Somaliland is viewed by the international community as a territory within Somalia – a nation that is struggling to emerge from more than two decades of civil war. However, the former British protectorate boasts more than 20 years of relative peace and security as well as untapped oil reserves and mineral deposits.
Its president, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo, said he was encouraged by other independence movements and hoped that boosting investment in Somaliland’s energy and agricultural sectors would spark an economic rebirth that could help it towards independence.
“Other countries’ search for recognition, like Catalonia and Scotland, is something we find [inspiring],” he said. “We are, in our own way, also seeking our independence.”
Equally encouraging, said Silanyo, was the symbolic but non-binding vote this month in which British MPs recognised Palestine as a state.
Somaliland independence battle like Scotland or Catalonia, says president
Silanyo, who met European firms at an investment summit hosted by the UK Foreign Office last week, said commerce was key to his country’s quest for sovereignty. “The recognition of Somaliland and the development of its economy are things which are very much related,” he said. “Without economic development, recognition is meaningless. Somaliland is entitled to recognition – we have been waiting for a long time.”
But the UK, which has hosted a series of talks aimed at repairing relations between Somaliland and Somalia, has been reluctant to endorse Somaliland’s quest for recognition. A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “The UK’s position is that it is for Somaliland and Somalia to resolve the issue of Somaliland’s status, and the region should lead on recognising any new arrangements.”
Somaliland refused to attend the UK’s conference on Somalia last year, dealing a blow to diplomatic relations. Writing in the Guardian, Silanyo said: “We cannot take part in a conference that does not recognise Somaliland’s unique status or move forward our long fight for international recognition.”
Somaliland’s energy sector has been touted as the area of its economy most ripe for development. According to the energy minister, Hussein Abdi Dualeh, there are four foreign companies exploring for oil and gas in Somaliland: Turkey’s Genel Energy, DNO International of Norway, UAE-based RAK Gas, and Yemeni firm Ansan Wikfs Hadramaut.
Dualeh said: “We’re across from one of the biggest shipping lanes in the world, the gulf of Aden, we have a deep sea port in Berbera, and it just so happens that our resources are running parallel along the coastline. Most of the major potential basins for hydrocarbons are also not too far away from the coast, so I think, logistically speaking, even a small discovery of minerals or hydrocarbons would be a viable proposition for Somaliland.”
But analysts say oil production could raise tensions with Somaliland’s neighbours, particularly in disputed areas that have aligned themselves with Somalia.
“The federal government of Somalia has indicated its concerns over these contracts that Somaliland has with these oil companies. A solution has to be found through the dialogue between Somaliland and Somalia,” said Mohamed Farah, executive director at the Academy of Peace and Development in Somaliland. “The government must initiate dialogue in areas where there are some concerns from local people.”
But Somaliland has yet to secure a deal to develop the port of Berbera, which would be vital for exporting oil and gas. The port has long been touted as a potentially lucrative transport corridor that could link neighbouring Ethiopia, which is landlocked, to the sea.
Until new sectors of its economy are developed, Somaliland will continue to rely heavily on livestock exports to Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries where Somali livestock enjoys a premium status, Silanyo said. During the annual hajj pilgrimage, Saudi Arabia imports more meat from Somaliland than anywhere else.
“We are very much dependent on the exports of livestock, but we would like to develop our fisheries because we have a very long coastline and we have mineral resources as well,” Silanyo said.
The UK’s Department for International Development has said that Somaliland’s government is “better able to provide for its citizens” than the government of Somalia. DfID will contribute £25m to the Somaliland development fund, which is designed to support governance, boost infrastructure and improve water purity.
The UK’s international development minister, Lynne Featherstone, said: “It is only through investment, trade and jobs that Somaliland can reduce its dependence on aid and remittances. Business will be central to Somaliland’s growth and development. It is already happening – Hargeisa [the capital] teems with people starting new businesses and shops.”