Somaliland’s independence anniversary highlights opportunity for UK with Commonwealth allies
8 Parliamentarians mark today's 58th anniversary since the former British protectorate of Somaliland attained independence from the United Kingdom. They call on the UK government to begin the process of bringing Somaliland into the international community, as distinct from neighbouring Somalia.
Today marks 58 years since the former British protectorate of Somaliland attained independence from the United Kingdom. For most African nations previously under British rule, such an anniversary is cause to celebrate the beginning of the country’s life as an independent sovereign state – and also as a strategic partner to the UK through membership of the Commonwealth.
For the Republic of Somaliland, the situation is somewhat different. Having entered into a political union with neighbouring Somalia shortly after attaining independence, Somaliland resumed its position as an independent state in 1991 and for all intents and purposes has functioned as one ever since. However, over 27 years later, neither the UK nor the wider international community has recognised Somaliland as a sovereign nation. This excludes the country from membership of the Commonwealth and other vital international institutions that facilitate economic growth and development.
Despite this, and as unfamiliar as Somaliland’s situation may be to many in the UK, the ties between the two countries are far from being merely historic. A large number of Somalilanders currently live, work, and study in the UK, including thousands in our constituencies alone. This diaspora community has played a crucial role in pushing for the impending passage of new bills in Somaliland that will bring the laws governing sexual offences and FGM into line with international human rights standards, setting Somaliland apart from its East African neighbours.
The UK is the biggest contributor of international aid to Somaliland. It was also a leading member of the 27-country coalition that independently observed Somaliland’s presidential election last November. That election, which employed cutting-edge iris-recognition technology to combat voter fraud and represented the sixth consecutive occasion since 2003 on which Somalilanders have participated in multi-party elections internationally certified as free and fair, underlined Somaliland’s commitment to those most British principles of democracy and the rule of law.
Furthermore, as the UK continues to confront the global threat of terrorism, Somaliland acts as a trusted local partner to the international community in one of the world’s most unstable regions. Successive Somaliland governments have made security, both domestically and across the Horn of Africa, a top priority, preventing the terrorist insurgencies that exist beyond Somaliland’s southern border from taking root in the country.
If these ties of history, culture, economics, and security beg the question as to why the UK has been so slow to formalise its relationship with Somaliland, Britain’s changing position on the international stage provides the ideal incentive for doing so.
This is a moment of potentially profound transformation for Britain’s external relationships, in areas such as trade and security. There is a clear cross-party consensus on the benefits of developing closer ties with the Commonwealth’s member-states. Many of these nations, like Somaliland, are emerging economies with young populations and high economic growth potential, with whom we already variously share a language, history, political traditions, and citizens. The UK began its two-year term as Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth in April, providing us with the platform to drive greater collaboration and inclusion.
On this 58th anniversary of Somaliland’s independence from the UK, the day that makes its Commonwealth credentials quite explicit, we call on the UK government to begin the process of bringing Somaliland into the international community, with all the opportunities, benefits, and added prosperity that will provide for the country, its citizens, and its allies.
Authors and co-signatories:
Clive Betts MP
Stephen Doughty MP
Zac Goldsmith MP
Kerry McCarthy MP
Liz McInnes MP
Matthew Offord MP
Stephen Timms MP