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Wearisome Time for the Emerging Nation of Somaliland
By Abdirahim Ali Harbi
In the previous segment entitled “Wearisome Time for the Emerging Nation of Somaliland” I have illustrated some of the challenges that could be presented by the lack of recognition for Somaliland and how it may affect a region of Africa already afflicted with major problems and could add to the overall global insecurity. This other segment will address issues that concern the economy of Somaliland. We’ll look at ways it could be enhanced by first tabbing into the abundant natural resources available in the country, then developing and managing them appropriately in ways that maximizes benefit and ensures sustainability. Essential to this ambition is the existence of a basic infrastructure, the implementation of sound government policies and good judgment, and the application of home grown and internationally enhanced management techniques that best suit each sector. The actions taken today by the people of Somaliland and their leadership is vital to the performance of the country’s economy in the long run.
Basic Infrastructure Key to Economic Development
Somaliland is at the initial stages of its economic development, hence the competency of the country’s leadership, the dynamism of the Nation’s business people and the level of the country’s education system are factors crucial to the performance and the viability of the country’s economy. The country today is essentially starting from scratch and therefore must invest heavily in institution building in every sector of the economy and start developing essential human resources well suited for each sector. The country has no infrastructure in place to support its budding economy which can get in the way of development and the influx of essential investment opportunities the country currently yearns for. It requires a serious investment in the building of roads and highways, main airports and seaports, bridges and utilities, and host of other areas.
There seems to be a lack of understanding of the importance of the Port of Berbera as main economic nucleus and the essential role it could play in transforming Somaliland’s economy. The Somaliland government has failed immensely in rehabilitating the Port of Berbera, as well as its Air Port. Severe mismanagement, lack of planning, and corruption has hampered this port’s potential as crucial economic hub in the Horn of Africa. These three main factors contribute to the government’s sluggish economic progress and the absence of important basic infrastructure in every corner of the country. Take for example, Hargeisa’s main Airport which just recently became operational at night for the first time in 17 years of what is suppose to be the capital of the nation. Looking from space from satellite pictures shows the immensely underdeveloped airport, of what otherwise should have brought the nation a pride and some needed revenue. This is not something unique to one part of the country, but is consistent throughout the nation. This is an opportunity for the opposition parties contesting the upcoming elections to do something about this massive lack of planning and competency, mismanagement and corruption, if they win or the current government to cleanup its act and make tangible progress in the way the nation is govern and run economically and politically. Capacity building is the key here, in helping the country make a major progress in many areas of the economy or even the way it is govern. Any mismanagement or corruption at this level would weaken the basic foundation and could hold the nation for years to come. That is way it is important both the public and the government realize this and make the necessary corrections in time.
The lack of international recognition and engagement is also contributing factor and has held this country back for nearly two decades from making any real improvement to its economy. Despite the initial global isolation and lack of international support, Somaliland seems to be moving in the right direction surviving on and drawing economic strength from the entrepreneurship of its Diaspora, local business people and citizens. However the lack of engagement and global market access due to lack of recognition denies Somaliland the large scale global investment it requires to build the nation. Recent changes in the attitude of the international community towards Somaliland, if genuine and coupled with economic co-operation might change all that. It might help the country focus on building the required basic infrastructure and critical economic institutions. It might also inevitably help this young nation make substantial progress in democratizing, strengthening the rule of law and improving government efficiency, what can be regarded as positive side effects of economic co-operation and political engagement.
We know that Somaliland had made immense progress single handedly with God’s help in the last 18 years of its isolation in nation building, security and governance. Self-reliance has helped this nation achieve the unachievable in a sea of political uncertainty and social hardship. It has been very successful in tabbing very effectively into its customary pastoral democracy (a long-established, egalitarian form of social and political organization its people are highly renowned for) and fusing it with the western-style governance adapted from Britain to form a modern 21st cent democratic system and a nation. Although this isolationism has helped Somaliland in some ways, it had stalled economic advancement, hindered rapid democratization and might present some other unforeseeable negative outcome down the road. Hence the world has no moral excuse to not do the right thing by Somaliland anymore especially in the light of all the experiences of the last century, keeping misfit nations together.
Somaliland’s Main Resources as Potential for Economic Development
The world today is dominated by conflicting interests and claptrap politics and therefore Somaliland can not afford to be over pessimistic about the world’s attitude regarding recognition or large scale economic co-operation. The only way Somaliland can survive is to make drastic changes in all area and redouble their efforts. Main economic areas Somaliland can develop a good potential is in its agriculture, live stock management, fisheries and exploration of natural resources.
Today the country heavily relies on imports for its sustenance, where imported food stuff and other goods not only draining the country’s hard earn capital, but also place it at the mercy of importers as well as bringing about cost fluctuations exacerbated by the effects of global warming, deterioration of agricultural lands and shifting global demands. This is damaging to a budding nation such as Somaliland, in that it could contribute to rising inflation and the high cost of imported food. The country needs to correct this by developing and improving its agricultural sector. It needs to learn from the improvements the world has made in farming methods and food production practices today as well as to find a way to introduce the associated mechanized farm technology that is used around the world. For instance, the mechanization of the agricultural sector can improve food production while reducing arduous, backbreaking laborious tasks that yield little food beyond subsistence. Attractive way to begin viable programs that might accomplish just that is to start by creating special zones in arable land such as Togwajaale and Arabsiyo. The farmers could co-operate collaboratively as units in producing certain agricultural products suited to their environment using various shared resources including heavy machinery purchased with the help of the government and partial investment from the local business people or the Diaspora, creating profitable investment opportunity for the 21st century.
Resource sharing by farmers will reduce the initial financial burden any farmer might face in acquiring such costly machines on his/her own, increase their productivity, and allow a percentage of their earnings to go to the repayment of investment. The government will also benefit from this scheme and earn some valuable revenue through taxation of the commercial use of farmland and on the products sold. Today, most arable land is held by people who don’t farm making much of the productive land unavailable for use. The government should levy land taxes, making land holding expensive venture. Of course the only exception could be given to those who genuinely rely on land for farming and pastoral activities and not for holding. The source of pain in and around the cities and the country today is land disputes, wasting valuable legal resources aimed at mediating conflicts between legitimate owners and those that dispute their claims, due to lack of papers attesting to their ownership. Some thing that could have been avoided if annual property taxes based on income was put in place, thus serving as double edged sword to decrease unnecessary land holding schemes and provide the government with much needed revenue. This is just one thought and all Somalilander with all the diverse skills in the world should think like wise in starting and introducing small scale industry to this young nation. It should be done in such a way that when one group of investors develops one type of industry, others should think like wise to build around that industry thus helping the economy to be self-reliant and varied.
The government’s realization of the significance of livestock management is an important one, and one which should have been addressed earlier knowing very well its importance to the country’s economy. This would have prevented any ill-conceived justification or bad intentions the Arab Nations (Egypt and Saudi Arabia in particular) might have had in opposing Somaliland’s declaration of independence and thus punishing for it economically by banning its only livelihood and source of revenue. And although very late, the Authority’s realization and efforts are commendable, but they should redouble their efforts in building modern Health Facilities that houses knowledgeable staff and veterinarians and monitors the health of the Nation’s livestock so this kind of excuses could no longer be used by Arab governments as political instrument. It is not a secret that Somaliland’s request for economic assistance, support for their genuine aspiration of independence and recognition has been falling on deaf Arab ears, but also that the demise of nearly half million of their people by Siad Barre had been accomplished with the fund and support of these nations, knowing very well where it was ending up. One may think they would have learned from all this. They haven’t and their actions speak louder than words. They encourage and lend legitimacy to an in effective illegitimate TGF government clearly encouraging unislamic and undemocratic values and undermining peace in the Horn of Africa. This fallout is exactly the opposite of what they had envisioned to achieve in Somalia and demonstrates the lack of understanding in their part, of the extent and depth of the Somali political and social crisis. They inevitably helped Ethiopia intrude into Somali Political Affairs and Territories, forever harming the interest of the Somali people. Clearly this is an aberration of their foreign policy and should be clear to Somalilanders that their interests and ours are not intertwined. Today it could seem the interest of the Somaliland people perhaps lays elsewhere and not in the Arab League. It would seem it is more favorable to engage other promising African nations such as Ghana and the West, China, Russia and Iran for economic co-operation, training, knowledge sharing and development.
Fishery and Natural resources
Another two sectors that need colossal consideration are the fishery sector and exploitation of the country’s natural resources to help with the diversification of the country’s economy and providing the necessary jobs for its people. The Somaliland government can capitalize on the recent softening and heightened co-operation of the international community, particularly that of EU, UK and the US. The government should ask these countries to assist in giving them the means to protect its large coast from piracy, terrorism, illegal fishing and damping of harmful wastes that affects sea life and local environment. Concerns that are centered around piracy, terrorism, the environment and the development of new relations with an Islamic Nation that shares similar democratic principles will resonate more with these governments than requesting assistance on private issues concerning the preservation and conservation of fish stock or the development of the fishery sector and job creation. Also, the recent, officially sanctioned exploration and any possible future development of the country’s natural resources requires careful consideration, particularly in areas of contract negotiation, proper management, and the assurance of appropriate safeguard for the environment. Since these contracts tend to be long term, it makes sense to have transparency, and agreement that is both equitable and favorable to the nation in the long run. The government ministers should not tackle this important negotiations and agreements without the participation of diverse professionals on their side that would give proper advice on these issues when the time comes. It is essential that the government realizes that there are options out there such as multitude of companies willing to bid for these contracts such as oil or mineral exploration, and that transparency is important to the success of the nation for generations to come. They should study problems resource rich countries like Nigeria face where corruption and mismanagement had place the country deep into crisis, drying the country’s only resources and denying its citizens their fair share while causing severe environmental degradation. The curses that had befallen on Nigeria and other resource rich countries in Africa all stem from greed, corruption, lack of competency and transparency.
There needs to be mechanisms, guidelines and processes in which negotiations are made and contracts accepted, perhaps involving the legislature. Although Somaliland already has some important safeguards in place regarding the finalization of contracts and agreement which involves the parliament and elected representatives, but there are little or no crucial safeguards in place preventing mishaps and corruption at the onset when important contract are envisaged. For instance even though the parliament has the ultimate say and sole mandate to support or reject any agreement or contract with foreign companies the administration endorses as worthy, there is nothing preventing any corrupt minister(s) in charge from stalling of the contract by inviting and benefiting from rogue companies and brokers in an nontransparent manor by promising them piece of the pie and later reneging it or setting the contract up for rejection. This potential for this sort of thing to happen is still there, as the recent news reports on suspicions that the Somaliland minister of Water and Minerals accepted kickback and bribes 1 attests to and shows how worried Somalilanders are about this sort of things. One way they could deal with this type of situation is to have multiple parties including lawyers and economists and researchers present at the initial stage of negotiations along with the minister(s) in charge and put procedures in place to prevent such thing from happening again. These are existing realities that should serve as lessons to Somalilander’s and their government today; they all have shared responsibilities in ensuring their country is successful and prosperous.
There is a fierce competition among companies bidding for the same contracts as globalization brings the world closer together and demand for natural resource skyrockets. Traditionally it was Europe which reaped the benefits of access to African markets, while the bulk of theirs markets remained closed to Africans due to their protectionist attitude. Europe also had the privilege of putting in place clauses and repayment conditions of its loans and investment, which when coupled with Africa’s ineptitudes and instabilities deprived Africans more rather than help them, in what is often called one sided trade deals. There isn’t a single successful nation in Africa today that owes its successes to Europe’s loans and investment, because the path of development was often dictated to Africans by “white development economists or the IMF” 2. Nowadays, the relationship is becoming much more complicated than that. As China’s and India’s sensations for raw materials increases they look towards resource rich Africa for solution. This coupled with the United State’s heightened interest in Africa aimed in part at countering China’s incursion, searching a base for its AFRICOM, and securing their share of access to African market, is worrying Europe and threatens Europe’s relationship with Africa. The Afro-European Summit held on the 8 th of Dec 2007 between 53 African countries and 27 European countries which included the presence of the tyrant Mugabe at the expense of United Kingdom’s protest attests to the level of Europe’s nervousness and reveals the extent of their concern 3. In fact there is a recent publication by the Washington Post entitled “US exploring options in Somaliland” just posted by Abdirisak Suleman in Somalilandnet 5 that shows the US’s eagerness to find a base to further its interests under its AFRICOM cloak.
This is good news for countries like Somaliland, which desperately needs recognition and sustainable developments, one that benefits both the people and the environment, provided the people charged with the negotiation and direction of development are Africans and competent enough to tackle this enormous task. It is my humble opinion that Somalilanders don’t leave these monumental tasks to government ministers who are very rarely suited for their posts, but rather are also assisted by a mixture of well regarded economist and developers of every sorts drawn from the diverse Somaliland Diaspora as well as internationally renowned professionals who would be paid for their services as the time comes. Of course all this gigantic opportunities present themselves only once and we have seen how Africans have squandered them over and over again as our history attests to. It takes a canning, insightful leadership to realize these opportunities and explore them for both their short term and long term benefits. So far the words and the quick judgments reverberating by the President of Somaliland does not suggest serious pondering of the implication of this hasty decision, for what only seems to be in exchange for recognition. No doubt, we need the US’s help and friendship as much as they need us, however we need to be overly cautious since US’s self interest can sometimes have negative repercussion.
The authority in connection with the private sector should work hard in steering the current economy from one that is heavily dependent on importing, to one that is self sufficient and involves some export and small scale manufacturing until the country is able to carryout large scale manufacturing and is able to balance the export and the import of the goods. This is one of the ways a country could reduce shocks to its economy resulting from being overly dependent on either exporting or importing. Tremendous amount of planning and development is needed, focusing on infrastructure development and economic diversification in the four major sectors outlined above and development of other industries around them. This is a task that requires adequate infrastructure, competent and perceptive political leadership, systems and mechanisms in place to fight corruption, and work force and education that meets the demands of the country in all sectors. This is where the Somaliland Diaspora can contribute immensely with their knowledge, skills, entrepreneurships and money. No Somalilander should expect their country to develop for them without their guidance, sacrifice, hard-work and sincere determination. The recently cultured African mindset which consistently persists and depends on aid should stop and should be replaced with the lost values of self-reliance and communal support. Promoting peace, justice and the rule of law are also essential to the success of the nation, some thing all Somalilanders should strive for. This should include the public realizing their role in all these including sending the right message to the appropriate authorities when they side step their mandate and responsibilities and encouraging and rewarding those that perform brilliant job. Constructive and honest criticism should be listened to, welcomed and respected since they point out cracks in the system. We should not pass the buck to anyone or any country for our mistake and blunders. Acknowledging mistakes and instituting the appropriate correction mechanisms is a sign of maturity and shrewdness not a weakness. Everyone in Somaliland and the Diaspora have their responsibilities and roles to play in the development and the advancement of their young nation, as they have done for the past 18 years. Help from other countries should be welcomed but not expected; hence the saying “Iskaa wax u qabso” should prevail.
2. The Economist, Dec 8 th -14 th 2007 issue pg 54
Abdirahim Ali Harbi, Toronto, Canada