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UK MPs Visit Somaliland
Hargeysa, 8 September, 2007 (SL Times) – An all-party group of British parliamentarians arrived in Hargeysa on Wednesday for a two day fact-finding mission.
The group which was led by Alun Michael included Kerry McCarthy MP who is secretary of the group, Clive Peth and Mark Hendrik.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Somaliland was set up by the Rt Hon Alun Michael MP and Kerry McCarthy MP last year and has over 30 UK MP’s listed as members of the UK House of Commons 'Special Interest Group', who are a cross section of UK political parties (parliamentarians), which according to the group’s charter is to “promote development assistance and recognition for Somaliland”.
Accompanying the MPs to Hargeysa was Bob Dewar, the British ambassador to Ethiopia.
The group spent the two days holding meetings with the president, ministers, government officials, political parties, lower and upper parliament speakers, the election commission and local/international civil societies.
The delegation also visited a local school and Edna Maternity Hospital.
While in Hargeysa, access to the delegation was almost impossible. SL Times attempts to contact the delegation was futile. Messages and all contacts to the delegation were screened by a local representative of the British embassy in Addis Ababa. The local media were left not knowing whether the UK parliament delegates knew that the local media were being denied access to them. A mission of this nature should have made it a priority to speak to the local media and the media should not have been left-out in the cold by UK embassy staff.
The brief two-day visit by the UK MPs was concluded with a press conference by the delegation at Egal international airport VIP lounge.
Alun Michael, who chairs the UK parliamentary group, gave a long and detailed statement, covering their meetings and discussions with major Somaliland stakeholders.
“All four of us have come to Somaliland as members of the UK parliament and are also members of the all-party group called Somaliland. Specifically, we have been concerned to support the development of democracy in Somaliland, and the links between the Somaliland communities in the UK, including, in our constituencies, with the developments being made here, in Somaliland.
In my own case for instance, I represent the old docks area of Cardiff, I have a very old established Somali community in Cardiff and they have been there for over hundred years, most of its members are from Somaliland and many of them are good friends of mine and they have always taken an interest to talk to me about local issues and the situation in Somaliland, through the period of the civil war and through the last 17 years in establishing democratic and governmental structures in Somaliland.
Obviously, an issue that has come up is the issue of recognition in Somaliland, which still has not been recognised as an independent state and the continuation of conflict and the lack of a stable government in the south makes that situation for Somaliland very difficult. I think the one thing that we have stressed is that the extent Somaliland has earned the respect of the international community and that has made it possible for us as parliamentarians to try to work with the Somaliland government to make sure that there is a voice, and that there is a good understanding of what Somaliland is achieving in the UK and indeed in elsewhere, such as within Europe, more widely.
The second thing, I would like to underline is that in the meetings we have had, we have been delighted that they have been so open. We have met the president, the foreign minister and other ministers, the two deputy speakers of the House of Representatives, members of the Guurti (House of Elders), the three political parties and local and international NGOs and all these meetings, we have had, has been very valuable. We are impressed by the degree of common purpose that there is, where there may be disagreements or points of view that differ, nevertheless, the general point of ‘seeking the best for Somaliland’ is clearly something, strongly, supported by everyone.
In that context, I think it’s fair to say that one of the biggest challenges for the future is for Somaliland having demonstrated its democratic credentials through local, national and presidential elections, which have, given the constraints, been extremely well conducted. The challenge is to take the next stage of going through the next set of elections, and making sure that the proper processes, the registration of voters and similar sorts of things are achieved. And these are not easy things to achieve. I have made the point, in a number of the meetings and I will make it again, that in the British parliament, in the House of Commons that we have been working for 700 hundred years on democratic processes and we still have difficulties with things like voter registration and the processes of elections because there is no state of perfection, there is no particular stage or point where you get all things done.
We respect very much indeed the work that is going on in Somaliland and we believe that making sure that all those processes are done properly and continue to improve is the key to enhancing the reputation of Somaliland in the international community. And, you cannot believe how important that is, Somaliland is seen very much as a role model of an African country that has developed its own electoral processes and done that by agreement and developed a three party system. It is extremely, important and as I say, we were particularly pleased to meet today, members of the election commission. We heard yesterday, that all the political parties said that they have respect for the election commission and that is something very positive in itself. But, I think we were impressed by the sense of purpose and mission that the electoral commission has, enabling Somaliland to take the next stage forward.
On our return, we will certainly be taking back a lot of messages of the things of which we have seen. The big challenge that you have is in public services. We visited a school today and the Edna Maternity hospital, we have also talked to a lot of NGOs about the work they are doing, in education, in economic development, in training and all of those things and its very clear that Somaliland has tremendous challenges, but it’s very clear also that Somaliland has people with terrific talent and sense of entrepreneurship. Another thing which has impressed us is the town of Hargeysa, travelling around the town you can see that it’s a town that feels alive and positive where there is a sense of pride amongst the people, sometimes, in the most simple of ways, perhaps marks it out as a more lively and friendly city than many similar cities in other African countries, and I think that this is something else, we think that you have to be proud.
I stressed the fact that we are a parliamentary group and don’t represent the government, although we are delighted that the ambassador from Addis Ababa has been with us and is very much a champion through his knowledge of Somaliland of the interest in meeting us and with the government here and we are very grateful to him and his embassy staff for their help and support in making this visit possible. But, we are here as parliamentarians and I am very pleased indeed at the development within the House of Representatives of an all party group to pursue links with the UK and with the British Commonwealth, that again is a small incremental step which is very important in terms with the development of parliament democracy. We are pleased although, because of the lack of recognition it’s not possible for Somaliland to be a member of some of the big international and regional organisations or for its parliamentarians to be members of the commonwealth parliamentary association (CPA). The CPA in the UK did make a grant to enable our visit to take place and I think that is an acknowledgement by them of the very special place and developments that have taken place, in terms of parliamentary activities, here in Somaliland. So it is quite an important gesture.
We are talking to the CPA, and we have also talked to parliamentarians in the national assembly of Wales who have agreed to make a twining arrangement with their parliament and Somaliland’s parliament and this again will help to bind the parliamentarians here in Somaliland into the international community of parliamentarians. And I think that is an important development.
The biggest thing we would like to say is that we have been very much delighted with the welcome that we have had from everybody at every level in every aspect of governmental and non-governmental organisations and we will be taking very positive messages back from what we have seen in our brief visit, here”. [End of statement].
Question: Your organisation has existed for sometime and this trip is its first to Somaliland, has your visit anything to do with changes in Downing Street or is it due to changing circumstances in Somaliland, or is it plainly just a group decision?
Alun Michael: It has something to do with the way things have developed in recent times. Because if you go back ten years there would not have been much interest in Somaliland as a democratic place within the British government, and that has now moved forward over the last few years, and there has been an increasing admiration for the way democratic elections and institutions have been developed. Under the leadership of Tony Blair, there was a very strong focus in assisting Africa and on Britain’s obligation and that can only accelerate, since, Gordon Brown took the leadership because he has made it very clear when, as the chancellor, the support that he wanted to give development in Africa, particularly, in relation to aspects of health, education and the development of robust democratic institutions. So, I think the developments in our parliament are part of a continuum, going, in a very positive direction.
Question: In your discussions with the political parties, did you talk about the current Qaran party leaders that are held in jail?
Alun Michael: I can only say that there are international standards on the way that democracy works, there are things that are important that have to be held in common, there are other things that are decisions for an individual country to take, itself, in accordance with its own constitution and laws. What we don’t want to do is to start suggesting what the answer should be for Somaliland, what we have underlined in our discussions is the fact that the reputation that has been so well and hard-earned, that it needs care on the part of everybody working in Somaliland to make sure that it is not damaged in the future. There have been ones that we have talked about, at one stage the arrest of journalists and the question of participation in political activity, those things are issues important for Somaliland to deal with, in a proper and a mature way, and this is what we would stress, and issues, just most recently, like for instances, completing the membership of the election commission. We were delighted when we arrived to see that this issue had been solved and the electoral commission being completed and a consensus among everyone that there is a general respect of the nature of the composition of the election commission and this was an important test for Somaliland and it has past that test and there will be many more tests along the road.
Question: My journalist colleague brought the important question on the arrest and detention of Qaran party leaders. Did you raise with the government the continued detention of Qaran party leaders?
Alun Michael: Yes we raised this matter up with the president and his ministers.
Question: The International Contact Group had one of their meetings a few months ago in London. Did you have any contact with them or attended the meeting?
Kerry McCarthy: You mean to discuss the situation in the south?
Alun Michael: No, we are parliamentarians; there are things where it is appropriate for the British government to do. There are question you may ask that I may pass over to the ambassador, so as parliamentarians we participate in parliamentary events. We might ask our ministers about the discussions that took place in the meeting of the contact group.
Mark Hendrick: Is there a particular question you want to raise in relation to the contact group, UN and Somaliland.
Question: Yes, there is. The international Contact Group is a group which is involved in Somalia, including Somaliland and it being a very influential group, and you being a lobby group, a parliamentarian lobbying group for the recognition of Somaliland, I would have thought that contacting this group or trying to attend their London meeting or simply, as observers, just being there would have been very important for Somaliland and your chief goal of promoting the recognition for Somaliland?
Kerry McCarthy: No, you see those kinds of meetings would not be open to back-benchers/parliamentarians like ourselves, but would be only for the foreign office to be involved in. What I can say is that there have been debates in parliament and the opportunity to ask questions about Somalia and the security situation in the south where other MPs are keeping a close eye and will write to the foreign office. But our group was established particularly to support the case for recognition for Somaliland, and we would not have a platform to go along to the contact group because that is for diplomats and the foreign office ministers.
Alun Michael: It is also the case for instance, in recent months we regularly met the individual minister responsible for Africa, Lord David Tresiman, who we met on a number occasions last year. We will be meeting Lord Malakbrown who has agreed to meet us when we return and we have met other ministers, including in Chris Mullen’s time. So we maintain that discussion, we use our knowledge and contact with parliamentarians and others in Somaliland to inform them of those discussions. But, It’s then for our ministers to represent the UK government, we are not the government. I don’t know if the ambassador would like to say anything about these contacts in the region?
UK ambassador: I am delighted to come along to your first visit to Somaliland. I do think, it’s important to have links like the Welsh parliament and this is an important contribution to further democratization. We have always admired and respected the progress made here in Somaliland, including in this important area of democratization. And I, absolutely, agree with the comments made that the next stage in your democratization, in terms of your future elections and registration and the process and the quality of the process, It will be important in maintaining the reputation you have gained within the region and of much wider.
In terms of our own relationship here, we are working hard to support and sustain the progress you have made in many areas, including, in capacity building and many other areas. We had some important discussions, to learn more about plans for interaction with the World Bank and the other institutions, and I, very much welcome that because also, there is a need for economic inputs, developments and infrastructure, which I think will be an important contribution.
In terms of the International Contact Group, we are a leading partner in that process, and the meeting was held in London. I think what’s going on in the south is very important. We hope that the national reconciliation conference in the south will lead to results and that there will be an inclusive approach in terms of political developments there. And indeed would always promote dialogue as I have mentioned, many times before, in my visits that with your brothers in the south that you have to have political dialogue, at the appropriate time and those principle you have emphasised in your history, are very impressive process of national reconciliation, dialogue, a consensus building, which seems to me, a very important quality that you have. And, in that way have contact with your brothers in the south at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way. And I am very delighted with this visit and I am glade to be here, once more in Hargeysa. You have been very kind with your weather, [thank you very much]. And with your friendship and hospitality, I would like to thank you all for that.
Question: Do you think that the Somaliland government is doing enough to get international recognition?
Alun Michael: I think that the Somaliland government is demonstrating both, a strong will in terms of the future of Somaliland, but also, common sense and patience and patience is a virtue that can be underestimated. We discussed these issues with the president and ministers and as I said earlier, it is a very complex issue, everybody wants an instant answer and it takes more time to get the desired results that everybody wants, it takes a lot of cooperation and persuasion and time. Yes, I see eye to eye with your government about the efforts it is making.
Source: Somaliland Times