This May, as many Americans commemorate the men and women who sacrificed their lives for our freedom; the citizens of Somaliland, in the volatile Horn of Africa region, would celebrate 25th anniversary of the rebirth of their nation. In 1991, after the overthrow of the Somali dictator Siad Barre, through painstaking process, the 4 million Somaliland people had established a viable, functioning democratic state that maintains law and order, protects its people, and has held several free and fair elections.
Tragedy is that yet a quarter century later, efforts for Somaliland to gain diplomatic recognition or recognize its achievements languish. For political reasons, the African Union– an organization with history supporting Africa’s despotic regimes— and supported blindly by the Obama administration are saying that Somaliland independence infringes the sanctity of the territorial integrity of the inherently unstable Somalia. A country that the U.S. and others expended billions—but failed hopelessly to reconstitute it as a functioning state.
But, Somaliland was independent state in a brief time that won its independence from Britain on June 26, 1960, an event followed by recognition as sovereign entity by the United Nations and 35 other countries, including the U.S. Then, a week later, Somaliland voluntarily entered a union with what was at the time known as Italian Somaliland, to the south, creating, present day Somalia.
That union backfired. Because of how initially the merger between the two sovereign entities was handled, and subsequent oppression and massive human rights abuses Somaliland people suffered under the tyranny of the Marxist despot Siad Barre.
Barre was corrupt and ruthless. But, he had the support of the U.S. because it was during the cold war In the 1980’s, Barre waged a brutal war against the Somaliland people, simply because they were yearning for freedom. Curfews, torture, mass killings, pillage and carnage were his regime’s hallmark. In 1988 and 1989, Siad Barre’s army and police slaughtered more than 50,000, including women and children, according to the Human Rights Watch.
The Obama administration and the UN policy of actively forcing Somaliland back into a dysfunctional “united” Somalia are odious. Given, Somaliland clans have largely managed to craft a political process where their citizens work and live in peace, in a region plagued with conflict, despotism, and terrorism. Moreover, Somalilanders did not give consent to be governed a corrupt and ineffective Somali government installed by foreign troops instead the will of the people. In fact, May 2001, the will of the people for self rule was supported in referendum by more than 90 % of the population.
But,Somaliland faces many challenges that include poverty, lack of economic development, a booming young population without work, and inadequate infrastructure. It is desperately needs investment and trade to improve the living conditions of its citizens. Because of lack of diplomatic recognition, Somaliland, about the size of Florida, with 578 miles of coastline, can’t modernize its coast guard or professionalize its police force, to fend off the most lethal of al-Qaida affiliates.
Somaliland practices free market and trade. For instance, last week, Somaliland government and DP World, of United Arab Emirates , signed a $442 million joint venture agreement to “ invest and manage” port of Berbera, in the Gulf of Aden. The goal of the investment is transform that port into a “regional and logistical hub,” to serve the 90 million people of the landlocked Ethiopia.
Absolutely, diplomatic recognition would open Somaliland an opportunity to integrate its economy with the rest of the world, but more importantly, it would attract investment to develop its mining, energy, and fishing. Awarding diplomatic Recognition for Somaliland would also consolidate peace and good governance, and deny the ability of the extremism to take root, and would advance vital U.S. security interest in the volatile Horn of Africa region.
So what does the U.S. , the EU gain from denying Somaliland people to decide their own political destiny?
Instead of dictating the political outcomes of Somalia, or choosing winners or losers in the Byzantine political dynamics of the Somali clan system, the U.S. and UN officials who are supporting the useless Somali government in Mogadishu, should put their energy on how Somaliland to depart from anarchic Somalia peacefully and democratically through ballot box. Doing so would prevent the region from future senseless civil war.
Enough is enough. It is time the United States, the EU, and Africa recognize Somaliland independence. Its desire for independence is exactly the same principle as the declaration of the African colonies for their independence from European colonial powers.
Keeping the status is unacceptable. For Somalia, would be more suffering for the beleaguered Somalis, and risking more African lives just to prop up one faction of Somalia’s previous civil war in the place of al-Shabab. And, for Somaliland, that would mean denying its people, freedom, investment, trade and economic engagement with the rest of the world—the most effective vehicle to peace and prosperity.
This Op-ed originally appeared in the Hill was written by Ali Mohamed, the co- founder of the Horn of Africa Freedom Foundation, Lewis Center, Ohio.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org