Monday, February 05, 2007

Somailiand: Looks like we're too late

If you've been following my blog since it's early days then you'll be aware that I have been calling for Britain - and the rest of the world - to recognise the state of Somaliland.

This is the self-declared independent region of north Somalia which, unlike it's larger neighbour, has been stable, peaceful and relatively prosperous since declaring it's independence in 1993. Despite lack of international recognition - and the financial assistance that would bring - Somaliland has a stable government, regular elections and a thriving infrastructure. Apart from all that it is strategically located and would make an ideal ally in the fight against terrorism. It is also predominantly muslim and moderate. However, according to Rageh Omaar, that is changing.

Three weeks after Ethiopia's invasion, I travelled to the far north of Somalia where my family still lives, in the self-declared Republic of Somaliland. Since 1993, while lawlessness and violence continued to blight the lives of people in the rest of Somalia, the Republic has been stable and twice held elections.

Go back three years, and you would hardly ever see a young woman in the capital, Hargeisa, wearing the full veil. Go back further to my mother's generation and it was unheard of. But this January, the number of women wearing the full veil was striking. So too were the number of young men, in their late teens to mid-twenties, attending recently opened religious seminaries. Generations of young Somali men have attended seminaries and Koranic schools, but they never used to wear turbans or red and white keffiyehs, increasingly a symbol of Sunni sectarian identity.

Once upon a time, Britain would take the lead in recognising Somaliland. We were a nation motivated to act by our clear sense of morality and a strong belief in doing the right thing, regardless of who it offended.

Now we sit on the sidelines and cringe apologetically - not daring to act for fear of offending some African despot while the Somaliland, which has been asking for us to help, is slowly overtaken by the forces of radical Islam. What a weak, spineless nation we've become - and how sad for Somaliland.

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