The recent agreement this month between Dubai Ports World (DP World) and the Somaliland government to expand and invest in the port of Berbera was celebrated by Somalilanders all over the world. My recent visit to Somaliland and Berbera confirmed that the news was greeted with excitement and anticipation of good things to come, economically, politically and socially.
A review of Somaliland’s recent history will remind readers that Somaliland was a British Protectorate, which gained independence on June 26, 1960. But, all the dreams and hopes of uniting the Somali people turned to dust when a military coup took place on October 21, 1969.
In 1991, the dictatorship of Siyad Barre collapsed, overthrown after violence engulfed the whole country, and Somaliland took hold of its own destiny by declaring independence after marathon meetings among all local tribal leaders.
Cities and towns rose from the rubble, essential services were restored and government institutions were re-established. Over the years, three democratically elected governments were successfully installed. While the initial years were spent dealing with the aftermath of war and natural calamities, a new crisis is now facing the people – that of massive unemployment.
The resulting discontent and despair has driven our young people to risk life and limb to seek opportunities as migrants. Parents, at a loss to stem this exodus, resort to bribing their children into staying by buying them second-hand cars. A common sight is young people zipping around towns and cities to earn their living as couriers and taxi drivers. These little cars that ply the streets of towns and cities are nicknamed ‘hoyo ha iga tahreebin’, which translates to: ‘My child, please don’t migrate’. A touching analogy!
Despite this, Somaliland is a vibrant nation of entrepreneurs borne by the fact that, after the civil war, private business met all the needs of a growing population. This is still so, although the government now regulates and manages many of the essential services. In this respect, the role of Somalis in the diaspora cannot be ignored, whose moral support, regular financial remittances, investing skills and capital, as well as voluntary services, sustained the nation.
Now, the strategic location and historical significance of the port of Berbera, Somaliland, gives confidence to new investors. All indications are that Berbera will once more reach its full potential as a gateway to the Horn of Africa and its hinterland.
The people of Somaliland are eager to become a prosperous and progressive nation, often citing the UAE as a model and example. Having been marginalised for such a long time by the international community, they yearn for their country to be recognised as a sovereign state.
There may be some detractors among the local people, as Somalis are known to be territorial by nature. But our government is trying to overcome this, with attempts to encourage open dialogue and create awareness. We are confident that this consultative approach, along with continued efforts for transparency and zero tolerance for corruption, will clear any doubts. The expectation is that prospects for employment, training and auxiliary businesses will be abundant, thus benefitting the whole nation. The obligation lies with the government to meet its responsibilities. Let the people not be disappointed.
We convey our appreciation to the Dubai authorities for recognising this as a win-win situation and giving the people of Somaliland an opportunity for Berbera to regain its former glory as a trade hub!
- The reader works at a university based in Dubai.