The UK Parliament on Tuesday debated a motion on whether to recognise Somaliland as an independent nation, even as London rushed to downplay the session only as an expression of a known policy.
The motion, which in the Westminster system was labelled as an adjournment debate, came after the session of parliament on Tuesday night, which meant that there would be no vote or further business after the discussion.
And Somaliland had seen that as a good step towards getting global endorsement to be independent of Somalia. On Tuesday night, Vicky Ford, the UK Minister for Africa, Latin America and Caribbean said the debate was only a show of the UK’s consistency on the issue of Somalia.
“Adjournment debate in the House of Commons underlines consistent UK government position on Somaliland status. It is for the SL [Somaliland] & Federal Government of Somalia to decide their future,” she said on Twitter while on an official visit to Nairobi.
“We continue to cooperate with the Federal government of Somalia and Somaliland on democracy, security and prosperity.”
Whether that was to soothe Mogadishu, which is opposed to Somaliland independence, was yet to be known. Ms Ford had earlier spoken on phone with Somalia Foreign Minister Abdisaid Muse Ali where they discussed various issues including “political developments in the Horn of Africa.”
The motion led by Conservative MP Gavin Williamson sought to challenge London to recognise what it sees as a region of the Horn of Africa that has defended freedom in a volatile area of the continent.
The motion wants to ensure London “recognises the 1991 declaration of independence” by Somaliland from Somalia calls on the UK government to formally declare Somaliland as an independent state while taking steps to ensure dialogue between all parties including the African Union brings about a lasting solution.
Mr Williamson to the House of Commons Somaliland had “developed so much” since the Somali civil war in late 80s and early 90s and deserved to be considered independent.
Later, he said: “It is an absolute honour to be bringing the important issue of recognition of Somaliland to the floor of the House of Commons. Our nations have long historic ties and now it is the time to make history together.”
It came as Somaliland leader Muse Bihi Abdi landed in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Tuesday without the usual protestations from Mogadishu whenever a red carpet is rolled out for him abroad. His office said he travelled following “an official invitation from the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.”
The motion excited Somaliland diplomats with many banking on it to push through their desire to get out of Somalia’s shadows.
“We have been standing up for democracy, the rule of law, free market economic system, human rights and freedom of the press and the public opinion for 30 years,” said Mohamed Hagi, Somaliland’s head of diplomatic mission to Taiwan.
“Our country deserves to be recognised as all our governments from 1991 – 2022 use democracy [to] keep our people together,” he argued. Somaliland and Taiwan have built closer ties as both remain in the trenches fighting for recognition. Taiwan has been eclipsed by China which has managed to convince all independent African states, except the Kingdom of eSwatini, to walk away from Taipei.
Previously known as British Somaliland, it merged with Italian Somaliland in 1960 to create the Somali Republic. But after the fall of Somalia’s Siad Barre’s regime in 1991, Somaliland declared unilateral independence. It has gone on to form its own successive governments, a central bank, an army and a police force.
Somaliland’s beef with Barre was that he killed tens of thousands of Somalilanders in the hunt for guerrilla fighters that targeted his regime. One of the bombers was even memorialised in Hargeisa, erected on a statue in the centre of the city.
Somalia rejects the bid for independence, and successive Somali administrations have banked on politicians in the north who want a union, rather than two independent states, to argue that there is one Somalia.
Mogadishu has also profited from a reluctance by the African Union to debate Somaliland, fearing a general desire for secession across the continent as boundaries were created by colonial masters.
Somaliland had applied to be an observer member of the Commonwealth, a group including the UK and its former colonies, plus Mozambique and Rwanda. The decision has been pending since 2007.
The UK Parliament debate came as a petition was filed by a concerned member of the public, asking the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to recognise Somaliland.
“We believe recognising Somaliland as an independent state will help promote democracy and good governance,” said a petition to the UK Parliament, which had garnered 1409 signatures by Tuesday. It needs 10,000 signatures to attract a formal government response.
In the meantime, there was no expectation Ethiopia would signal recognition yet, but it continues the de facto treatment of Somaliland as a separate entity. Ethiopia, UK, Kenya and several other countries have consulates in Hargeisa.
Mogadishu in December 2020 had cut ties with Kenya after it hosted Bihi. Bihi has since toured Ethiopia and Djibouti without Somalia’s protests though.