Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Situation in the Horn of Africa

Delivered in Plenary - 14th January 2009

Mr President

The Horn of Africa is pretty much an unmitigated disaster. The region has been devastated by decades of war, famine, environmental degradation, corruption, mismanagement and political repression. Human rights are abused as a matter of course. Civil society is weak. Alarmingly, the situation could easily deteriorate further. Tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea over disputed territory are still likely to flare up at any moment. The failed state of Somalia remains infected by clan violence and Islamist extremism, which will worsen as Ethiopia now withdraws its troops and with the resignation of the recent President.

We have also debated the epidemic of piracy off the Somali coast. There is, of course, always a temptation by the EU to suggest military action as a panacea to the chaos in the Horn of Africa. Past experience suggests this would be a terrible mistake. President Bill Clinton sent US troops to tame Somalia, but that was a disaster too.

The one oasis of optimism, in my view, is in the region of Somaliland, which was formerly a British Protectorate. It was absorbed into the Somali Republic in 1960 after foolishly voluntarily relinquishing its brief period of independence, but split away again in the chaos following the death of Siad Barre in 1991. Ever since then, Somaliland has been the only cohesive and functional polity in Somalia. The people of Somaliland benefit from a relatively benign government and progressive institutions. They also possess symbols of statehood such as a separate currency and a flag.

Speaking personally, and not for my party or my political group, perhaps it is time for the international community, led by the African Union, to begin considering more seriously Somalilandís quest for independence. An independent Somaliland, supported by the West, could be a force for stability and progress in an otherwise hopeless and chaotic region. Certainly, the people of Somaliland would be justified in asking why we here in the EU were so reluctant to recognise their de facto country, but were so quick to recognise the independence of Kosovo.