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Somaliland’s Economic And Political Approach Revisited
On the eve of the parliamentary election, Somaliland’s new democratic culture is being tested once again. The pressure, this time round, is on the new members of parliament due to be elected on 29 of September 2005. The task awaiting them is daunting and the wish list ranges from expecting an effective legislative body, introducing a culture of accountability and from promoting social and political development to attracting international recognition. But whether they would live up to these challenges will largely depend on the political and economic directions the country takes. And although this election will not make Riyaale’s administration a lame duck, the clock is definitely ticking on his tenure.
Let us look at the wider picture. In the past 14 years, Somaliland’s progress on democratization process attracted international attention. Three years have not elapsed since the democratic process started with the local government elections, and already Somaliland is being referred as a model for democratization in Africa. Even the skeptics have been shocked by the speed with which the process is being driven. Somaliland’s presidential election has been seen in many quarters of the world as an achievement in African politics.
Equally important, but often un-emphasized, is our ability of resolving differences through a bottom-up approach and the dependence on own initiatives at community and national level. Under resourced and without support, the people of Somaliland had to hustle to survive. The institutions they created to defend and govern themselves under such extreme adversity are remarkable achievement.
Yet, I argue, that the crucial basis of Somaliland’s success is far more abstract. Viewed from the perspective of the future, the most important achievement of the people of Somaliland may well turn out to be their collective determination to advance the triumph of their national liberation. Without this precondition, the political and social transformation reforms we are witnessing today in Somaliland, which are rewriting the geopolitical history of the region, would have been unthinkable, let alone a reality.
To advance this triumph, however, the collective determination will have to be informed by economic and political vision based on clearly defined aims and pragmatic ideas. This is an area our country had been less successful. And although the period leading up to the election was supposed to be a time for a debate about the future directions of the country, our politicians seem to be ignoring this issue yet again. So, let us pause and reflect on the government’s record on these areas.
One of the government’s central failures has been its inability to provide an answer to the economic problems posed by the ban on livestock trade and the issue of the mismanagement of its budget. The current economic policy does not go beyond the collection of duties and tax levied mainly at Berbera and Wajaale of which the balk of it is spent on cagey political projects and dubious government procurements. Combined with this is the constant interference of influential government officials in private initiatives initiated by private citizens and foreign companies, as result of which many enterprises withdrew at early stage. This, consequently, deprives the country of an economic incentive. Also, because of this ambiguity in state’s handling in the sector, foreign investors that are willing to take risks are discouraged.
Last year, with the government’s budget of 24 million (US$), supplemented by about 250 million US$ injected by the Somaliland Diaspora, the economy should have produced better outcome for the people of Somaliland, had the state followed a planed and coherent policy.
The existing economic trends are even more alarming. Take Ethiopian-Somaliland trade crisis as an example. Somaliland does not have a basic financial infrastructure and transparent trade regulations with effective enforcement capacity. This resulted in Ethiopian authorities introducing strict border controls on our goods, as they fear that we would inundate their economy with our unregulated trade. Our business people, on whom the country depends so much, are missing out a lucrative market, mainly due our own government’s inability to regulate and reform our financial and trade system, and to re-enforce the capacity of the Somaliland representation in Ethiopia. A similar situation seems to be building up between Somaliland and Djibouti border.
The architects of this policy are the notorious trio –Riyaale, Awil and Ismail yare, who have been more of a hinder than a help in Somaliland’s economic and social development recovery. They lead an economic and social model that is addicted to statist solutions, often practiced by corrupted regimes where there is no democratic accountability. Their policy ignores that Somaliland, in the absence of international aid and development budget, has to benefit from the hugely dynamic era of globalization in which we all now live, which could create more beneficiaries than the current system.
But Somaliland’s inability to pursue a coherent economic policy is not just a consequence of personal inadequacy. It was also a consequence of hostility to the very idea of improving the market, accountable tax system, limiting the role of government and upholding the law and the constitution. This ideological cynicism about government easily changes into a habit of treating state resources as a way of rewarding friends or political allies and involving controversial procurements and political operations.
Putting this in a much broader context, we have to understand that the issue is deeply rooted in the legacy of the former state of Somalia where the current leaders had learned their leadership crafts. However, Mr. Riyaale should be recommended for his courageous support to the continuation of the democratization process the country has imparked upon.
The second concern here is to do with the approach of our international relations. Ms Edna Ismail, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has indeed energized our foreign policy and succeeded in making useful links with external partners. From Ethiopia to South Africa and from USA to the United Kingdom, the message has been communicated and some positive efforts have been going on behind the scenes. But, in my opinion, the discourse used in this process, lets us down.
Somaliland ’s political discourse will have to make a transition from relying on emotional and moral reasoning to presenting rational and sophisticated ideas in the search for recognition. We will need to change the tone of our foreign policy currently dominated by a language of hate, liberation, resistance and antagonism.
The legal case for Somaliland’s independence is clear. It predates the formation of the Organization of African Union, which prefers maintaining national borders as they were at time of independence. Somaliland clearly passes this condition. It stands neither succession nor a change in African borders. Therefore, there is no need to use a rhetoric that sounds like a liberation movement mantra.
The political justification has also been made. With Djibouti, the fifth region of Ethiopia and NFD all opting to stay out of a union with Somalia, the drive for greater Somalia is dead forever. The claim to keep all Somalis together has, therefore, no substance any more. In addition to this, the people of Somaliland had paid dearly for union with the south.
Yet the body of arguments used to justify the political recognition heavily builds on emotional and moral basis, reflecting on the experience of the extermination policy practiced by former southerner politicians. What the arguments, formulated on this basis, fail to do is to establish links with the real politics in the real world.
Where do we go from here? As to economic management, the parliament should push the government to pursue liberal economic thinking. This economic ideology actually fits with the entrepreneurial character of our people, and will allow our country to attract investment from abroad. Stemming from this, international financial networks may come off the ground and help us tap into our natural resources including oil, gas, coal and gypsum. Also our coastal line, which is rich in marine resources would benefit from such investment.
This would, however, require a comprehensive reform in our economic infrastructure and trade and financial regulations where the free market takes the lead not the government.
In the public expenditure, there is an immediate need for a through review of budget formulation, spending priorities and public expenditure management. Public spending should focus on the provision of basic and social services and infrastructure, with fairer allocation of spending across regions.
On the political front, I would suggest that a discourse that mainstreams our political rhetoric should be adopted. This will need a shift from the moral and emotional reasoning to rationalizing our case in terms of common interests, shared benefits, cooperation and cohesiveness. Far from being a betrayal, this would reflect a tactical and political maturity and confidence on the part of Somaliland. The government would be seen as being able to connect with the wider world, and as having an added value to the geopolitical realities in the region.
Today the world is motivated by economic and common interest rather than morality. Taking into account of this, our political repertoire should include methods of presenting our country as economic and political entity that is worth supporting.
Also, Somaliland should embrace universal values. Key element here is the upholding of values such as free market, promotion of secular and democratic state and adherence to human rights. Also playing active role in mediating conflicts in the region would give an enormous boost to Somaliland’s international standing.
Finally, we should aim to establish an independent a think- tank, jointly funded by the state and the diasporas, that looks into our challenges with fresh perspectives, and identifies new approaches for the realization of our statehood and recognition, emphasizing pragmatism and open-mindedness.