CAIRO: In Somaliland’s June 26 presidential elections, voters were faced with a pivotal choice in determining their future prosperity, security, freedom and peace. On that date, which marked the 50th anniversary of Somaliland’s independence from British rule, citizens voted to change the current regime that they feel has been growing increasingly ineffectual and promote a new party through the election of opposition leader Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo, who was inaugurated on July 27.
Somaliland is a Muslim-majority constitutional republic, recognized by the international community only as a stable autonomous and self-governing region in northwestern Somalia, but not as an independent state. Formerly a British protectorate called British Somaliland, the region merged with the south in 1960 to form Somalia. But it later withdrew from this union after the military dictator Siad Barre’s regime unleashed a reign of terror upon Somaliland in 1988, killing 60,000 residents and ravaging national infrastructures.
Since 1991, when Somaliland declared its independence from Somalia, Somalilanders have been rebuilding its stability peacefully and autonomously while Somalia remains a troubled country with clashing militias and humanitarian crises.
The international community should strongly consider affirming Somaliland as independent and offer it political and economic support, throwing its weight behind the founding vision of Somaliland to support its people and their desire to live in peace and stability.
The June elections were more than a political contest between parties; they represented hope for the people of Somaliland to maintain political stability and to one day earn international recognition as an independent state, as well as an opportunity to reform recent slips in progress caused by decisions made by the outgoing government.
This election was also seen by its citizens as Somaliland’s next step toward recognition from the international community as an independent state. And now President Silanyo can work to make this vision a reality.
The international community lacks the political will to provide political, economic or diplomatic assistance for Somaliland. In Somalia, foreign aid appears to be perpetuating the status quo, fuelling a cycle of need instead of growth. However, Somaliland and its people, who have shown immense commitment to maintaining peace and stability, have had to shoulder the financial burden of reconstruction largely on their own. Because it is not recognized by the international community as a sovereign republic, Somaliland is not eligible for direct foreign aid or investment.
Somaliland’s model of stability, reform and advancement is best exemplified by the capital city of Hargeisa. In this city, which was bombed to ruins under Barre’s regime, crucial infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, homes, businesses, traffic lights and roads have been rebuilt in the past 20 years. But without further funds and supplies, the task of developing and maintaining stable health, economic and political systems, and building key infrastructure throughout the region, will be prohibitively difficult.
At this juncture, Somaliland will no doubt benefit from a change in regime. Silanyo, who received nearly 50 percent of the vote, has shown commitment to earning international recognition for Somaliland, and has vowed to make this his chief priority. Somalilanders have rewarded peace over war and supported democracy without exacting revenge on one another.
Silanyo has articulated his hope that another free and fair election in Somaliland will help garner support among foreign governments and will accordingly employ stronger diplomatic efforts to establish relationships with the global community. Through his leadership, Somalilanders have gained trust in their democratic system and recognize that open dialogue and shared discussion is essential in taking the next step for Somaliland.
We should do our part and not be complacent in our effort to help Somaliland move forward.
Hibaaq Osman is a Somali humanitarian and the founder and Chair of Karama, a network of activists across the Middle East and North Africa working to end violence against women. She was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims by The Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in 2009. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews), www.commongroundnews.org.