“With or without Somalia’s recognition we have done well for ourselves. Somaliland is a pioneer of peace and co-existence in the region” says the Acting Ambassador of Somaliland to Ethiopia, Barkhad Mohamoud Kaariye in interview by the Addis Standard
Barkhad Mohamoud Kaariye is the deputy Head of Mission, now acting Ambassador, of Somaliland to Ethiopia. A graduate Law with a career background in Journalism, Barkhad holds degrees in International Relations and Diplomacy, and is currently a PhD Candidate in Governance, Peace and Development at UN University For Peace (UPEACE).
On June 29, Addis Standard’s Bileh Jelan sat down with Barkhad Mohamoud Kaariye, and discussed a range of issues, including the 60th year independence anniversary Somaliland, its relations with Somalia, its politics & human rights record.
Addis Standard: On June 26, 1960, British Somaliland gained independence becoming the first Somali Territory to do so, what is the significance of that Date on the collective Somali memory & the Somalilander memory specifically?
Barkhad Mohammed: Thank you for this great opportunity provided by Addis Standard to the Somaliland mission in Ethiopia & me. First of all we have to clarify that Somaliland was not a colony but a protectorate; legally a colony and protectorate differ from each other, I don’t want to go deep into that but it’s important to underline that you will find the name British Somaliland Protectorate in historical records. It is also important to note that Somaliland’s struggle for independence goes back to 1935, a struggle that continued well into the 1950s until we achieved independence. In addition to that, Somaliland was the stronghold of Somali anticolonial movements especially the movement of Sayid Mohamed Abdulle Hassan back in 1903. It is safe to say that from that time on Somaliland was trying to get independence from British rule and as a result of the continuous independence movement led by Somalilanders, a Somaliland delegation was sent to London to hold talks with the British government which as a result of the talks assigned June 26 1960 as Independence Day. Second, I want to point out that Somaliland was & still is a pioneer of Somali Nationalism. It is the birthplace for Somali democracy and the land of great Somali poets. It is a historical fact that our independence encouraged and gave momentum for independence movements in other Somali territories under colonial rule, which Somaliland supported in many aspects. That history of being a pioneer of Somali nationalism belongs to Somaliland and that is the significance of our independence.
” The idea of having a greater Somali Republic was a dream and we were trying to have the five Somali territories in the Horn united to form that republic but unfortunately that went wrong.”
AS: Four days into independence on July 1, 1960 Somaliland formed a union with the newly independent trust territory of Somaliland, also known as Italian Somaliland, forming the Somali Republic. What were the motives behind that union and what were the major factors behind its dissolution?
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Barkhad: The idea of having a greater Somali Republic was a dream and we were trying to have the five Somali territories in the horn united to form that Republic, but unfortunately that went wrong. Somaliland has been only a five days republic with recognition from 35 nations including all five UN security council members when it joined the union; achieving Somali unity and satisfying the popular demand for unity were core motives behind that union. As I mentioned before Somaliland has been a pioneer of Somali nationalism; participating and helping the struggle in Italian Somaliland was part of that; that is why we joined. Some might ask what is the difference between Somalia and Somali Republic? They are two different entities, the union of British Somaliland & Italian Somaliland forms The Somali Republic after both achieving their independence. Somalia is a different entity.
AS: With this distinction in mind, can we pinpoint the exact time when decision makers in Somaliland determined the failure of the union & decided to withdraw from the union? What are some of the major factors behind the failure of the union in your opinion?
Barkhad: All major positions in the new formed union were dominated by personalities from the newly independent Somali territory (Italian Somaliland) that is including the offices of the president, the prime minister & the speaker of parliament. Somalilanders felt that they were not given fair representation. On top of that the failed coup attempt of 1961 gave decision makers in Somaliland to withdraw from that union, but the actual trigger point for Somaliland’s withdrawal from the union was when Mohammed Siyad Barre took power in 1969. With the military government in power, the extrajudicial killing, rape & other human rights violations started in Somalia in general & Somaliland specifically. In 1981 Somaliland leaders came together to form the Somali National Movement (SNM) with the goal of again creating the Republic of Somaliland. Since the creation of SNM Somaliland territories were subject to indiscriminate aerial bombardment by Siyad Barre’s military regime; more than 200,000 lives were lost and approximately one million Somalilanders fled to neighboring countries including Ethiopia. The Somalia military regime led by Siyad Barre collapsed in 1991 and Somaliland reclaimed its independence once again.
AS: The late and first president of Somaliland, Abdulrahman Turr, was a strong proponent for reconciliation & the continuity of the union under a federal arrangement. Years later those efforts were abandoned. Is reconciliation an idea that has a huge following in Somaliland?
“… Gaining global recognition is at the top of Somaliland’s Foreign Policy so the question is that if we could achieve all that without the global recognition we deserve & hope for, imagine what we can do with more recognition.”
Barkhad: Before I answer that question, I have to note that in 1991 when SNM took control of all Somaliland territory and before they could do anything else other forces in Mogadishu declared a government without consulting with representatives from Somaliland and that government to be the legitimate representative of all Somalia. This is when SNM and other Somaliland leaders sat together and agreed that their counterparts in Mogadishu were repeating the same mistakes of the past 30 years. Yet again that is when we decided to from our own government. As for reconciliation, I will not call what is between Somalia & Somaliland a reconciliation; it is dialogue & it’s talks. What we experienced under the union is something unspeakable; we decided we do not want that experience repeated and the decision to reclaim independence was made. In post conflict situations, you always have conflicting ideas as to what should happen next, that is part of Somaliland’s history in 1991. I believe the decision to withdraw from the union was the right decision; as we all can see Somaliland is one of the peaceful nations in the Horn of Africa Region if not Africa at large and the fact that Somaliland has a functioning government and is doing as a state is proof of that.
AS: Since independence Somaliland has not gained a lot of recognition on the global stage. What does it mean as an independent state and as an autonomous state within Somalia? In addition, how does it affect Somaliland’s ambition of achieving full recognition and independence?
“Somaliland is a pioneer of peace & co-existence in the region.”
Barkhad: We have to define recognition at two levels. First being self-recognition, which is what Somaliland had for the past 30 years. We have a successful peace building system from the ground up that we built without any help; we built our government, our nation & our peace with limited external help from few partner NGOs and to be honest we believe the nation building process in Somaliland is a lesson to Africa and we hope the same for our neighbors in Somalia. Having that and building our nation without help, keeping our borders safe, our coastlines piracy free and combating terrorism successfully taught us in Somaliland that these achievements in and of themselves are recognition. We have a functional governance system, we held six elections in which we elected five different presidents, we have managed to provide education free of cost and we have one of the best-developed private sector in Africa as a whole; we are managing all that without global recognition. I am saying that with the knowledge that gaining global recognition is at the top of Somaliland’s foreign policy so the question is that if we could achieve all that without the global recognition we deserve and hope for, imagine what we can do with more recognition. I will add that having recognition is very important to us but it’s not an obstacle; if we don’t get recognition it will not stop the development wheel in Somaliland from continuing, we are doing what we can do and wait for the recognition that we deserve. So to answer the question what we lack without global recognition is full recognition but we do have partial recognition especially with Ethiopia, one of our strongest partners in development & people-to-people relations.
AS: But what about the economic & other effects of not having full recognition?
Barkhad: To be reasonable, it does have its effects sometimes but we still have international investors in the country such as DP World, which has a 450 million Dollars standing investment, Coca-Cola & other major international players that come to invest in the country.
AS: Many people are confused when it comes to Somaliland-Somalia relations; can we shed a light on the foundations on which the relations are built on? What is the status of negotiation? What is the main demand of Somaliland?
Barkhad: I will answer in parts. The first part of the question talks about the foundations of the relations between Somaliland & Somalia, those foundations can be summarized in one simple explanation. It is the relations between two nations and it shows in the smallest of situations: for example, a holder of a Somali passport cannot enter Somaliland without a visa which he/she has to get from one of our missions, which shows that we are two different nations. The second point is that when it comes to the talks, we are two nations talking to each other and discussing our mutual interests. Our demand is for Somalia to recognize our achievements of the past 30 years. Secondly Somalia has to acknowledge the atrocities committed against Somaliland under the union, Somalia’s president Mohammed Farmaajo has publicly acknowledged that and apologized for it; and finally Somalia has to recognize that we are an independent nation and act accordingly.
AS: Let’s talk about the recent talks. What is the nature of the talks, is it a demand for full recognition from Somalia or the agenda was different?
Barkhad: To be frank, Somalia is like any other nation we demand recognition from; its not something special and our demand is full recognition, let me be clear on that. However, I have to point out that with or without Somalia’s recognition we have done well for ourselves and we will continue to do so. So yes, full recognition from Somalia is a demand of ours but that will not stop our push forward.
AS: How would you describe Somaliland’s relations with its neighbors in the region?
Barkhad: Somaliland is a pioneer of peace and co-existence in the region. In the past 30 years Somaliland was living in peace while its surrounding was chaotic; we have a policy of peaceful co-existence with our neighbors and that is what we have been practicing for the past 30 years. We keep our borders secure and we spend much of our annual budget in securing our borders and building peace & security in the region; we will continue to do so. We believe living and building peace with our neighbors is of mutual interest.
“I have to say that we have to focus on the large numbers of media outlets operating inside Somaliland rather than focusing on one incident.”
AS: We are in Ethiopia, one of the main partners of Somaliland & one of the few nations that has established diplomatic relations with Somaliland. Being Somaliland’s Deputy head of missing, currently acting Ambassador, how would you categorize the relations between Ethiopia & Somaliland?
Barkhad: The relations between Ethiopia & Somaliland is very good, we see Ethiopians as our brothers. We do not only share borders and diplomatic relations, we have a strong people-to-people relationship; we share a long a border which we keep safe together, we fight illegal trade together. We see Ethiopia as our main partner in trade, Security & People-to-People relations.
AS: One of the initiatives of PM Abiy Ahmed’s grand vision for an integrated Horn of Africa is the rebuilding of the Somalia-Somaliland relations. Can we say his efforts are paying off or is it too early to speculate?
Barkhad: We are very grateful for the initiative taken up by both PM Abiy Ahmed & the President of Djibouti Ismail Omar Guelleh. We believe the integration of the Horn of Africa is something that will help us in harmony as peaceful neighboring countries that have mutual interests. The efforts by both PM Abiy Ahmed & President Ismail Guelleh took into consideration our position & built on it with the goal of having mutual understanding & respect between the two nations.
AS: The questions remain. Are their efforts leading somewhere or is it too soon to speculate?
Barkhad: I believe them to be one of the approaches that we are using. We have shown the world that we are capable of building our nations from the bottom up and this approach is one but we believe it’s not the last.
AS: Many Somalilanders accuse their government of human rights violations & cracking down on free speech. An example at hand is the recent closure of Star TV by Somaliland Authorities, do the accusation hold water, isn’t freedom of expression a constitutionally guaranteed right? Can we expand on Somaliland’s human rights record?
Barkhad: Frankly speaking, we can talk about that issue in different ways from the legal perspective and from the reality on the ground. I have to say that we have to focus on the large numbers of media outlets operating inside Somaliland rather than focusing on one incident. Somaliland is a democratic country, a democratic place and one of the best places to be a journalist in the horn of Africa. I used to be a journalist myself, a profession I practiced for 14 years & I have never been intimidated, threatened or been arrested by the government. I believe that it is because I have been respecting the law and the journalism code of ethics. Why now? We should ask ourselves with the knowledge that Somaliland is a country where you can say whatever you want about the president, be it face-to-face or on media outlets & social media. Somaliland is the place where poets, ordinary citizens and journalists have the right to write whatever they want without any interference; we have tolerance & the patience for criticism. The recent case is different because Somaliland has its laws and although the constitution guaranteed freedom of expression, the same constitution has provisions & articles that guide you as how to use that freedom, it’s not something that goes beyond the law. Some cross & have crossed the line and as a government, we have to uphold the law. Article 25 of the constitution outlines how far you can go using your freedom of expression, also in the same constitution Article 32 guarantees that freedom to all our people.
AS: I understand from that answer that freedom of expression is conditional in Somaliland’s constitution.
Barkhad: Yes. Article 32 of the constitution says that you can express your opinions & practice your freedom of expression according to the law. Therefore, if any institution operates outside of that, it will be taken to court & the court will render its decision.
AS: Somaliland pride itself in being a safe haven for refugees, asylum seekers & migrants. But a 2012 Human Rights report accused the government of Somaliland of forcibly deporting Ethiopian asylum seekers & refugees; another report said Somaliland no-longer wanted to host Yemeni refugees. Given that & many other similar reports can we really consider Somaliland a safe haven for refugees, asylum seekers & migrants?
Barkhad: Yes Somaliland is safe haven for migrants, refugees & asylum seekers from all around the world. Let me tell you this we have been hosting refugees from Somalia for the past 30 years and they run business in Somaliland as if it is their own country; we are hosting refuges from Yemen & Syria too. We have also hosted many of Ethiopian refugees with open arms; the report was false because in Somaliland we understand the meaning of needing refuges and Ethiopia and its people were a great host to us. Some reports are biased and I can tell you with comfort that there is no forced deportation in Somaliland, not back then & not now. Yes we would coordinate with authorities of countries of origins. We respect and follow the universal human rights declaration, we respect and apply all international treaties that protect human rights even if we do not have the global recognition we want. What we do is we assess if it is safe for refugees to return to their countries of origin & we provide them with the means to go back by choice; the reports you mentioned are therefore biased and not correct.
“From 1960 Till 1991 We Had A Terrible History Full Of Every Crime Against Humanity & We Consider That Experience It Made Us Understand The Value Of Peace…”
AS: How do you see the future of Somalia-Somaliland relations?
Barkhad: I see it this way; we will be two neighboring countries living in peace and harmony, a goal we have been working toward for the last 30 years.
AS: Let us talk about the issue at hand, the 60th anniversary of Somaliland’s independence. Many in the Horn of Africa & the world in general don’t understand or sometimes don’t even know Somaliland’s history. Don’t you think 60 years into independence that is a failure on your part as a nation and a government?
Barkhad: We do not think that and we do not agree with you. Somaliland’s history is well documented and you can find books documenting that history in libraries around the world and even here in Ethiopia, but if we are speaking about the ordinary person, that is what our public diplomacy program is built for; we are doing all we can and we will still do more and more.
AS: Finally, 60 years into independence how far do you think Somaliland has come and how far has the collective Somaliland dream has gone?
Barkhad: I want you to underline this, 26th of June belongs to Somaliland & not anyone else. If I try to explain the difference between the words Somali, Somalia, Somaliland & the Somali Republic, we will not have enough time. But let me try in short “Somali” is an ethnicity, I am a Somali from Somaliland, Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia & Kenya. If you hear the word Somali President [or] Somali Ambassador, those are misleading because President Farmajo is not the president of all ethnic Somalis across the world. Somalia is the country which was once an Italian colony, Somaliland is the country that was once under British rule & Somali Republic is the result of what can be considered an illegal union; it was not ratified and we want the world to know even the union was not legal, that is why we withdrew from it. About how far we have come, Somaliland had two histories from June 26, 1960 until now. From 1960 till 1991 we had a terrible history full of every crime against humanity and we consider that experience made us understand the value of peace. From 1991 till now we had a history of a Somaliland that is peaceful, democratic, has a functional government and we have disarmament with no external help, a project that was financed by our people. Now we are working to have the recognition we deserve; we want every citizen of Somaliland to have the life he/she wishes for. With that I would say we have come very far with the little to no help we received and without recognition. The question now is imagine what could be achieved if we had the recognition we deserved & could benefit from all the resources a globally recognized government enjoys, we would achieve more and more. Even without that the journey will not stop.
AS: Thank you for sitting with us for this interview.
Barkhad: Thank you for having us. AS