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Speech of Amb. Ali A Awale at the University of St Andrews

Speech of Amb Ali A Awale on  the current situation in Somaliland at the University of St Andrews in Scotland

26 Feb 2015



Firstly, I would like to thank Professor Mario for organizing my trip to visit this Wonderful University. It is a historic day for me as this is the first time to come to this University and talk to this wonderful audience about Somaliland’s achievements and aspirations.

As many of you are probably aware, Somaliland was a British Protectorate from 1887 until 26 June 1960 when it became an independent country. Five days after independence, Somaliland chose to unite with Somalia as the first step towards a dream which was to create a “Greater Somalia” incorporating all the Somali inhabited parts of the Horn of Africa (Namely Djibouti, Ethiopian Zone Five and Kenya’s North east regions, Somaliland and Somalia). Sadly, that union proved to be a disastrous decision for my people.  Almost immediately, the people of Somaliland were excluded from decision-making and representative governance in the new Somali Republic.  In turn, my people rejected the Somali Republic’s constitution in a referendum a year later and their disenchantment continued throughout the early years of the union as political and economic isolation grew.


After assuming power in a military coup on 21 October 1969, G Mohamed Siad Barre led a brutal military dictatorship that in the 1980s, embarked on a violent campaign against the people of Somaliland killing between 50,000 to 100,000 civilians and displacing millions.  Our capital and other main cities were reduced to rubble by Siad Barre’s army and bombers.


Following the collapse of the Somali state in 1991, the people of Somaliland decided to withdraw from the voluntary union and re-assert Somaliland’s sovereignty and independence. The clan elders and leaders of SNM declared re-independence on 18 May 1991.  From this date, my people started to build peace in their country through a bottom-up process drawing on traditional conflict resolution methods.  The process was purely indigenous, and involved a lot of reconciliation conferences.


In a referendum held on 31 May 2001, the people of Somaliland endorsed a new constitution and confirmed their desire to maintain Somaliland’s independence. Somaliland held multi-party municipal elections in 2002, parliamentary elections in 2005, and two presidential elections in 2003 and 2010, the last of which involved a peaceful transfer of power between the then incumbent president and the opposition leader whose party won the election.  International monitors have witnessed all of Somaliland’s elections since 2003 and pronounced them to be free and fair. 


By all accounts, we have one of the best democratic records in Africa. 


We have rebuilt our cities mainly with finance from our Diaspora.  We now have more than 200,000 students in primary and secondary schools, sixteen universities, and at least one health post in almost every district.  Government revenues have increased and as a result we have been able to introduce free primary education for both boys and girls, which is a major step forward.  We have also established a Central Bank. 


However, despite these significant achievements, many challenges remain.


Recognition of Somaliland


Somaliland enjoys a strong case for recognition under principles of international law, although no country has yet recognized Somaliland as an independent state. However, Somaliland fulfills all the criteria for statehood under customary international law, enshrined in the 1933 Montevideo Convention.  In other words, it has a permanent population, defined territory, an effective government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states.


Secondly, the union with Italian Somalia in 1960 was purely voluntary. There are other examples in which unions have broken up and the constituent states have returned to their previous position as independent states.  For example, theSenegambia federation broke up and Senegal and The Gambia re-emerged; and the collapse of the United Arab Republic saw the re-appearance of Egypt and Syria.


Thirdly, the Act of Union was never endorsed by the parliament in Somaliland, which supported a different version.


But recognition is a political act, not a legal one, and political factors have played an important part in the reluctance of other states to recognize Somaliland. 


In Africa, as in other parts of the world, there is nervousness about changing existing borders. Many African borders are purely arbitrary, and were drawn to meet the interests of the European colonizers, not the indigenous inhabitants.  In some cases, ethnic groups are split, leaving significant minorities on different sides of an international border. 

The international community worries that allowing changes in one country, particularly in Africa, could create a ripple effect which would result in other regions trying to secede. 


We understand these concerns.  But we do not share them in the case of Somaliland.  The borders of my country are the same as those of the British Protectorate, so we are simply asking to go back to our 26 June 1960 boundaries.  That is fully consistent with the principle enshrined in Article 4 of the Constitutive Act of the African Union, which speaks of “respect of borders existing on achievement of independence”.  We have no further territorial claims; we just want formal recognition of what has existed as de facto since 1991.


In addition, and most importantly, the Somaliland people have made clear on repeated occasions including in the May 2001 referendum that they want their country to be recognised as an independent state. 


Unfortunately, the international community has not taken into account these factors as it seeks to re-establish Somalia on the basis of the borders which existed from July 1960 to May 1991. The Somalia provisional constitution lays claim to Somaliland, and Somalia has registered the coordinates of an Exclusive Economic Zone, which includes the waters adjacent to the Somaliland coast.  Somaliland unequivocally rejects these claims to our territory and waters.


While we endorse the need to stabilize Somalia, we believe that trying to re-establish it on the basis of the borders which existed for just 30 years is an act of folly.  After all, if you do the maths, the British Protectorate of Somaliland existed for 73 years before the formation of the Somali Republic.  We know that the vision for a “Greater Somalia” did not work, so why insist on trying to recreate it? It will not succeed because of the decentralized nature of Somali politics based on clans.  The divisions which caused the Somali Republic to collapse were clan-based.  These still exist today.  The reason why Somaliland works as a state is because it has built its own internal peace from the bottom up for almost 24 years, and has inclusive, democratic institutions based on universal suffrage. 


It is time to accept that the Somali state disintegrated in 1991 and cannot be re-established on the basis of the borders which only came into existence in July 1960.  It is time to recognise the independence of Somaliland.


The Universities have important role to play in encouraging the international community to take a fresh look at this issue.  If the outside world continues to resist new thinking, it may miss an important opportunity to stabilize the Horn of Africa in the long term.


A Somaliland that is internationally recognised would be able to attract more foreign direct investment, and receive loans from international financial institutions, from which it is currently barred.  Such increased financial flows would create jobs and lead to increased government revenue, allowing it to deliver better services to the people of Somaliland, reduce unemployment, especially among young people and will diminish the attractiveness of terrorism and extremism.  Stronger government revenues would allow Somaliland to improve its security forces and so become an even more effective partner in combating terrorism and deterring piracy. Greater prosperity would also reinforce our democracy, and allow us to act as an even better example to other countries about how it is possible to build peace and democracy from the grassroots.


Relations with Somalia

For obvious reasons, we feel a special sense of empathy for the sufferings, which the Somali people have endured and welcome any attempts to help them out of the anarchy.  We look forward to a time when peace can be restored to our neighbor Somalia as a whole. Its people deserve nothing less. I can reassure Somalia that an independent Somaliland will be a good neighbor, ready to cooperate in promoting peace and prosperity of both our peoples in the Horn of Africa.



Somaliland collaborates actively in the fight against terrorism, piracy and extremism in the Horn of Africa.  We spend a large part of the government’s budget on security.  We work with other countries in the region and the wider international community and exchange intelligence information. 


The incidence of piracy off the coast of Somalia has fortunately decreased in the past two years.  Somaliland has played a crucial role in the international efforts to combat this scourge.  It has participated in the International Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, as well as the Kampala Process. The prison in Hargeisa was refurbished in 2012 to allow us to house pirate prisoners.  We have agreed to accept certain types of convicted pirate prisoners from the Seychelles, and passed a new anti-piracy law in 2012 to permit this.  Given more international assistance, we could do more to help.  In particular, our Coastguard has serviceable boats to patrol a coastline which is 850 kilometers long.  I hope that the world will recognize both what we are doing to help, and what our needs are.


In conclusion, I would reiterate that Somaliland is peaceful, democratic and a bulwark against extremism. A Somaliland that is recognised internationally could do much more to help stabilize the Horn of Africa. I hope the world embraces the reality and help the people of Somaliland to achieve their ambition to secure their rightful place in the community of nations.



Thank you.


Ali A Awale

Somaliland UK Representative





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