Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo, the opposition candidate who won the recent presidential election in Somaliland, says international recognition for the self-declared republic is one of his priorities.
Silanyo defeated outgoing president Dahir Riyale Kahin with 49.6 percent of the vote, according to the National Electoral Commission of Somaliland. International observers said the poll on June 26 was largely free and fair, despite a few irregularities, and voter turnout was high. Islamist militants had threatened to disrupt the process but no incidents were reported.
The elections had been frequently delayed and cast a shadow over Somaliland's emerging democracy. Despite this, the territory in northwest Somalia has distinguished itself as a haven of relative stability in the Horn of Africa.
Somaliland gained independence from Britain in 1960 and joined Somalia. The region then broke away in 1991 after the fall of Somali dictator Mohammed Siad Barre. Although Somaliland now has its own justice system, currency, security and police forces, the region has yet to gain recognition by other countries.
When Silanyo visited Washington, D.C., earlier this year in a bid to plead his case for state legitimacy, he told AllAfrica: "We haven't made much headway in our fight for recognition because the international community still regards this as a regional issue." The African Union says borders should remain as they were at the time of independence from colonial rule, which should qualify Somaliland for independence, Silanyo asserts.
Without recognition, "we have lost so much," he said. "We do not get much aid from the international community as we would have been if we were a member state," he said. "We are not entitled even to loans from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and other international institutions because we are not a recognized state."
Lamenting the Kahin government's poor commitment to democratic principles and transparency, Silanyo said more opportunities needed to be created for investment. Slianyo served as a government minister in the 1980s under Barre, who was overthrown in 1991. Silanyo's Kulmiye Unity and Development Party has been the principal opposition in Somaliland since Kahin came to power in 2003.
"We need to move much better in the way of development, in the way of pushing democratization forward, in the way of giving opportunity of giving the Somali Diaspora to invest in Somaliland and to have much more faith in the government instead of corruption," he said. "Foreign companies are prepared to invest in the country, which has a tremendous potential in the way of agriculture, in the way of livestock, in the way of mineral resources and fisheries."
Somaliland is often overshadowed by turbulent Somalia. Silanyo said: "We are very sorry about what is happening in Somalia and we cannot deny that there is always the possibility that since we do not have any barriers between us that these things can affect us. We support the effort of the international community; we are part of the international community in that respect. We are trying our best to find a way of bringing peace to Somalia, but it has proved as elusive to us as it has to the rest of the international community."
Silanyo said he is often asked what he would do about Somalia."We say, 'Which Somalia?' Somalia as the world knows it isn't there anymore," he said. "They ask us 'Why don't we conduct talks with them?' We say, 'Conduct talks with whom?' With Al-Shabaab? With Sharif [Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed]? We don't know who to conduct talks with. We were prepared to talk about, at least, cooperation because we harbor no enmity for our brothers."
"A huge number of our people from Mogadishu are in Hargeisa, our capital," Silanyo said. "They come; we welcome them; we protect them. The borders are open, there are no borders; there are no mountains; there are no rivers. All people move but there is no coherent group we can engage in negotiations with at the moment."
Because of Somalia's link with terrorism, Silanyo said Somaliland had been attacked from the south several times. "Unfortunately, that's the main threat to our country. But at least we have the whole country [Somaliland] unified against it," he said. "And we also have our own policies and decision to face international terrorism and international piracy in the area. We are also working with international community to work out programs to confront these threats in the region."