Somaliland has found itself in the news this week following reports that the prime minister’s partner, Carrie Symonds, has been “refused” an Esta (a visa waiver) by the US government because she traveled to our country last year. For Ms. Symonds, this is an inconvenience, but for Somaliland, such snubs are an everyday reality with repercussions for our people and prosperity.
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Despite this week’s headlines, we are not “war-torn”. And, importantly, we are not part of Somalia. We are an independent and peaceful nation, proud to be cited as one of the most democratic places in Africa.
Somaliland welcomes thousands of tourists from Britain every year, who come to experience our coastline, mountains and the metropolitan culture in Hargeisa, our capital city. Even so, our story is not widely known. We have longstanding and positive relations with the UK, having been a British protectorate until 1960. We then united with the country that was known as Italian Somalia, forming the Somali Republic.
This proved to be a tragic mistake: our people were subjected to years of persecution by the Siyad Barre regime and our cities were bombarded, creating millions of Somalilander refugees. We separated from Somalia 28 years ago, in 1991, and have since built a stable and safe democracy in the midst of the instability around us.
Yet despite having asserted our independence and sovereignty, Somaliland was never formally recognized as an independent country. Our ambiguous legal status remains, even though we have many friends, links and relationships with countries around the world.
Our unrecognized status also means we do not have access to aid or loans from international organizations, including the World Bank. This has a massive impact on prosperity and our ability to respond to environmental or economic shocks. Somaliland is facing the harsh consequences of climate change, with extreme droughts ravaging east Africa.
Yet it is not all doom and gloom. We have a well-educated and youthful population and produce thousands of highly employable graduates every year. Investors are drawn to Somaliland by our strategic location on the Horn of Africa, providing a safe and stable place for trade and investment and access to the African continent beyond.
The former minister for Africa Rory Stewart called Somaliland a “miracle in a troubled region”. And so we continue to urge the British government to support our calls for international recognition as we seek to overturn the unjustified travel restrictions imposed on our citizens by the US government.
Ayan Mahamoud is head of the Somaliland mission to the UK