The following interview was given to journalists in Hargeisa by Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal, who was elected President of Somaliland at the Borama conference in 1993 and reelected in 1997. Somaliland declared independence in May 1991 but has received no formal international recognition. The interview took place at the presidential office of state in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland.
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Question: Somaliland is receiving quite a lot of money from the European Union to be implemented by Habitat. Can you say in concrete terms how this helps?
Answer: First of all let me tell you that Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) and international agencies are the only international presence we have here in Somaliland. There was a time when there was an element of confrontation in our relationship. We have discovered that was not to our advantage since they are the only presence we have from the international community. We now skirt around them very, very gingerly.
Question: What does it mean for the people of Somaliland that the international community is specifically helping Somaliland?
Answer: Well I don’t think there is any specific help, it is the first time we are receiving help through Habitat and the EU. But let me tell you something – I don’t know whether it is the money given to unrecognized countries or whether it is a case for all Third World countries which crave aid from the advanced world, but it is given in a very peculiar way.
Nobody asks us what we need or how we want to be helped. For example, this particular project is very much appreciated, but we do not know anything about it. We were just told: “We are going to do something for you in Berbera, and come and have a look at it!” – That sort of thing. We have a saying – you can only quench your thirst by lifting the water with your own hands. Nobody can be helped by the whim of somebody outside, it must be with input from the people being helped. That’s the only way.
We are very grateful for the crumbs we are given here, but it is not benefiting us – it is being imposed. For example, Berbera is my home town, so many of the opposition believe I am favoring it. They think I have influenced Habitat to help Berbera. That might have been the intention of Habitat for all I know! … but the point is, we are very grateful for what we get. Heaven knows we need help to rebuild this country. We have stabilized it, we have pacified it, we have disarmed all the tribal militia without any assistance from anybody. And you cannot build a country with empty hands. We have done a miracle.
But the help we need today is for stabilization of the country. We need to retrain people we have disarmed and created vocational training places. We want to establish firmly and efficiently an administration to run the country. That is where we are very happy about what Habitat is doing in Berbera – capacity-building of local government in Berbera.
Berbera is a very important place, because of the port, but it is not the most populated and there are other places where peace is a question of touch and go. There are places where loyalty to what we call the Republic of Somaliland is being externally challenged, by other factions from the south.
At first, people from the south – whatever they were doing to their own patch – they left us alone. But recently, over the last six or seven months, there has been a direct challenge, from what is known as Puntland, to the integrity and stability of Somaliland. We don’t want to start doing what they do in the south and fight – we don’t want that. We want to fight for the minds and the loyalty of people, not with a gun, but with principles.
Question: How has the instability in the Horn of Africa as a whole affected you – with warring Eritrea and Ethiopia above you, and Somalia below?
Answer: We have so far managed to keep ourselves isolated from the influence of the areas around us. But we don’t have the means to protect ourselves from the chaos around us. So far we have been lucky. Our people have had a different colonial experience than those around us and it has stood us in good stead – until now.
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We need to start building the administration, the courts of law, the Attorney-General, and what we used to call in the old days the nomadic police force – which used to keep the peace among the tribes of the area. We need to reestablish all these administrative organs, which are the pillars of keeping the peace – and the young boys who we disarmed and made into the police force, a small security force. But a great deal of them (former militia) who we promised we would put in vocational training schools are still in the streets. They have been very patient with us so far, and we have done very little. Some of the wounded have been sent abroad, but we can only look after them according to our means, in a very hand-to-mouth fashion. If these people are disappointed and feel they should go back to the roads and living by the Kalashnikov, well, then all the things we have built up here will go down the drain. We are endangered so long as we don’t have the means and financial assistance to run this country. So while the international community is trying to spoon feed us through international agencies and NGO’s, I’m afraid they are being less than helpful.
This interview was first published on 18 May 1999 at IRIN website