On Wednesday, January 16, the Africa Program at the Wilson Center held a private briefing with H.E. Dahir R. Kahin, President of Somaliland, and selected members of his cabinet. The purpose of the briefing was to discuss political developments in Somaliland as well as President Kahin's outlook for the future of his country. Howard Wolpe, director of the Africa Program at the Wilson Center, served as moderator.
President Kahin opened the event by providing a brief historical background of Somaliland. He noted that not only is Somaliland a nation that was built from scratch, but also, it is one of the few countries in the region devoid of conflicts, trials and tribulations that have spread across the continent. He concluded his presentation by emphasizing the fact that Somaliland's current goal is to have its sovereignty recognized and to become an acknowledged member of the international community.
During the question and answer session, one of the questions pertained to how the President viewed the process to the run-up of the upcoming elections in August 2008, and whether he believed that the problems that arose during the 2003 election could be avoided. These problems, according to the questioner, included the "enlistment of government resources and personnel in support of the ruling party's campaign, the disqualification of numerous ballot boxes due to procedural errors, reports of government harassment and intimidation of opposition supporters in the aftermath of the election, and the opposition's initial refusal to accept defeat." President Kahin responded by noting that in regards to the upcoming elections, voter registration has been introduced, which would avoid the mistakes of the previous elections.
Another question pertained to how Somaliland is managing its relations with its neighbors, especially Ethiopia and Puntland (a region in northeastern Somalia whose leaders in 1998 declared it to be an autonomous state. Unlike Somaliland, Puntland does not seek outright independence from Somalia). President Kahin highlighted the fact that Somaliland has played a significant political role in the geopolitics of the region. Moreover, it has had very good relations with Ethiopia both in terms of security and development. However, President Kahin noted that Somaliland does not have a good relationship with Puntland. He said this was because Puntland was created on the basis of ethnicity and clanship. The government of Somaliland sees this factor as a problem for Somalia as a whole given the fact that some of the clans from Puntland live in southern Somalia, around Mogadishu, and in Somaliland, and Puntland is now attempting to lay claim to these areas. President Kahin's view is that recognizing Puntland would set a bad precedence. He also noted that while the government of Somaliland has tried to resolve the issue peacefully, it has been attacked and provoked many times. Nonetheless, the relationship with Puntland is now peaceful and the hope is that it will remain as such. Finally, President Kahin noted that geography cannot be changed: "We cannot choose our neighbors but we can choose how we live with them."
Ambassador Howard Wolpe asked whether the African Union (AU) seemed to be making some kind of overture in regards to recognizing the legitimacy of Somaliland. President Kahin noted that there seemed to be contradictory views in the international community as to whether Somaliland should be recognized as a sovereign nation. Nonetheless, he stressed the fact that the case of Somaliland is legal as well as legitimate and that its status ought to be finalized. He also pointed out the fact that Somaliland is between a rock and a hard place: while it considers itself to be a sovereign state, Somaliland cannot trade or access international financial institutions, which are key to sustaining its sovereignty and participation in the affairs of the international community. President Kahin also noted that it would take 28 member states to arrive at a consensus to get Somaliland into the AU, which is a difficult task to achieve.
President Kahin emphasized the fact that the government of Somaliland is asking the United States and the United Kingdom to support it in its struggle to gain international recognition, and to lift the travel ban which impacts negatively on the country's private sector development and economic development, This travel ban makes it hard to do business with the international community because traveling to Somaliland is restricted. Nevertheless, the President emphasized the fact that they have made considerable gains with the AU: it is no longer a taboo to talk about Somaliland's security and development.
On how Somaliland envisions its role in the security of the region, President Kahin stressed the fact that while Somaliland is part and parcel of the Horn of Africa and would like to play a significant role in the region, it nonetheless remains out of the equation and is not asked to contribute.
On how he viewed the roadmap ahead for Somaliland's recognition, President Kahin emphasized that the people of Somaliland would continue to fight for their right for recognition irrespective of how long it takes. He also pointed out that given their separate cases, the problem of Somalia and Somaliland should be dealt with differently. He also believes Somaliland to be facing a different challenge than that of other states such as Kosovo, and appealed to the academics and intellectuals of the international community to advocate for Somaliland's case.
On how he would characterize Somaliland's willingness and capacity to host the number of refugees flowing into the country, President Kahin highlighted the fact that Somaliland already has a significant number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the country and thus does not have the capacity or the resources to host refugees as well.
A final question pertained to whether the President had any advice for Somalia. President Kahin proffered his opinion that Somalia did not need Somaliland's advice: "all Somalia needs is to follow Somaliland's lead in its process to achieve a stable and democratic nation."
Drafted by Aliya Jalloh, Intern and Roseline Tekeu, Program Assistant, Africa Program