The following interview with Dr Adan Abokor was carried out by David Tanner of Progressio in Berbera on 8th August 2006. They discuss the main issues and challenges facing present-day Somaliland.
Interviewer: What are the current challenges facing Somaliland in terms of development and democracy, would you say? Where are we nearly a year after the Parliamentary elections?
Dr A: a) The current challenges facing Somaliland are mainly:
* The lack of international recognition.
* The undermining of Somaliland independence at times of Somalia peace & reconciliation initiatives in the region and at international forum like UN, AU, Arab League etc.
* Conflict and instability in South Somalia.
* Terrorist acts
* Dispute with Puntland on Sool & Sanag regions and recently the district of Buhoodle in the Togdheer region.
* Lack of support from countries in the region, with the exception of Ethiopia which is friendly but favours Puntland in terms of military and technical support.
* Nascent system of democratisation e.g. nascent political parties, new Parliament.
* Lack of political cohabitation between the House of Guurti and Parliament; confusion about the interpretation of the Constitution mainly because of the opposition being the majority in the House of Representatives.
* Less effective government due to “big government”, shortage of skilled civil servants, lack of transparency (financial system.
b) Achievements of the Parliament post-election:
* What has been achieved so far, after the Parliamentary elections, is that the Parliament has created new sub-committees in the area of human rights, environment and corruption.
* The finance and Budget sub-committee for the first time visited the revenue collection points like the port of Berbera, Kalabydh customs etc to review the system and identify the weaknesses. The Sub-committee also advised the Minister of Finance and his team and presented recommendations and changes to the Budget of year 06/07.
* Ban on livestock export to Saudi Arabia & the Gulf.
* Lack of financial institutions like Banks, Insurance etc.
* Lack of Investment regulations & laws.
* Destitute people like returnees & IDPs, and refugees from Ethiopia.
* Infrastructure is another challenge for investment and industry.
* Reliance on remittances
* Rural to urban migration due to drought and environmental degradation
* Inadequate teachers and schools
* Lack of access to health care for the poor.
* Discrimination of Minority groups
* Human rights violation – Emergency Law, Customary law etc.
Interviewer: How is Progressio helping Somaliland to face such challenges? Who are you working with? What are plans for the future? Is there movement on greater representation for women?
Dr A: I think that Progressio’s work, and contribution to helping Somaliland grow, is actually working with civil society which is among the three sectors which are really contributing a lot, by covering all the gaps created by nascent government. Civil society is also contributing in terms of good governance and democratisation. Among civil society and Progressio’s work is also women’s organisations like NAGAAD which lobby and advocate for women in decision making, and who have encouraged women to stand for the last parliamentary elections, and even helped at least two women to get into Parliament. Now the strategy that these two women are having again, is to really lobby within the Parliament, to discuss the issue of having a process for women to be represented, in a more democratic way in the Parliament. Our work also encourages addressing issues like HIV/AIDS, in which some of the challenges are limited knowledge about the basic facts of HIV and AIDS, poverty, gender issues, safe sex and neighbouring countries with high prevalence of HIV, and though Somaliland has a low prevalence, there needs to be a lot of effort to really keep Somaliland within that low prevalence state. Progressio is also working with ‘education for employment’ with Amoud University, where a Progressio IT Specialist works in a new programme on e-learning, which could be available for students coming from other regions and even from villages, to teach them courses on e-learning.
Progressio is involved in promoting human rights through advocacy work with local partners, who address policy issues and discrimination of marginalised groups like women, minority groups, people with disabilities & juveniles.
Progressio is planning a new programme focus on issues of sustainable environment through working with partner organisations in the areas of reforestation, water etc.
Interviewer: Additional to that, I know that during part of our meeting, NAGAAD mentioned the change in focus now, following the low voter turnout to support women, was that they realised that they’re going to have to build the awareness amongst the women themselves, at the community level, that they should even vote for women to represent themselves in Parliament. Did I get that right for the partner organisation?
Dr A: In Nagaad’s new strategy in addressing the issue of low representation of women in parliament (2 out of 82 MPs) is to lobby for a quota for women since it will be difficult in the near future to compete with male candidates, who are supported by their clans/ sub-clans.
Interviewer: So that’s also a change in NAGAAD and how they’re going to work. What do you think should be the role of outsider supporters of Somaliland such as Somaliland Focus (UK), the newly-formed All-Party Parliamentary Group, and others, e.g. in North America, South Africa?
Dr A: The continuation of the role they are already playing, which is advocacy for Somaliland, in terms of achieving recognition internationally, as a viable state which has been a separate entity from the rest of Somalia. Somaliland has now achieved all kind of conditions for democracy, to build a viable state. Friends should help in the provision of information about efforts to achieve democracy without external assistance or with a limited assistance from the EC to be widely disseminated amongst the international community, amongst other parliaments, among the European Parliament, the British Parliament, and for all these to be aware of what Somaliland has done.
Somaliland needs access to international financial institutions, needs to participate in international forum at least as an observer so that its voice can be heard. The whole world knows about the plight of Somalia but has no idea about the achievement of the people of Somaliland in a region where there is conflict and violation of citizens’ rights.
Somaliland Focus (UK) and others can also advocate for technical assistance to Somaliland government in the areas of poverty reduction strategies and community & CSO participation, data & information, voter registration, financial systems and revenue collection. The tremendous brain drain during the long civil war has seriously affected Somaliland nation building.
Interviewer: Ok, Question 4: How are Somalilanders reacting to events in Somalia, especially to the Supreme Islamic Council’s relationship with the Transitional Federal Government?
Dr A: I think Somaliland and the people of Somaliland, realise neither the SIC [Islamic Courts] , nor the TFG [Transitional Federal Government of Somalia], will recognise Somaliland. Both consider the old union of the old Somalia Republic as unnegotiable and they all consider the unity of Somalia as sacrosanct, and they all campaign against the independence of Somaliland. In return the Somaliland people don’t see it in their interests for either the TFG or the Islamic Council to come into power. But it’s the wish of the Somaliland people in general, that the people of the South Somalia, especially in Mogadishu and elsewhere, will have a peaceful life and security, because they have been suffering for the last 15 years. I think that is something that the people of Somaliland are cherishing, they admire those people who have been hostages, to the warlords and other criminals and for the first time have had some peace, but Somaliland is also conscious of the threat which might come from either SIC and TFG taking power in the South.
Interviewer: There has been some trouble inside Somaliland from political Islamists, e.g. just before September 2005 elections. How do you think this will develop given the situation in the South?
Dr A: I think Somaliland has done very well in terms of preventing such events taking place, or such acts of terrorism, by creating the Special Protection Unit (SPU) and ever since the people have been safe and secure. But the people who have committed that crime, especially before September elections, have been captured and brought to court, and have been condemned to a long-term imprisonment. But then they still are trying to appeal to the Supreme Court. Though the head of the Islamic Court, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, is considered to be behind those acts that took place in Somaliland, especially the killing of the aid workers, the real threat will be influencing the supporters of the Islamists or militant Islamists like Sheikh Hassan living in Somaliland (more in the eastern regions than the western). That is where the Government and the people of Somaliland are very conscious to see that those people should remain in a low profile, and avoid any arms confrontation. One thing evident so far is that the Islamic Courts are not targeting the areas where there is an administration and organised forces like Somaliland. It will take a long time before the TFG and the Islamic Courts settle their dispute in the South but if the situation gets worse and leads to arm confrontation, it will affect the whole region including Somaliland.
Interviewer: Ok, the 6th question: How is Hargeisa’s relationship with Ethiopia given the latter’s troops are said to be in Baidoa in Southern Somalia but Addis has the agreement with Somaliland over Berbera port etc?
Dr A: I think that there has been no statement on these issues from the Somaliland Government; the relationship remains quite good between the Somaliland Government and Ethiopia, but the opposition parties released a statement back in July, saying that the Ethiopians have no right to invade Somalia or cross Somali borders because that is considered an invasion. So they have made a statement requesting the Ethiopian Government to withdraw from Somali territory, for one reason because that’s a violation of international borders, and at the same time because Somaliland politicians are conscious that any problems in the South will affect the whole region’s stability.
Interviewer: Ok, and the 7th and last question from Dr Steve Kibble: Has the African Union process on assessing Somaliland’s recognition been put back or helped by events in the South? At the same time it seems that Somaliland has quietly been invited to a number of events as participant or observer such as the IGAD [regional inter-governmental body] or the pastoralists conference in West Africa – does this seem a parallel process of recognising that Somaliland exists as a coherent political entity?
Dr A: As a matter of fact the events in the South have had a negative impact on Somaliland because the Somaliland issue has not been discussed lately. It has not been considered as high enough up the agenda for the AU or other unions in the area, but there was a process of development which was based on Somaliland becoming for the first time a member of a sub-committee of IGAD, which is about security. Sudan and Somaliland are even competing to host the next meeting of that sub-committee, which could therefore actually take place in Somaliland. That’s great progress for Somaliland and good advocacy for Somaliland if such a sub-committee or meeting takes place in Somaliland. During the last visit of the [Somaliland] President to West Africa, there was, according to his delegation, a lot of good things coming out of that. The problem was that the last AU summit in Gambia, the Somaliland delegation at the level of ministers were blocked as observers. The Arab League, especially Sudan and Egypt, had fought against Somaliland being accepted as a member of that summit, and that’s quite a negative thing. We all understand why Sudan and Egypt are campaigning against Somaliland, everybody knows the reason why.
Interviewer: There you go Steve, August 8th, 2006, and we’ve just eaten about 15 ½ Kilos of fantastic fish! Bye!!