Mon, Oct 24, 2011 - Page 9 News List

The other Horn of Africa

While the situation in Somalia deservedly receives international aid and attention, the blossoming democracy of Somaliland is being overlooked, when it could be a leader

By Ahmed Mohamoud Silyano

Illustration: Yusha

Drought, famine, refugees, piracy and the violence and terrorism endemic to the shattered city of Mogadishu, a capital ruined by civil war: These are the images that flash through people’s minds nowadays when they think of the Horn of Africa. Such perceptions, however, are not only tragically one-sided, they are also short-sighted and dangerous.

Behind the stock images of a region trapped in chaos and despair, economies are growing, reform is increasingly embraced and governance is improving. Moreover, with Yemen’s government imploding across the Red Sea, the Horn of Africa’s strategic significance for maritime oil transport has become a primary global security concern. In short, the Horn of Africa is too important to ignore or to misunderstand.

Of course, no one should gainsay the importance of combating famine, piracy and terrorist groups like the radical and murderous al-Shabaab. However, at the same time, we have seen my homeland, Somaliland, witness its third consecutive free, fair and contested presidential election. And Ethiopia has emerged as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, with GDP up 10.9 percent year-on-year in 2010 to 2011, leading Africa and rivaling China. Indeed, Ethiopia is one of the few countries in the world poised to meet the UN’s Millennium Development Goals on time and in full in 2015.

In the wider region, too, things are looking up. South Sudan gained its independence in July at the ballot box. And Uganda has discovered large new deposits of oil and gas that will help to lift its economy.

All of these changes reflect the fact that the Horn of Africa’s people are no longer willing to be passive victims of fate and their harsh physical environment. On the contrary, they are determined to shape their destinies through modernization, investment and improved governance.

After decades of stable enmities, the people and nations of the Horn of Africa are learning how to cooperate and align their interests. For example, Somaliland and Ethiopia are collaborating on the construction of a gas-export pipeline from Ethiopia’s Ogaden region, promising new jobs and income for people in one of the poorest and least developed parts of the world.

Although there is much that we can and will do to help ourselves, the Horn of Africa can still benefit from international assistance. However, the international community needs to do more than provide food and medicine to victims of famine and drought. Necessary as that is, we need pro-growth investments that will help provide jobs for our people and products and resources for the world. That means focusing on promoting market economies and stable government, rather than subsidizing failure and failed states.

Unfortunately, at least with respect to Somaliland, this is not the case. For 20 years, ever since we re-established our independence —we had voluntarily joined with Italian Somaliland to form Somalia in 1960 — the international community has closed its eyes to the successful democracy that we have built. Even more perverse, it appears to be demanding that we abandon the peaceful, tolerant society that we have established and submit to the control of whatever government — if there even is one — rules (or misrules) the remainder of Somalia from the rubble of Mogadishu.

Our successful democratic experiment is being ignored in part because of a hoary ruling a half-century ago by the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the precursor to today’s African Union (AU). Back then, with the recent demise of the colonial empires stoking fears of tribal rivalries and countless civil wars, the OAU ruled that the frontiers drawn up by the imperial powers should be respected in perpetuity.

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