- Somaliland President Dahir Riyale Kahin has left for a semi-official visit to London, where he hopes to "make a short speech to the Parliament" and meet one or several British Ministers. The leader of the non-recognised state has no official invitation from the UK government but is invited by a group of British Parliamentarians that recently visited Hargeisa.
President Riyale and many Somalilanders have expressed hope of achieving progresses in the attempt to have the former colonial power of Somaliland to recognise the country, but critics claim that the visit only "is a hype." Mr Riyale, after arriving London tomorrow, is only meeting with low level officials and MPs that already are favourable to Somaliland's bid for recognition, the critics say.
The Somalilander President told the local 'Awdal News Network' in an interview that his visit to the UK could not be termed official "because an official [visit] is when you are recognised but [the British government] accepted us to go to their country and meet us."
Travelling to London together with his Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Planning, Finance and Information, President Riyale said he had a long official programme in the capital of Somaliland's former colonial power. He was going to make "a short speech to the Parliament" following an invitation to do so and was to meet officials of the UK Foreign Office and maybe with the International Development Minister.
- I am very glad, President Riyale told 'Awdal News Network'. "I see this as a step forward - something that we didn’t have before. No one accepted to meet us before ... but now I see it as a step forward."
Also parts of the Somalilander opposition welcomed the President's trip to London. Faisal Ali Waraabe, Chairman of the Justice and Welfare Party (UCID), in a statement from Helsinki, Finland, called the visit a "golden opportunity" to seek British recognition of Somaliland's independence.
Mr Waraabe said the President should take advantage of the visit to establish direct diplomatic ties between the UK and Somaliland. "At this stage, at the very least, there must be an official diplomatic liaison's office in London for Somaliland," the opposition leader said, commenting on what he called "an official visit to the United Kingdom."
Critics however claim Mr Riyale is exaggerating the importance of his visit to London. Somalilander analyst Ali Gulaid says the visit "is a hype" and that a British recognition of Somaliland is not on the agenda. Rather, British ambitions were to intensify the "set up detention centres for the rejected Somalis as well as the hopeful asylum seekers" in Somaliland, comments Mr Gulaid. Therefore the many meetings with British Home Office officials and immigration officers.
Somaliland, which was a British colony that united with former Italian Somalia shortly after independence in 1960, unilaterally declared its return to independence from Somalia in 1992. Since then, the Hargeisa government has achieved to secure peace, stability and economic growth in sharp contrast to Somalia, but it has not achieved international recognition.
One of the principal hopes regarding recognition is directed towards the ex-colonial power. This was emphasised when a delegation of seven British MPs were given a warm and heartfelt reception in Hargeisa in January this year. Returning to London, the MPs initiated a parliamentary debate on UK-Somaliland ties, recommending a British recognition.
The British Foreign Ministry however finds it difficult to take the first step, which could strongly provoke the African Union. Also President Riyale emphasises on the importance on first deepening the economic ties between the two countries and does not expect any promises of recognition during his London visit.
In particular, he expects enhanced British support for development projects in Somaliland and funding for the upcoming legislative elections. According to the President, the British government has pressured for such elections and has already pledged to pay part of the expenses to organise the poll.
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