Somalia: One on one with president Dahir Rayaale Kaahin of the democratic republic of Somaliland
Thursday, 16 Apr 2009 SMC
By Jerry Okungu
The President of the Democratic of Somaliland, the other Somali state that many people don’t really know outside Somaliland is a different breed of African leaders. I have yet to come across an African head of state as self-effacing as President Dahir Rayaale Kaahin.
I first met him at the Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi way back in 2006 when he visited Kenya and the rest of East Africa as Head of State. At that time, he was a rather shy president who left most of the talking to his Foreign Affairs and Finance Ministers that had accompanied him. The casualness with which he sat in a coffee shop outside Safari Park Hotel without guards chatting away with his ministers and any other Somali that cared to pass by was amazing.
Three years on, I had a chance to be his guest at his palace for close to one hour. I had requested to meet him because I wanted to know from the president why elections had been postponed several times since May 2008 when his term was supposed to have ended; a development that was causing jitters and rumbles within the main opposition parties. More importantly I wanted to know how he and his colleagues in political leadership had kept Somaliland sane, peaceful and relatively democratic when the other Somalia was permanently embroiled in unending wars among various warlords.
To start off the evening talk, I asked him how he viewed the relationship between Somaliland, Puntland and Somalia their former union members under Siad Barre. President Kahaalin took the opportunity to give me a little history of Somaliland and how several past treaties with England, Italy, France and Ethiopia had all recognized Somaliland as a state as way back as 1896. He reminded me that over the years prior to 1960 when they got their independence, Somaliland was always a British colony while Somalia was ruled by Italy as Djibouti remained a French colony. It is important to remember that in all these treaties, Somaliland was the only state recognized by the colonial powers.
This historical factor has historically bestowed on Somaliland claim to motherhood of the entire Somali occupied territories in the Horn of Africa.
The President musingly referred to the early 1960s when early Somali leaders were determined to unite their people in one greater Somali nation. Part of this drive culminated in the Shifta war with Kenya for the control of the Northern Frontier District of Kenya and the Ogaden dispute with Ethiopia under Haile Selassie. And had it not been for the peaceful President Egal who signed a peace accord with Jomo Kenyatta, the story of Somali nation would be different today.
President Kaahin sees Somaliland’s role in the region in three dimensions. The state must fight human trafficking, piracy and terrorism. He sees these three evils as a threat not only to the stability of Somaliland but to the entire Horn of Africa, Africa and the rest of the world. He is acutely aware that these three evils have become a global problem but impact more negatively on the people of Somaliland due to the proximity of their activities to his country.
He says that though his country is relatively peaceful, terrorists have never hesitated to cross over from Somalia to hit soft targets in his country. A case in point was the October 29, 2008 incident when Somali terrorists hit his palace, the UNDP offices and the Ethiopian Embassy.
Although he is yet to get formal recognition from the rest of the international community, he receives a lot of support from the European Union, Ethiopia and Djibouti.
At the European Union, he has been able to hold several bilateral meetings with foreign ministers of various member states of the Union.
What bothers him however is the apparent hypocrisy and double standards displayed by the international community when it comes to recognizing the legitimacy of the Somaliland State. Despite this state of affairs, he is happy that on his part, his country has in the last 19 years, fulfilled all international standards required from any state that seeks recognition.
Ironically the European Union has always been ready to grant Somaliland international recognition on one condition; that the AU or a good number of African states take the lead in establishing diplomatic and bilateral relations with his country. And he puts it rather musingly; that if today just one African state took the plunge; the rest of the world community would grant Somaliland the much sought after recognition.
President Kaahin says that among the criteria they have fulfilled for recognition include peace and stability in the country, a working judicial system, a functional parliament and an effective executive arm of the state with active military and police departments. For this reason, his government has been able to apprehend pirates and terrorists who have faced trial in open courts and jailed when found guilty.
He is one person who does not believe that pirates are on Somali coastline to fight foreigners polluting their waters with toxic waste and killing their fish. He believes these are just excuses from common criminals for purposes of gaining sympathy from the Somali people and international community.
Asked to explain how Somaliland has survived all these years without aid support from the international community, he laughs and says that is the one proof that any country in the world no matter how poor can survive without depending on donor money. He says African leaders should simply tighten their belts, manage their economies in a frugal manner and with less corruption in government, donor aid would be a surplus rather than a must for us to survive as nations.
On relations with the African Union, he is not amused that a few years ago, he visited the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, had a good meeting with the then AU Commission chairman. The chairman in turn sent a strong delegation to come and assess his country on the ground. A good report was then written urging the AU to grant Somaliland recognition. Unfortunately Chairman Konary left without the AU raising the Somaliland issue in its subsequent summits.
He is happy that Americans finally elected a black president in Barack Obama but quickly adds that Africa must realize that Obama is an American President whose first responsibility is to the American citizens. Currently he has good working relations with successive American governments; Democrats and Republicans alike but has never established such links with Canada.
Since he took power following the death of his predecessor, President Egal, he has faced a number of challenges and accomplished a good number of tasks. From 2002, his government has carried out peaceful and credible local government and parliamentary elections, established the rule of law and entrenched multiparty democratic practice. To date there are three major political parties thriving in Somaliland. They are UDUB, his ruling party, KULMIYE the second largest party and UCID the third largest party in the country.
In the last Parliamentary elections in 2005, which was hotly contested by the three main parties, his party UDUB was declared the winner with a margin of 80 votes, which was subsequently challenged by KULMIYE. However when the court ordered for a recount as demanded by the opposition, the margin increased to 217! To date, of the 80 seats in the House of Representatives, UDUB has a majority of 62 seats that allows his party to pass any laws in Parliament but he has resisted the temptation to exploit this majority in Parliament because he is a believer in a strong multiparty political system. A case in point was when his party asked him to sign a bill that would extend the life of Parliament; he declined because he thought the move would negate the gains Somaliland had made in the area of democracy and because the move would go against the constitution.
On why elections have been postponed, he says that during the earlier voting exercise; a lot of fraudulent activities took place rendering the register invalid. His desire is to promote transparency and accountability is the electoral processes yet this transparency doesn’t go well with opposition parties; the very opposite of what happens in other African countries!
He has promised Somalilanders elections in October 2009; just about five months from now. On this note, Africa wishes you well Mr. President!
Somaliweyn Media Center “SMC”