Today, 26th July 2010, Somaliland marks another watershed in its continuing story of progress, democratic achievement and political maturity. Today Ahmed Mohamed Mahmoud ‘Silanyo’ assumes the Presidency, having won the election held a month earlier, and Dahir Riyalle Kahin hands over the reins of power in a much anticipated and joyful handover ceremony that was organised by the outgoing government. The fact that a peaceful, free and fair election was successfully organised and held without serious unrest; the fact that the incumbent was defeated by the opposition candidate; the fact that incumbent graciously accepted defeat without rancour and dissent; and the fact all of this took place in an African country has been the source of much comment in the international press, and rightly so. What is a true miracle is that all of this happened in an unrecognised country that is neighbour to the most famous (or is it infamous) failed state in modern history, and which has war and insurgency raging across two of its three borders.
But then, Somaliland specialises in such types of miracles, and some of them are worth enumerating here. Firstly, Somaliland has successfully resettled some half a million refugees since 1991 with little or no help from the international community – this in a country in which the major urban centres, including the capital Hargeisa, were nearly completely destroyed during the decade-long Liberation War against the Siyad Barre dictatorship. Secondly, despite some initial conflicts, Somaliland successfully disarmed the clan militias that had defeated the dictatorship and established an open and vibrant representative democracy that drew upon its own socio-political and cultural traditions as well as upon the Western model of a separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary. Thirdly, despite the most severe pressures placed upon its young polity by the outside world, ranging from neglect and insistence of the UN and other aid agencies that it was part and parcel of Somalia to the south, to the embargo upon its principal exports, i.e. livestock, by its primary market, i.e. Saudi Arabia, the people of Somaliland refused to be drawn into the anarchic madness across their border, and they refused to let the peace, stability and open society that they had created for themselves to be hijacked.
Since 2003 Dahir Riyalle Kahin has presided over this amazing and unique experiment in African democratic governance that has been aptly called “Africa’s best kept secret”. Mr. Riyalle came to the job with little or no political experience when he succeeded President Egal after the latter’s sudden death in a South African hospital. Yet during his tenure, which included winning the Presidential election of 2004 admittedly by a very thin margin, Mr. Riyalle has demonstrated time and again a maturity and faith in the good judgement of his people that is exemplary. He has, for instance, refused to be drawn into war with Puntland over it numerous provocations in respect of the Sool & Sanaag regions, including its invasion of these regions in 2007. His policy of patience and dialogue with the leaders of the people of these regions bore fruit when the people of Sool & Sanaag ejected the invaders from their territory and reasserted their allegiance to Somaliland.
Similarly, Mr. Riyalle responded to the embargo on livestock imports by carefully and methodically establishing the fallacy of the health reasons given for its imposition through credible, international certifications. Allied to this effort was the patient and repeated representations to the Saudi authorities demonstrating the sound health of Somaliland livestock as determined by reputable international organisations. The final plank of this strategy was the forging of commercial alliances with established Saudi livestock merchants that were able to not only lobby their own authorities, but also invest the funds required to establish gathering facilities for the livestock where health certification by reputable authorities could be effected. The strategy bore fruit and in 2009 the Saudi livestock ban was lifted with the result that some 800,000 head were exported during the first three months after the lifting.
On the issue of recognition, Mr. Riyalle and his government spared no effort and both he and his Foreign Minister travelled widely to promote Somaliland’s case for recognition. The steadily widening support for Somaliland’s case in Africa, Arabia, Europe and North America is due in large part to this concerted and sustained effort. During Mr. Riyalle’s term, Somaliland was accorded Observer status in the Commonwealth and the African Union as well as securing the support of countries such as Ghana and Burundi for its claim for recognition. The success of these efforts is evident in the widely held view by many commentators that the successful holding of the recent elections is the final requirement that many countries have made to supporting international recognition of some form for Somaliland.
With respect to domestic politics, it is well known that Mr. Riyalle has been a firm and true defender of the country’s peace and stability. There have been several instances of clan-based conflict when certain elements and ‘hotheads’ had sought to foment domestic unrest over the last few years. Mr. Riyalle has been firm and resolute in rejecting these provocations and he has consistently called upon the elders and Guurti members to defuse these conflicts before the ‘hotheads’ were able to conflate them. He has been the foremost and most stalwart defender of Somaliland’s peace and stability and history will most certainly honour him for this service to our country.
In conclusion, as a Somaliland citizen, I want to thank Mr. Riyalle and Mr. Ahmed Yassin, his Vice President, most heartily and unreservedly for their exemplary service on behalf of our nation. Mr. Riyalle, we shall never forget your service and your calm and wise leadership at a crucial juncture in Somaliland’s history of achievement. The common thread running through Mr. Riyalle’s actions as President of Somaliland is a mature calmness of approach, a resolute commitment to maintaining and defending our hard won peace and stability, and an unswerving faith and confidence in the political maturity of our people. What more can one ask of a President – so Mr. Riyalle thank you for your calm, wise and mature leadership. Finally, I also wish to congratulate Mr. Silanyo on his assumption of Somaliland’s Presidency, and I wish him every success in his endeavours on our behalf.
Ahmed M.I. Egal