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Monday, 5 February, 2001, 12:57 GMT
Somaliland 'here to stay'
President Egal
Egal is confident that Somaliland will be recognised
By Roger Hearing in Hargeisa

Mohammed Egal is the president of a country that does not exist.

Somaliland shows up on no United Nations maps, it has no representatives on international bodies.

It does not figure in treaties or agreements, it has no IMF loans or tariff barriers.

As far as we are concerned, we have nothing to do with Mogadishu

President Egal

But from his modest house on Hargeisa's dusty main street, President Egal does oversee a state that runs as efficiently as many states on the African continent, and better than some.

State trappings

It has its own flag, its own coinage, its own car numberplates, and a police force that seems well able to keep crime down and traffic rolling.

But technically and legally Somaliland is still just a region of the failed state of Somalia. For the moment, no one outside its borders is prepared to give Somaliland the recognition it wants.

Map of Somalia showing Ountland and Somaliland
President Egal scratches his greying beard and taps out his pipe, as he rehearses yet again the arguments for independence.

"As far as we are concerned, we have nothing to do with [the Somali capital] Mogadishu.

"We are sorry about what is happening to them and their failure to solve their own problems, but we have solved ours. There is no reason why we should be lumped with them."

Right to exist

He is unhappy about the lack of recognition, but he is keen the issue should be seen in Somaliland's own terms.

"We are not asking anybody whether we exist or not - whether the British or the Americans or the Arabs or the Germans - we are not asking them whether we are here.

" We are not invisible, we are here, we are functioning, and we are doing very well."

We are not invisible, we are here, we are functioning, and we are doing very well

President Egal

It is a situation that dates back at least 10 years, when the north-west emerged from the Somali civil war with a horror of both the recently overthrown regime of the dictator Siad Barre, and the chaos and anarchy he had left behind.

The area that had been the British colony of Somaliland up to 1960 and had then, after independence voluntarily united with the ex-Italian colony in the south, now wanted that union dissolved.

UN hostile

The UN attitude is that secession is not on, until there is a working state to secede from - and to that end they are helping to sponsor a new interim government that is very gradually feeling its way towards power in Mogadishu at the moment.

This country is going to be the first African economic tiger

President Egal

The problem from President Egal's point of view is that the UN wants Somaliland involved in what he now considers a foreign problem. He will not do it, even if he and his countrymen have to pay a high price for their refusal to join in.

"We are missing a great deal - within five years of international recognition, this country is going to be the first African economic tiger - that's our ambition and we are going to achieve it.

"We know what we are missing, but we are not going to lie down and die. We have got the basic resources for our survival."

Obstacles

But there is frustration - since last September, Saudi Arabia has banned Somaliland livestock imports, claiming the livestock was infected with Rift Valley Fever. Thereby, Somaliland has lost one of the major planks of its economy.

There is anger too at new and expensive visa regulations in the United Arab Emirates, where many Somaliland merchants do business.

Somaliland has defined itself as part of the Arab world, but a comment in the government-owned newspaper Mandeer suggested that it might now be more profitable to look towards Tel Aviv.

In fact Israeli businessmen have been in Hargeisa over the past week. It is a link President Egal is not ashamed of.

Somaliland's friends in the outside world remain hidden, though President Egal assures visitors that national recognition is not far away. Self-interest, he says, will do it if there is no better reason.

But he will not name names when it comes to who will be first in the queue to send an ambassador to Hargeisa. He remains confident but cagey.

"It will be soon," he says. "Very soon."

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See also:

31 Jan 01 | Africa
Somalia's thoughtful 'warlord'
20 Oct 00 | Africa
Somalia's landmark government
17 Nov 99 | Africa
The boring life of a warlord
26 Aug 00 | Africa
Old hand Hassan is new president
10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Somalia
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