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Recognition: Ritual or Requisite?
My rather satirical article published in the Somaliland Times issue No. 272 on 7 th April 2007, under the title of [Imagine Somaliland As Offshoot Republic of China], may have rubbed some readers the wrong way, while among others it sparked a heated debate on the future of Somaliland. This was exactly what the article has set out to achieve, to arouse debate and discussion on a possible way out of the current political stagnation of Somaliland in the absence of International recognition, which is crippling the socio-economic potential of the country.
First of all, I must thank to those who emailed me their comments and others who expressed their views on the web and on the Somaliland Times, particularly Mr. Liban A. D Obsiye whose response was published in the Somaliland Times last week.
In this piece, I will try to correct Mr. Liban A. D Obsiye’s assumption that forming an alliance with China would jeopardize our political credentials and possibly have detrimental consequence on our relations with Europe and the west. I will also attempt to discuss briefly what ‘Recognition’ would mean to Somaliland and its significance while also touching on other equally important issues in nation-building, i.e., long term security concerns and the need of adopting new strategic economic policies etc.
As a member of the Labor Party in Erith and Thamesmead Club, my personal campaign for the recognition of Somaliland began as early as 1996, [I was probably one of the first individuals to do this], and wrote dozens of letters to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the DFID on a vast range of issues concerning Somaliland during the previous Conservative Government, and later in Tony Blair’s reign. I also campaigned for the Labor Party in the hope that a Labor Party-led British Government would treat the case of Somaliland more favorably than their Conservative counterparts: [or at least that was the assumption until recently].
Hence, the logic of my argument stems from 11 years of experience in representing the political wishes of the people of Somaliland and acquired insights into the UK and the EU political mentality in relation to the Somaliland independence.
For the past 16 years, Somaliland has been engaged in a rigorous campaign in pursuit of international recognition, and despite all the positive things it has achieved in terms of establishing a rudimentary foundations of a democratic state, its failure to attain recognition so far is certainly a cause for concern as well as it is a pressing need to review the performance of the strategic methods employed by the incumbent administration in Hargeisa in pursuit of the said goals.
Perhaps time has come for us ask serious questions as to why all our efforts fell on deaf ears. Why have we failed to convince one single nation state to recognize us? Are we using our full potentials? Are we using the appropriate approach? Is there some kind of international conspiracy undermining our efforts to acquire the status we are desperately trying to accomplish? If so who is the culprit and why?
I shall leave some of the above questions for the people of Somaliland to contemplate. However, the most puzzling question is: ‘Why would any country want to recognize us?’ what interests are in it for them in recognizing us? And most importantly, what are we to offer in return or as an incentive to anyone who lends us that favor: politically, economically or even in terms of strategic value?
We all think Somaliland deserves recognition. But that assertion is based on our own perspectives and wishes and does not take into account how our political desires could fit into the rather complex settings of today’s world politics. Remember though, there is no such thing as a free lunch. In politics you do not get something for nothing.
Research by the American School of International Laws and Politics argues that one of the reasons why Somaliland has been unable to attract world attention in its quest for International recognition is partially due to the fact that, in a post-Cold War, with the end of super power rivalry, the strategic value of Somaliland’s geographical position has diminished and hence is not important enough to persuade anyone into recognizing us.
Another reason is that Somaliland has not been aggressive enough in its diplomatic expedition for international recognition. So far, the approach used by Somaliland in their search for recognition has been somewhat ‘conformist’ to core ideological values aimed to find sympathy among the west and the west only. Also integral to Somaliland’s argument for recognition is the possession of strong legal and historic attributes for their claim, which forms the basis of its assertion of sovereignty. But this single dimensional approach is not, by itself, sufficient to entice anyone into taking the initiative of granting recognition. This strategy is devoid of a complex blend of multi referencing political incentives that could appeal and invite as well as accommodate strategic interests of those countries whom we seek recognition from. In this sense Somaliland foreign policies regarding recognition need to be geared up towards wider and more ambitious economic partnerships with alternative world economies other than the west alone.
Recognition is the international norm that confers official status at world arenas and is the key to doing business with one another. There is, however no internationally enforceable legal criteria or set of standard requirements mandatory under International Laws for countries to comply in recognizing one other. Instead ‘recognition’ is a political gesture: a country may recognize another even if other states do not recognize her or vice versa.
Though recognized, countries or states have the privileges to represent their interests across nations and at international arenas such as the United Nations, using diplomatic tools that recognition entails, nonetheless, recognition alone is not the final seal of approval to certify the official existence of a nation. This is to say ‘recognition’ is a ritual rather than a requisite and in certain circumstances [i.e. Taiwan] you can simply do without if you have the right wall to lean back. Political and economic interests or friendship with one or more of the world’s most influential powers are key to bringing about recognition. The argument that suggests recognition is vital in order a country to access foreign investment, development aid and loans etc., is not altogether true either. Neither is being a member of an international club such as the United Nations would ensure greater eligibility to financial investment and aid or even improve prospects economic success and viability. [In fact at the present time, given Bush and Blair’s unilateralism in conducting their foreign policies without any respect to international laws, it appears that there is nothing so appealing about joining the UN, only to become the new arrival of a club whose existing members wish they have never had joined it].
With the US being the only surviving superpower following the defeat of the Soviet bloc, the world is entering a new era and we are seeing many global transformations already underway. For a new country like Somaliland, a new vision is required in order to adopt the rapid changes of the new world in the 21 st century. It is believed that one of the greatest challenges facing the world in this new century is a shortage of energy resources. The US energy policies towards the 21 st century as formulated by Dick Cheney clearly suggests the inevitability to militarize wherever in the world there is a drop of oil and natural gas. The invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq are part and parcel of that long term US strategy. This explains why the West are not particularly keen to recognize Somaliland because number of US Oil Companies have Concessions of Oil explorations Rights, which was signed between US based western oil companies and the collapsed state of Somalia. Though these exploration rights were due to expire in 1992, these companies declared force de majore and maintain their exploration rights are still valid. Something that Somaliland does not agree with.
And in the EU, Italy, which has a vested interests in Somalia is staunchly opposed to the notion of Somaliland becoming a separate state from the rest of Somalia. Hence the West’s reluctance to recognize Somaliland is obvious and understandable. For Somaliland, a country sitting on a lake of oil and gas the west’s denial of international recognition should not deter her from exploring possible partnership with other world economies, such as China who are equally hungry for oil and gas. I believe Somaliland should follow the example of Sudan. Sudan was almost on the verge of economic collapse due to years of economic isolation by Washington. Thanks to the Sudan-China economic partnership and their mutual Defense agreements, Sudan is now an economically thriving oil producing country. Not without trouble though.
Hence, Somaliland should open a new front in its diplomatic offense and initiate efforts to establish closer ties with China, and even going the extra mile of acting as a gateway for China to access African resources, a key alternative to providing Somaliland long term security and economic stability. Having established links with Beijing, it is ironically more likely that the West, simply acting out of envy, may even recognize Somaliland as they do not want to see China stepping in the Strategic Horn of Africa. In addition, we should not be ashamed of making this radical shift in our long term strategy, which was necessitated as a direct consequence of our being abandoned by the West.
Furthermore, economists predict, from the year 2026 onward, Western supremacy in world economy will begin a downward decline and a new trend of power reversal will follow, in which China is expected to emerge as one of the forerunners of that global economic transformation. That is why I think we should gear our foreign policies towards becoming part of that great future and in devising foreign strategies in that direction. I believe we should leave the ageing western economies out of the equation.
Trade history between China and the Horn of Africa is one of the oldest and dates back as early as the 10 th century, when Europe was going through dark ages. And now in the wake of the 21 st century, Somaliland’s strategic position provides a perfect hub for mutual trade and economic partnership of great potential. In fact, I am so keen to kick start this mutual co-operation, I have written to the Chinese Ambassador in London, Mr. Zha Peixin. In my own personal capacity as a Somaliland citizen, and with good intent, while representing the Government, I have asked the Ambassador to pass a message of friendship to the president of China together with a brief outline of my country’s history, geopolitics and potential of economic benefits that closer relations between China and Somaliland would entail to both our countries.