Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London


Speech to the Somaliland Societies of Europe in Lyon, France - 16th April 2010

Most of the rest of the world knows no difference between Somalia and Somaliland. To outsiders, it's one and the same place. But we all know they are different. They may officially be part of the same country, sharing one language, but they are very different in so many other areas and it's about time that we did more to understand why that is, and to help Somaliland to celebrate and promote its distinctive character.

Let's look at those differences for a moment, because they are striking. First, Somaliland is a stable and secular moderate Muslim entity, whereas Somalia is a chaotic and anarchic land infested with Islamist jihadis and savage al-Shabab terrorists hell-bent on wreaking death and destruction. Somaliland is a nascent democracy, which has proved in the past its ability to hold peaceful elections to an international standard. Somalia, on the other hand, is the antithesis of democracy, a failed state nominally governed by the heavily AU protected Transitional Federal Government whose writ does not extend much beyond Mogadishu. Somaliland's economy is developing rapidly, thanks to your people's judicious stewardship of your resources and geographical advantages whereas Somalia's main foreign currency earner seems to be the hijacking of commercial ships for ransom through a thriving piracy industry, bringing international outrage and disgrace to the Somali people. It may also be financing islamist terrorism though this is less clear.

Why the international community continues to insist that Somalia remains and must be recognised as a viable sovereign entity is quite beyond me. Somalia has been ungoverned and ungovernable since 1991. That was the year that Somalilanders decided that the best chance of a stable and secure future lay with your own endeavours. And despite scant international appreciation of those efforts, you have proved to the world your determination and capability to build a brighter future for you and your children.

However, foreign ministries around the world still retain the fiction that Somalia is a country with a bright future, and at most talk about the devolution of powers by the Transitional Federal Government to the regions. I can't see in the foreseeable future how that could possibly become the case. True, the European Union is working with international partners and the excellent Royal navy led CSDP naval mission, operation Atalanta, to try to fight the scourge of piracy in the waters off Somalia and that is a fight worth engaging in. But we are kidding ourselves if we believe that this will be the panacea that pacifies and reunites all of Somalia.

It is deeply regrettable that the achievements and ambitions of Somaliland are virtually ignored by the international community despite the fact that Somaliland is, in many ways, a model for what African countries can become. This is especially bizarre when we look at the case of Kosovo, whose independence was forced through despite the country's apparent unreadiness and limited capacity to benefit from such status, and without a clear UN mandate.

Somaliland, like Taiwan another country I am close to has to content itself with international interaction through the Unrepresented Peoples Organization. But the case of Kosovo exposes a certain degree of double standards in the international community, and it certainly gives fresh ammunition to supporters of Somaliland's self-determination and rerecognition, having briefly enjoyed independence back in 1960. Paradoxically, it is often the most successful, stable and autarkic countries that are most frequently denied the international acceptance they crave.

As a politician I have to be careful about how I position myself with regard to Somaliland, especially given that there is a general election campaign currently underway in the United Kingdom, and hopefully my party will shortly be in government. Though I have been in contact with my Conservative MP colleague Tony Baldry who is Vice Chairman of the All party Somaliland Group in Parliament who are calling on the UK government to re-recognise. But those of you that I've had the privilege of meeting over the past few years know that I am sympathetic to Somaliland's quest for a higher international profile.

My political party, the UK Conservative Party, may be in government in a few weeks. I can't say what its policy towards Somaliland will be, although British Conservatives are well aware of the post imperial legacy and responsibility we have towards Somalilanders. But I can assure you that I will do all I can to raise this issue at the highest levels, and to highlight Somaliland as a rare example of progressive, stable and egalitarian government in Africa. It is now distinctly unfashionable to express anything other than regret for Britain's colonial past, but I am proud that the people of Somaliland seek to retain such close links to the UK and I remain gratified by the lack of rancour from the colonial era. I have experienced this fondness for Britain in my close relations with India and its political class but it's rarer with African leaders, some of whom such as President Mugabe of Zimbabwe who actually still seek to blame the current misery of their people and economy on our colonial record rather than their own brutality and poor governance

I can understand why it might be frustrating for you to see your country's aspirations denied. But despite your small size and your limited resources you are able to punch well above your weight in diplomatic terms. That's largely thanks to the excellent organisation and sterling commitment of your diaspora including those I represent and have met in my regional constituency of London, which is one of Somaliland's best assets and one of its best hopes for realising its ultimate objectives.

All I can say is: keep going. You will gradually convince people by the strength of your arguments, the impact of your achievements and the firmness of your determination. One of the greatest things in your favour is the unity of all Somaliland's political forces in seeking to shape your own future. And I believe that next year's twentieth anniversary of Somaliland's self-government presents an excellent opportunity to renew once again your energy, commitment and passion in defence of your right to live in peace, prosperity and freedom.

Of course, Somaliland faces dangers: not only from its neighbours but internally too. The political instability that has characterised Somaliland politics in the past couple of years must not be allowed to take root, because it threatens to destroy all the gains you have made in the past two decades. The greatest boost to Somaliland's credibility as a nation capable of going it alone in the world is for Somaliland to organise and hold peaceful, transparent and pluralist elections for the presidency and the parliament. Similarly, I think the most substantial obstacle to being taken seriously as a self-governing entity is the continued postponement of these elections. I am heartened to hear today of the announcement by the Electoral Commission that the elections will now take place in June.

How can the European Union help Somaliland? Well, I am pleased to say that I have helped to put Somaliland back on the radar of the European Commission, which is responsible for managing and disbursing aid and development funding. The Commission is increasingly aware of the role that Somaliland plays in stabilising part of a chronically unstable region. This realisation has been heightened somewhat by the success of the EU's Operation Atalanta, an anti-piracy mission under the banner of the Common Security and Defence Policy. As the EU becomes more aware of Somaliland and its history, it will hopefully conclude that your hard-won stability and prosperity is not only worth supporting but also worth exporting to other parts of the region. My recent conversation with coincidentally British General David Leakey, outgoing Director General of the EU Military Staff, confirms EU member states are more prepared to have regular dialogue and cooperation with the government in Hergeisa. I also understand that there has been an interest expressed by a French consortium to upgrade the deep sea Port of Berbera , Somaliland's strategic asset with access to the Gulf of Aden and the Indian ocean.

Somaliland receives more than half the resources put aside by the European Commission for Somalia. Much of this assistance is wisely targeted at helping Somaliland to consolidate democratic development, civil society and human rights. The Commission's engagement with Somaliland underlines yet again the importance of holding elections soon. It would be tragic if internal rivalries and disputes impacted negatively on Somaliland's practical engagement with the EU, because the people of Somaliland would be the ones who would lose out the most.

This conference, which I congratulate the organisers for arranging, shows your unity as a people, even when dispersed across Europe. I hope you are able to channel that energy and effort to convince the wider world that Somaliland is worth paying attention to. I support Somaliland's continued democratic development, and I want to see Somaliland play a bigger part on the international stage, particularly in the Horn of Africa region. As a politician and as a Member of the European Parliament, a body which after the Lisbon Treaty has acquired substantially more power and influence in the policy areas of foreign and defence as well as development and trade policies, you can count on my support to highlight your great achievements. But it's for you to build the future and judging by this conference, the future is indeed bright for Somaliland and her sons and daughters.
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