A British delegation led by Kim Howells, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office visited Somaliland on Tuesday.
After holding talks with senior Somaliland government officials, Mr. Howells held a press conference at the Maansoor Hotel in Hargeysa.
The following are his opening statement and the press conference which was also attended by Somaliland Foreign Minister Abdillahi Muhammad Duale and an official of the UK's Department for International Development.
"I want to first of all say what a privilege it has been to meet the head of state and the ministers in his cabinet. We have had fruitful discussions across a very wide range of subjects. And these include looking at the prevailing political atmosphere of the whole of Horn of Africa.
We've looked at the problems of the economy and the need to find jobs for young people. We talked of course about the links between Somaliland and the United Kingdom. And I have just had lunch with a large group of UK citizens who now work in Somaliland. That was a real privilege for me too.
There are a number of issues which you might like to question me on. These include the general problems that we have in trying to counter terrorism.
Somaliland is seen increasingly as an oasis of peace and potential. And we would very much like to ensure that it stays that way. Yet we know that there are many people out there who would like to disrupt life in Somaliland, who see it as a country which is trying to modernize itself in a way that they find distasteful. So it is very important to give our young people not just only in Somaliland, but in the UK, too, some vision of a much better future.
We want to help with that, in every other aspect of policy that we can. We are already very active here. Our Department for International Development is active in Somaliland.
Indeed of all of the money which goes from the British government to Somalia 40% of it comes to Somaliland. That amounts to 9 million pounds a year which is a large amount of money. I know from my discussions this morning that Somaliland's budget deficit is about 10 million pounds.
What we would like to see is Somaliland grows in economy and in investment. We would like to see jobs and skills proliferate in this country so that Somaliland doesn't have to depend on aid from other countries, that it can exist as a prosperous entity on its own. That is the main focus of my visit. I'm very glad to have been able to come here and hear about the strengths, the weaknesses, the problems and the potentials of Somaliland first hand."
Kim Howells, MP, British Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Hargeysa
Q: One of the reasons given for the secrecy that shrouded all the recent visits paid by British officials to Somaliland is that you wanted to avoid any leakages regarding your discussions on the returning to Somaliland from the UK of Somalilanders whose applications for asylum in Britain were rejected. Is it so?
A: First, of all can I say that increasingly these days ministers not only from Britain but from many other countries become target for terrorist acts that host governments increasingly try to ensure that visiting ministers stay safe. It doesn't do much for the reputation of a country if the minister goes home in a box. Secondly, as far as asylum seekers are concerned we want to cooperate very closely with Somaliland on returnees. If people come into Britain illegally, or come for one reason and then when they realize they can't stay claim asylum, then we have a duty to the British public to return them home. We do so by utilizing the judicial system in Britain which wouldn't allow us to get away with anything that is illegal, or anything that threatens the civil rights, or human rights of people who are sent back to countries from which they have come. That is the way we do it. It is transparent and legal. No country can sustain for ever unlimited numbers of people who entered their territory illegally.
Q: Can they [the rejected asylum seekers] appeal to European courts?
A: Yes they have got every right to appeal to the European courts and we would never stop them from doing that.
Q: Since you have mentioned terrorism, you provide support to Somaliland's efforts at combating terrorism. Although your support is very much needed and appreciated here, however it is channeled through a controversial organization that is called the National Intelligence Agency instead of the police. Is it therefore politically correct for your government to channel resources through an organization that is considered illegal by most people here?
A: Well, I don't know the legality and I don't know the nature of this organization. I would ask in a moment if the Foreign minister would answer this. But can I say this: we would never knowingly put money into any organization in any country which is illegal within that country. We believe that the best way forward in all things is transparency and openness. If this is a real question, well it is certainly the first time I have been asked about it.
Foreign Minister Dualle... "Yes there is a close cooperation between the Somaliland and UK governments along with other partners internationally on combating terrorism. In this aspect, the agency through which the UK government is providing assistance to us is the Migration [Department]. The delegation has visited the Migration this morning to see how its surveillance system worked. Because of the security situation our nation requires full support in terms of infrastructure, human resources and training. There is nothing illegal about it.
Q: With turmoil engulfing the whole region, isn't it a matter of time before Somaliland goes down as well unless given recognition?
A: Yes, Somaliland lives in a very very tough neighborhood, and it is one where the politics change from day to day. What Somaliland needs is a degree of certainty. It needs to know where it stands in relation to the rest of the international community. But that means that the international community has to understand what Somaliland's aspirations are, where it stands in relation to Somalia, where it sees itself moving to. And also there are some other things that I have been learning this morning. I think there are some definite aspirations. I've heard a lot about education, skills, and infrastructure. The fact that Somaliland occupies a very strategic part of north east Africa with a huge hinterland where people would want to export the goods that they manufacture, the commodities that they grow, the things that they create and Somaliland would be very well positioned to be a great exporting port of those things. I think that Somaliland even without the talk that I've heard of exploration for minerals for example, has the promise of a great future. I think the biggest uncertainty is that firms and companies in countries that might invest in Somaliland want a degree of certainty of what is going to happen to their investments in the future. That means there must be legal clarity and a consistency of business regulation. Those things I sense are the very issues that the Somaliland government are trying to deal with at the moment. The international community has a duty to try to help them to see the way through that mist so that the world sees Somaliland as a good place to invest in.
Q: Britain has always been supporting the TFG, while ignoring democratic Somaliland. Why?
A: This implies something which is not true. For a start the transitional government in Somalia has been in [existence] for a very short time. So to say Britain supported it always is nonsense. Secondly, we have very very strong links with Somaliland. It is why the Department for International Development is here. It is why we argue the case for financial intervention and other forms of intervention in Somaliland when Somaliland needs it. Britain is a good advocate for Somaliland and I think you have to be sensitive to the global ramifications of the demand for recognition because no one has recognized Somaliland at the moment. What you are asking me is will Britain take a lead. And that is a very different thing from saying that Britain doesn't support Somaliland. That is a lie.
Q: While Italy always helps and protects its former colony of Somalia, Britain has ignored or at best forgotten Somaliland.
A: I reject totally and strongly as I did the last question that Britain forgot Somaliland. And I'm certainly not aware that the Italians are some kind of supper force that is protecting the rest of Somalia. It doesn't look like it to me, I have to tell you. It is in a very desperate state. In contrast to this is Somaliland which is a very very different place. We always have been interested in Somaliland and we will continue to be. That is why our agencies are here and that is why I'm here.
Q: Isn't it high time that aid for Somaliland be given directly to the Somaliland government instead of channeling it through UN and international NGOs?
A: (John from the Department for International Development). The British government disperses its aid to many countries through international organizations. It is not just Somaliland. It is a cost effective way of delivering aid. There are plenty other examples of countries who receive our support either through EU funding or through UN agencies or the African Development Bank. So you mustn't think that this is a sort of a special form of funding which is just for Somalia or Somaliland. It is part of a development practice edict. It is a modern way of spending development money.
Q: Your government has supported the recent UN Security Council resolution which allows the TFG authorize military actions against pirates in Somalia's waters including Somaliland's. Somaliland is concerned that the TFG's Abdillahi Yusuf would abuse this authority to score points against Somaliland by for example ordering the invasion of this country's territorial waters under the pretext of combating piracy.
A: It is a UN Security Council resolution. The problem of piracy was regarded as such an acute one that action was needed immediately. You know as well I do that for Somaliland's territorial waters to have been subject to a different regime would have thrown the whole thing into turmoil and abyss. No progress would have been made for the same very reason that there hasn't been progress made so far on the recognition of Somaliland. I think we got to be very patient and think about this in the long term. You can't have an exception coming up in a United Nation Security Council resolution because you happen to believe that this would politically be conducive to an early recognition of Somaliland.
By: Abdi Guled