of elections despite widespread public resistance. Riyale was elected for a five-year term which ended in April last year and in addition was given a one-year extension by the National Electoral Commission, which was due to end in April earlier this year.
Kulmiye, kept the government guessing about its plans to stage nationwide mass protests against the resolution passed by the House of Elders, which extended president Riyale’s term of office. The opposition party’s refusal to recognize the extension sparked violence and demonstrations in which six people were killed and clearly hit a nerve in government circles.
The government said that the recent mass protests against Congress’ resolution posed a direct threat to the country’s national security. The opposition claimed it was pursuing its constitutional right to stage peaceful mass protests against the illegal resolution, despite the fact that things spiraled out of control during the demonstration.
Analysts have compared the recent extensions of Riyale’s term without parliament’s approval to a form of dictatorship.
Nowadays, though the Somaliland government is reportedly making efforts to improve the public services, some people are questioning the government’s policy of using public funds and aid money.
Almost all Somalis describe the security as “clan oriented peace” in the region, despite the late Somaliland President Mohamed Ibrahim Egal having said that “Somaliland is no longer just a collection of clans but a nation in its own right.”
More than 73% of Somaliland’s population lives in poverty and 43% in extreme poverty. Unemployment is widespread, and according to Mohamed Abdinor, a Somaliland scholar, more than 78% of the population has no access to healthcare.
There are signs though of green shoots as streets are slowly being rebuilt and markets are springing up. Two universities and many colleges have been built recently without outside help.
Somaliland’s Finance Minister Awil Ali Du’ale said Somaliland is continuing to develop its local resources and variety of imported items.
“We’ve signed agreements with several international companies working on different resources,” he said.
There are presently four telecommunication companies operating in Somaliland and others are expected to become operational very soon.
But despite a growth in communication capabilities, media censorship remains strong.
“The media has a huge role in Somaliland but they are not really independent and cannot air the facts,” said a senior editor of a Somaliland newspaper who asked to remain unnamed.
He further added that Somaliland was reluctant to report its news as Somalia news, being as the nation was aiming to become an independent state.
“We have to be aware of what is happening around the world and in our country” said Mohamed Haji, a Hargeysa inhabitant.
Such sentiments are common, especially during the mornings in the city’s many cafes which are regularly crammed with people chatting about the latest news and politics.
Although there’s much optimism in Somaliland, the country’s progress is limited because aid donors and trade partners do not officially recognize its existence as an independent state. Its international trade relations are dependent on a handful of countries and private companies.
But with hopes running high for what looks to be a growing economy, its inhabitants are waiting for an independent and recognized government in the near future.
“We will not allow [for our country] to be united with Somalia” said 18 year old passionate high school student Mohamed Abdi, stating the main difference between the two nations was that Somaliland chose to take up peace rather than violence.
“We’ve no daily violence and killings; we would like to be an independent country soon. Hopefully it will happen,” smiling Abdi concluded.
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