Writings :: Reflections from a country that does not exist

February 1st, 2011

For the past week I have wanted to share my exact travel plans here in Africa, plans I've had well before leaving Saudi Arabia for this trip, but I have been hesitant to do so. I did not want my friends nor family to be worried or concerned for my safety and well-being. I realize now, however, that to not share my exact location while I am here would be nothing short of irresponsible in the face the stereotypes about this area and disrespectful to this intriguing place. In short, to not acknowledge where I am right now would be an unfair disservice to an exemplary three million people.

That said, I am pleased and excited to share that I am in Somaliland, a sovereign state unlike any other in the world. Not to be confused with its southern unruly neighbour, from which it separated twenty years ago, Somaliland is a remarkable example of what could exist in the rest of Africa; if it is possible here, it is possible anywhere.

With its own democratically-elected representative government, a capital, a flag, a currency, an army, free press, health care and free market economy, for all intensive purposes, Somaliland is very much a country. With that said, not the United Nations (UN) nor the European Union (EU) nor the African Union (AU) nor any single country in the world recognizes Somaliland as a sovereign country. And I feel that I must mention that not even the Google's spell check in gmail (the world-leader in email) recognizes Somaliland. Some may find this funny; I find it serious and all the more indicative of the struggle of this country, these people, these "ghosts", in the words of my friend here. For twenty years this lack of support has been the situation despite visits from foreign ministers of major western countries (randomly, today I bumped into Andrew Mitchell, the United Kingdom's Secretary of State for International Development, who is here for a week of diplomatic meetings, including lunch today with Somaliland's foreign affairs minister who I also had the pleasure to meet briefly) and the fact that there are countless UN organizations here, the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (UNFAO), etc., etc.

I have been here just one full day so far, having flown here to the capital, Hargeisa, from Djibouti in what looked like a plane left over from the 1970s. Wild experience (pictures later!). My friend Adam, a fellow student from the United Nations-mandated University for Peace (where we both completed masters programs), was waiting for me with arms open at the airport. What a great feeling seeing him again after about eight months. We spent the day exploring around the city and meeting countless people. We just now came from a non-governmental organization's (NGO) entertaining performance in the city which was used to educate the locals, youth and all, on various important things like education. Very interesting.

Also, earlier today Adam took me to an organization, Somaliland Non-State Actors Forum (SONSAF), of which he is the chairman, where I was able to have a good chat with the executive director. I learned that mid-last year SONSAF mobilized approximately 750 people to observe the voting during the national election. Also supported by many international independent observers, the election saw an impressive turnout rate (given the situation and challenges here) of over 50%. To compare, I must digress for a moment and draw attention to the fact that the last federal election (2008) in the wonderful democratic country that is Canada saw a shameful and embarrassingly pathetic 58.8% turnout rate, the lowest participation of its kinda in over 100 years (44.6% in a referendum in 1898). This is a serious issue and makes me quite sad. Canadians, in particular young Canadians, of which so few participate in the voting process, just do not appreciate the freedoms and rights we so vigorously enjoy in Canada. I dare say a wake-up call is needed in this regard. At any rate, I could write for quite sometime on this issue but for now I'll just point to this decent read. Perhaps I will share my full views, opinions and suggestions on this topic at a later date. For now, back to the elections here in Somaliland. Ultimately, after the impressive participation, there was a most peaceful and respectful transition of power from one political party to another, a transition arguably never before in Africa, and the likes of which the people in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and Egypt would far from loath to have as I write this very note.

It blows my mind how the world, countries and organizations in droves to be sure, could recognize (and support in economic and other ways) African countries such as Zimbabwe, Swaziland, and Libya, countries with the most atrocious, seemingly humanless "leaders" and not Somaliland. It is despicable--let me repeat: despicable--for the people of this exemplary country, and yes, it is very much a country, to be treated like this by the international community, to be in this limbo of sorts, with no end in sight.

In my short time here so far, I have seen such a dramatic contrast to where I just came from, Djibouti. The life, the organization, the respect for fellow humans, the passion and the immeasurable hope in the eyes of everyone I have met and talked to, including a couple of members of parliament, it all leaves much to be desired by its neighbors. This country is free. These people are free. There is absolutely no excuse for the world, full of its sickening and inexcusable policies and politics, to not recognize the will of the millions here in this sovereign nation. They have proven themselves. Time and time again over the past two decades they have proven themselves. What is the problem, one may ask? That's complicated. I have included links below for more information.

It goes without saying that with international recognition, a host of positive things would open up for this eager country and its eager people. But more important than that, than anything, in my opinion, is that international recognition would give respect, respect to a place and people more deserving than any other in the continent that is Africa, perhaps the world. They will, I'm sure, be given that respect. Someday. Of that I am most confident. It's just a matter of time. Let the waiting continue.

From the mind of Patrick R. Crossman


Further reading:

Recognition of Somaliland Overdue
Govt Says No to Somaliland's Recognition Bid
Somaliland's 'path to recognition'
Somaliland on Wikipedia
Official Somaliland government website
Somaliland Press website and their youtube channel