Mohamed Yusef knows a good opportunity when he sees one. Recently the London businessman invested $5 million in Somaliland oil exploration.
But though Somaliland is thought to have large oil resources, Yusef remains one of very few investors. “Everybody I meet recognizes that Somaliland is a great investment opportunity,” he says. “It has lots of mineral resources and a strategic position. But other investors stay away because they worry that officials in Somalia, a failed state, will come and tell them that legal documents in Somaliland aren’t valid.”
Yusef, an attorney, has no concerns that his contracts will be declared invalid. Somaliland’s brief period of independence in 1960 gives business contracts legal validity, he says. Britain and Italy’s Somali colonies merged on July 1, 1960, after a week as separate independent countries.
Even so, the region of 3.5 million people suffers under its legal limbo.
“Somaliland poses an extremely interesting dilemma to the international community,” says John Campbell, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria who is now an Africa expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s succeeding as a country but is recognized by nobody.”
But by African standards, Somaliland is thriving. “It’s a successful democracy in a part of the world where there isn’t a lot of democracy to celebrate,” notes Roger Middleton, a Horn of Africa specialist at Chatham House, a London think tank. “It’s not as prosperous as Kenya, but it has become a beacon of stability in Africa. And it’s much more successful than the official Somalia, where chaos rules and the government now only controls a couple of square miles.”
But that won’t automatically lead to legal recognition. “Countries outside of Africa will wait to see what the African Union decides,” says Middleton.
“And, given the potential domino effect, the AU is reluctant to give an African region independence.”
‘The name is always under discussion’
Ahmed Mohamud Silaanyo rules a peaceful country with democratic elections, functioning businesses, a police force — even broadband. He’s the president of Somaliland, the region of Somalia that declared independence 19 years ago.
There’s just one problem: No country officially recognizes Somaliland. President Silaanyo, who was elected earlier this year, has made recognition his goal and travels around the world to lobby for his country. He enjoyed the first fruits of his labors earlier this year, when the U.S. announced it will increase aid to Somaliland and send more diplomats there. Metro met Silaanyo:
Why should the international community recognize Somaliland?
We’re democratic, peaceful and cooperate with the international community. And we’re a bulwark against threats coming from Somalia, which are also a threat to the international community. Unfortunately, until now the world hasn’t recognized us. But even though we aren’t recognized, countries like the United States are starting to deal with us. The internationally recognized secession of South Sudan, which is expected on Jan. 9, strengthens our case.
How do the piracy and the chaos in Somalia affect Somaliland?
The danger of violence spreading to our side of the border is always there, and there have
already been several attacks against us. We don’t have any power to change the situation in Somalia. But the international community assists us in keeping the violence away, because this is a war between extremism and the international community.
How does the international community help you? With money or with weapons?
They work with our security forces on the intelligence side. In this sort of war, information is crucial.
Most people confuse Somaliland and Somalia. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to get a new name?
The name is always under discussion, but this has been our name since 1888. We’re an old country.