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Time for Africa to recognise Somaliland, writes Foreign Minister Yonis

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AS regional and global leaders gather for the World Economic Forum in Nigeria – Africa’s most successful economy – to discuss the necessity of inclusive growth, it is the less fortunate, the forgotten and the disenfranchised, which will rightly be at the centre of the debate. I – and all my fellow citizens – hope that time will be found at the Forum to discuss the extraordinary position of Somaliland, a country which has been forgotten by the global community.

Next Sunday, (May 18) our country will celebrate the 23rd anniversary of its declaration of independence. Yet despite fulfilling all the legal requirements to be recognised by the international community and the African Union, our country is still officially treated as an autonomous region of Somalia. This ignores both history and reality.

Somaliland and Somalia existed separately until 1960 when a disastrous but voluntary decision was made to merge. The union, unhappy almost from the beginning, fractured permanently when the Somali regime of Mohamed Siad Barre waged a brutal war against Somaliland in which 50,000 civilians lost their lives. As Somalia disintegrated into chaos in 1991, Somaliland took the opportunity again to control its own future.

Through the hard work of our citizens, we have built an oasis of peace and democracy, in an otherwise violent and unstable region. We have put in place functioning state institutions, including police and armed forces. Terrorists find no safe haven within our territory nor do pirates operate off our coasts.

Our government has introduced free primary education for girls and boys. Progress is being made in reducing child mortality and female genital mutilation. There is a great deal in which we can take pride.

But Somaliland remains a poor country in a poor region. It takes decades to rebuild after the ravages of such a terrible civil war. But the continued denial by the international community of recognition of our country means we are severely handicapped in this task.

Without formal recognition, it is much more difficult for us to access foreign investment and the loans that we need to grow. Without recognition, we are all too often denied a chance to voice the ambitions and concerns of our people at international gatherings even when the future of our region is the topic.

Peace and stability are closely linked to prosperity. While our economy is growing at a fast pace, the number of jobs has not kept up with the number of young people looking for work. Without increased opportunities, all the progress of the last two decades could be put in jeopardy.

In collaboration with the international community, we need to find ways to provide our young people with livelihoods. We want to offer those graduating from our universities stimulating and rewarding employment to prevent both brain drain and illegal immigration, which affects countries across the continent. Together, we must concentrate our efforts on helping youth across Africa to fulfil their ambitions and shape a better future for all.

In Somaliland, the foundations are in place to attract foreign investment to increase employment opportunities, but we need sustained support from our friends and partners to maintain this progress.

We need a seat at the table to represent the wishes and the needs of Somaliland’s people. Somaliland is rarely invited to take part in discussions on these important issues, which will directly affect both Africa and the international community. We are unable to participate on an equal footing in meetings of the African Union, the African Bank of Development, and the United Nations General Assembly.

We understand that Somaliland’s case is often dwarfed by other, more immediate concerns faced by the rest of the Horn. But we won’t find long-term, sustainable solutions to Africa’s challenges without drawing on the experiences of all. And Somaliland can offer the lessons gleaned from its history. We are keen to play our full role just as we need our fellow African countries to help us build on what we have achieved.

As the continent’s fastest growing and most populous country, Somaliland asks that Nigeria consider bringing Somaliland’s case to the African Union. One of the principles of the AU’s foundation was respect for borders at the time of independence. Our request for recognition does not contradict this doctrine.

The lack of recognition for Somaliland is not an abstract issue or a matter of status for us. It has a real and damaging impact on the everyday lives of our citizens and our hopes of overcoming the many challenges we still face. I hope that Nigeria, as one of the continent’s most influential voices, can help start the process of ending our unfair treatment.

• Yonis is foreign minister of Somaliland.

Source: Nigeria Guardian

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