History was being made in the Horn of Africa, just at the point last week when many of us were contemplating what our new year resolutions would be.Somaliland, a former British protectorate which declared itself independent from Somalia in 1991, struck a deal with Ethiopia for recognition. The full agreement signed by Somaliland’s president Muse Bihi Abdi and the Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed has not yet been published. But we do know via statements released by both sides that Ethiopia and Somaliland signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU), which would give Ethiopia access to one of Somaliland’s Red Sea ports. The president has said that in return, Somaliland would gain recognition as an independent state.When I read the words “recognition of Somaliland”, the first thing I thought was “I wish my grandparents were alive to see this news”. What happens in Somaliland is personal to me because it’s where I was born and its recognition is something I and other British Somalilanders have hoped and fought for all our lives.
Somaliland has a functioning political system, periodic elections, a police force, and its own currency. Moreover, it has managed to largely evade the turmoil and violence experienced by Somalia throughout the years. I make this comparison because the UK has invested a lot into Somalia and ignored Somaliland — to its detriment.In 2012, then-prime minister Lord Cameron held the first major conference on Somalia. I attended and Lord Cameron, in his very British way, thought he could recreate the vision of the Republic of Somalia, which fell apart when hundreds of thousands of Somalilanders were murdered and displaced in the Isaaq genocide. At that conference the then-president of Somaliland walked out when Lord Cameron asked him to join meetings as the president of a region of Somalia, rather than as the head of an independent state.
relationship with Somaliland has been icy. But what is important in the current situation is that the UK believed Somaliland would never achieve true independence and so said it would recognise Somaliland only with the caveat that an African country needed to do so first. This is something I’ve heard from senior politicians and civil servants.
And it was something confirmed by Lord Goldsmith when he tweeted: “As a former foreign minister in the UK it was always clear to me that we would recognise its sovereignty once Somaliland was formally recognised by African nation(s). That is now happening and I hope the UK follows through.”Lord Goldsmith also added that the case for independence is overwhelming, and it is. But it could also be important for the next general election. The Somaliland community in major cities such as London, Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester and Cardiff could add invaluable votes for Rishi Sunak and his government — if he does the right thing and starts dialogue with the Somaliland government about recognition. This, I am certain, is something which will save the lives of millions of people and actually create real stability in a region that desperately needs it.I believe the recognition of Somaliland is also good for Somalia and its people. As I see it, for over 30 years they have been stuck with unelected politicians and a foreign army as their primary source of security. Many have been forced to raise their children and grandchildren in refugee camps in neighbouring countries and those in the West have been unable to return to visit their families or homes in Somalia. This is not fair and contrary to what people say on social media and the irrational reaction some will have to this article, I and every Somalilander I know have wished nothing but the best for Somalia.
Giving up the ghost of a failed union — for that is what Somalia and Somaliland’s arrangement is — will be the best for both. And this is something the UK Government can help facilitate, because as a permanent member of the security council they can lead the way in normalisation of relationships. The US and France will join. This is not a major task for the UK to do but it is one that will change the world for the better. It is one issue that is not going away, because Somaliland’s recognition is not a niche issue. Countless Tory and Labour MPs have visited Somaliland and made the case for recognition over the last few years and now that it’s achieved a milestone agreement with Ethiopia, it will be a more significant issue in Parliament.