By Saad Ali Shire
This week, leaders from the 53 member-states of the Commonwealth are gathering in London for the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). Representatives from across Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe, and the Pacific will work towards the laudable goal of delivering a fairer and more prosperous, secure, and sustainable future for all Commonwealth citizens, and particularly young people.
However, the Republic of Somaliland, despite being a former British protectorate that attained independence from the British Empire in 1960, won’t be afforded the opportunity to participate in these important discussions as a Commonwealth member-state. More than 27 years after Somaliland dissolved its political union with neighboring Somalia, resuming its position as an independent state, and fulfilling all the requirements of a sovereign state, our country is still waiting for recognition as a sovereign nation.
Somaliland’s exclusion from the Commonwealth is particularly unfortunate because we have long embodied the core values on which the organization was founded and have a storied track record of working to address the challenges we face.
For example, the fundamental values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter are the cornerstones of Somaliland’s political culture. Our citizens have participated in six consecutive multi-party elections certified as free and fair by international observers since 2002.
With 70% of our population of 4 million people below the age of 30, we also share the strong focus on youth that will be a central theme of this year’s CHOGM. It is thanks to the concerted activism from groups across civil society, but in particular youth groups and women in Somaliland and the UK diaspora, that Somaliland is in the latter stages of passing new bills targeting sexual offenses and FGM, in line with international human rights norms. Youth participation in politics has also been expanded in recent years, with Somaliland now boasting of several young mayors and local councilors following a successful campaign to lower the age of participation in local government from 35 to 25 in 2011.
It’s not just at home that Somalilanders are making a positive impact, but also in the diaspora across the Commonwealth. From the UK and Canada to Uganda and Malaysia, Somalilanders living abroad and their dual-citizen children are opening businesses, attending universities, becoming elected officials, and generally contributing to the economic and social prosperity of their adopted or host nations. We consider ourselves very much part of the fabric of the Commonwealth patchwork.
Moreover, Somaliland stands tall as an able and willing partner for the international community, not only ensuring that terrorists and pirates find no refuge within our borders, but also helping to contain and weaken their impact within the Horn of Africa as a whole. The fact that we do not have observer status or associate membership at the Commonwealth to enhance our engagement with the other member states in such areas is a missed opportunity to reward and build upon our valiant efforts to date.
Given this extensive alignment of values, it’s hardly surprising that the common challenges that Commonwealth member-states are gathering to confront are practically identical to those that the Somaliland government has designated as its top priorities. As CHOGM prepares to debate weak global trade and investment flows, cross-border security threats, and climate change, we are working to attract foreign investment that will drive economic development, combat the threat of international terrorism beyond our southern border, and to insulate Somalilanders from the devastating effect of recurrent droughts by building community resilience and better preparation.
We are therefore steadfastly committed to further developing our engagement with the Commonwealth, and with the UK in particular, as it succeeds Malta as ‘Chair-In-Office’ of the Commonwealth until 2020.
As the UK approaches a post-Brexit future, the Commonwealth is taking on a renewed importance, as a forum with which the country can translate its historic ties and position as a leading world force into a new international network of economic opportunity and diplomatic influence. Somaliland, with its century-long special relationship with Britain and enduring goodwill among its citizens, is just the sort of international partner that the UK and wider Commonwealth needs to forge this new order.
What better way to solidify this partnership than by welcoming Somaliland into the Commonwealth with open arms?
Saad Ali Shire
Dr Saad Ali Shire is Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Republic of Somaliland.