An oasis of stability in East Africa Does Colin Powell have the courage to save Somaliland?

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QUEST FOR INDEPENDENCE So who is opposed to recognition of Somaliland? From Rome to Cairo, there are many powerful players trying to nix Somaliland's quest for independence:

Sudan, supported by Egypt and Libya, thinks an independent Somaliland sets a precedent for dividing warring Sudan into two independent countries, North and South.

Neighboring Djibouti senses, although Somaliland government sources say erroneously, that Somaliland threatens the need for Djibouti to continue to exist.

Islamic fundamentalist states say Somaliland forms a barrier to the solidification of their hold on Somalia and to their expansion to Ethiopia and Kenya.

Certain Arab governments who would rather see a reunited Muslim Somalia to outflank Ethiopia from south and east, to be used to secure Egypt's unlimited use of the Nile waters and to forestall any form of future Israeli presence in the area.

France, which supports Djibouti and is desirous of enhancing its influence in the region.

And Italy, which the Somaliland government says is "still nostalgic dreaming of a formal colony whose capital is Mogadishu."

However, the most potent argument against recognition centers on a very fine, albeit dubious, technical point. Susan Rice, the Undersecretary of State for Africa during the Clinton administration, was flatly against recognition because it meant redrawing colonial borders. One of the pillars of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) is that African colonial borders should not be redrawn.

BORDER CHANGING PRECEDENT But here is the irony. Julius Nyerere, first president of Tanzania, in the formative stages of the OAU, pleaded against redrawing African borders so that British Somaliland would not joint with Italian Somalia. Why? The fear was that a united Somalia would be a harbinger for the emergence of Greater Somalia, which, in order to annex surrounding Somali territories, would invade Ethiopia and Kenya. (The Republic of Somalia did invade Ethiopia in 1977, and Somali raiders still attack Kenya).

Even more ironic, Nyerere redrew his own borders, joining Tanganyika with Zanzibar to form Tanzania. Yet nearly 40 years later, Nyerere's argument is being used to prevent Somaliland from being recognized as a sovereign state even though it was, briefly, an independent state after its liberation from British. On balance, the OAU's doctrine on the "inviolability" of boundaries inherited from the colonial powers does not apply to Somaliland because it is situated within the boundaries of the British Somaliland Protectorate defined in 1886 when it was declared a British protectorate. Somalilanders lament that the United States and the United Nations have had little trouble with redrawing borders in the Balkans or the former Soviet Union, but still resist to recognize their nascent republic.

PUSH FOR RECOGNITION On the 10th anniversary of its declaration of independence, Somaliland is beginning a vigorous international campaign for recognition beginning with South Africa, Ethiopia and Kenya. Somaliland's President Mohammed Egal, has been criss-crossing the globe, appealing to any government who will listen

. 'Our history and our identity have completely disappeared from the world for 30 years, and now we are telling the world that there is a country called Somaliland.'

- MOHAMMED EGAL Somaliland president "Our history and our identity have completely disappeared from the world for 30 years, and now we are telling the world that there is a country called Somaliland," Egal told NBC News. "We have to educate our friends and brothers and compatriots in the international community who we are and where we come from." Egal, a former prime minister of the Somali Republic until he was overthrown in a coup and jailed for 12 years, argues passionately for an independent and internationally recognized Somaliland.

But a lack of international recognition casts a long shadow over Somaliland's future, seriously hindering economic development, strangulating the burgeoning private sector and eroding public trust in the country's future. This, observers fear, may bring about a political downturn which undermines the republican order and ushers in social anarchy and lawlessness. That, they say, will spell a doomsday scenario in which almost anything could happen.

"Certainly the forces of darkness will gleefully celebrate the eclipse of the only secular democracy in the Somali speaking region of the Horn [of Africa] and feverishly try to fill the vacuum by establishing a Taliban-like regime," says Saad Noor, Somaliland's representative in Washington.

"If successful, they will hookup with fellow Islamic extremists in southeast Ethiopia and shake up the very foundation of the Ethiopian regime. Djibouti will not be safe either. The crescendo will come to a thunderous roar if the coveted southern shores of the Gulf of Aden, from the entrance of the Red Sea at Bab el Mandab to Berbera basin. falls under the control of an organization like the one that blew up the USS Cole."

Then and only then, many fear, will the Western democracies shed a tear for the passing of Somaliland.

Dr. Bob Arnot covers Africa's humanitarian and political issues for NBC News.


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