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Welsh Somalilanders full of hope after African recognition deal

04 Jan 2024 5 minute read
Hargeisa. Photo by CharlesFred is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Martin Shipton

Thousands of Welsh Somalilanders are celebrating an historic agreement with Ethiopia that has given their country formal recognition by another African nation for the first time, more than 30 years after it effectively gained its independence following a bloody civil war.

In May 1991 Somaliland – a former British protectorate in northeast Africa – broke away from Somalia following years of repression under the brutal dictatorship of Siad Barre. Since then it has established itself as a rare beacon for democracy in the continent, having seen a succession of peaceful transitions of power following properly conducted elections.

Until now, however, the country has failed to secure the formal recognition many believe it deserves. With the single exception of Taiwan, the international community has taken the view that Somaliland should reconnect with the failed state of Somalia.

Somali seafarers

Somaliland and Wales have a long association which began in the 19th Century when Somali seafarers worked on coal exporting ships sailing from Cardiff and other Welsh ports. Around 15,000 Somalilanders now live in Wales, mainly in Cardiff, Swansea and Newport.

On New Year’s Day, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by Ethiopia and Somaliland, focussing on three critical components:

* Recognition. Ethiopia’s official acknowledgment of Somaliland as an independent state sets a precedent, making it the first African country to do so. This move holds particular significance given Somaliland’s longstanding pursuit of global recognition since its 1991 declaration of independence from Somalia.

* Lease of Maritime Area. Ethiopia’s securing of a 20-square kilometer stretch of Somaliland’s coastal waters is a significant stride in enhancing its maritime capabilities. The lease provides landlocked Ethiopia with crucial access to the Red Sea, opening new avenues for trade, logistics, and military positioning.

* Use of Berbera Port. Access to the strategically positioned port is a game-changer for Ethiopia’s trade network. Situated on the Gulf of Aden, Berbera port offers Ethiopia a valuable alternative route for importing and exporting goods, reducing dependence on other ports and significantly strengthening its trade and strategic regional influence.

Significant weight

Somaliland community activist Ali Abdi, who in 2019 was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities in Cardiff, said: “The MOU signing and the recognition by the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia carry significant weight for Somaliland, particularly amid the uncertainties in the Horn of Africa region.

“The collaborative endeavours between the two nations for mutual benefits underscore the sophisticated and strategic diplomacy exhibited by leaders on both fronts. This advancement sparks optimism that Ethiopia’s recognition of Somaliland can inspire other nations to do the same.

“Somaliland’s substantial progress aligns seamlessly with its dedication to honouring agreements with nations and businesses, as evidenced by the successful DP World deal, dispelling previous concerns about the validity of such agreements. This recent development is poised to further boost the nation’s economic potential and raise the profile of Somaliland and its role in the world.

“I have conveyed this message in an email to our First Minister, Mark Drakeford, and members of the Wales International Cross Party Group at the Welsh Parliament. I am hopeful that they will extend congratulations to Somaliland on this momentous occasion and additionally explore potential opportunities for Welsh trade relations in the future.”

Addis Ababa

The MOU was signed in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa by Somaliland’s President Muse Bihi Abdi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali.

Former UK Cabinet Minister Gavin Williamson, who has campaigned for Somaliland to be officially recognised by Britain, wrote a post for X, formerly Twitter, that said: “As many of you know, I have long held an interest in the development and prosperity of Somaliland. I have campaigned tirelessly to see Somaliland formally recognised as the proud and vibrant country that it is.

“I strongly welcome Ethiopia’s historic and strategic move to be the first country in Africa to recognise Somaliland as an independent nation. I now want to see the UK take a similarly decisive step by acting as the penholder for the UN in relation to Somaliland and Somalia. The UK must pioneer the creation of a framework for the recognition of Somaliland worldwide.

“We need to see urgent action and leadership from the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, the Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron, and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to ensure sovereignty for Somaliland. For far too long Britain has not done enough – at this watershed moment, the time has come for us to act boldly and resolutely.”

Another former minister, Lord Zac Goldsmith, said in a post: “This is fantastic news for the nation of Somaliland and its wonderful people. As a former Foreign Minister in the UK it was always clear to me that we would recognise its sovereignty once Somaliland was formally recognised by African nation(s). That is now happening and I hope the UK follows through. The case for independence is overwhelming.”

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5 months ago

It really is criminal that UK does not recognise Somaliland,not only for historical and cultural reasons. This is the old British Somaland, which is by its roots, connections and democratic principles is opposed to the Italian Somaliland, and has made clear its total opposition to the military Marxist-Leninist dictatorship that has ruled the ‘united’ Somalia since 1969.

Another Richard
Another Richard
5 months ago

I don’t think it’s right to say that the international community has taken the view that Somaliland should “reconnect” with Somalia. The view of the British Government, as expressed for example in a House of Commons debate in 2022, is that “it is for Somaliland and the Federal Government of Somalia to decide their future. It is for neighbours in the region to take the lead in recognising any new arrangements.” I read that as saying that we would be happy for Somaliland to become independent by negotiation with Somalia, but we will not recognise it until the African Union… Read more »

Kenneth Katte
Kenneth Katte
5 months ago

The British have abandoned a similar situation caused by their policies in the 1950s to 1960s to fester..that of the former British Southern Cameroons United Nations Trust Territory currently occupied by French Cameroun. Southern Cameroons declared its independence as rhe Republic of Ambazonia in October 2017 and a brutal and unequal civil war is going on there. Its considered the world’s most neglected conflict with 20,000 dead hundreds of villages
in the Southern Cameroons burned down by French Cameroon Firces and hundreds of thousands of Refugees.

5 months ago

Somalia belongs Somalia and somaliland is a apart of somalia

5 months ago

British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland formed together a country called Somalia. If one has to decide to separate the other. then, it is a mandatory under international law, to come with a consensus, for both parties to go separate ways. until then, no country will recognise Italian Somaliland as a country nor British Somaliland as on other country.

Last edited 5 months ago by Mif
Ahmed Ashour
Ahmed Ashour
5 months ago

I hope Sland employs get top lawyers to ensure that if Ethiopia does. not recognise Somaliland from the day of signing, the Agreement is null and void because Ethiopian politicians are not forthcoming with the recognition part of the deal. I suspect Ethiopia may want the naval base but drag on the recognition act.

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