It was not so long ago that we, Somaliland Intellectuals Institute (SII), had an exclusive interview with Dr. Sa’ad Ali Shire who was then the Minister of Foreign Office and International Cooperation. It was more befitting to have this published whilst he was in the capacity of the Foreign Minister. Alas, this is fate and perhaps inevitable as the political landscape in Somaliland is at an ever-increasing level of fluidity.
SII: Could you briefly describe the overall Somaliland foreign policy in general terms?
Dr. Sa’ad Ali Shire: The overall aim of our foreign policy is to advance Somaliland interests in the international arena. It has six pillars:
- a political pillar for promoting Somaliland: its historic, legal and political case, building good relations; making friends and supporters;
- an economic pillar for attracting investment and promoting trade;
- a cooperation pillar for getting assistance (aid) including scholarships, building bilateral relations between institutions (ministries, cities, universities etc.);
- a security pillar for building allies and neutralizing external threats;
- a Diaspora pillar for engaging the Diaspora community;
- a consular Service pillar for providing consular services (visas, protocols etc.).
SII: How many functioning Diplomatic Missions or Representations does Somaliland currently have in other countries, and what is the rationale behind the recent closings of few Somaliland Missions?
Dr. Sa’ad Ali Shire: Somaliland is represented in 26 countries:
- Africa (7)
- Middle East (5)
- Europe (10)
- Asia (2)
- North America (2)
We have appointed six special envoys for UN, AU & IGAD, EU, SADEC, East African Community and Somaliland –Somalia Talks reps. We also engage consultants and public relations firms in the UK, The USA and Africa.
No missions were closed. On the contrary we increased them significantly. But we changed the way representatives were paid. We established a performance pay system.
SII: Do you have a role or an input in the process of appointing and selecting diplomats for the Somaliland Missions abroad?
Dr. Sa’Ad Ali Shire: Yes, normally I do. There were, however, some exceptions.
SII: Is there an effective mechanism in place in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or elsewhere in the government to follow up and audit the Somaliland overseas missions?
Dr.Sa’ad Ali Shire: Follow up: ‘Yes’. The deputy Minister is particularly responsible for the missions. Under him is the Director General and the Head of the political department. Every mission has a plan, and must submit monthly and quarterly reports. If you mean financial audit ‘No’. You have to understand that we have only 9 representative offices and their budget covers basic salary, rent and running costs. The rest are reimbursed only out of pocket expenses.
SII: Ethiopia is the country mentioned most often when it comes to “diplomatic relations” with Somaliland. Much of the history of that relationship is well documented. The specifics of recent diplomatic developments are however shrouded in a little bit of mystery due to the lack of availability of official joint briefings. Can you briefly touch on the specifics of recent diplomatic/bilateral developments?
Dr. Sa’Ad Ali Shire: Ethiopia is the most important country for us. We have strong commercial relationship; we cooperate on security. We have hundreds of students in Ethiopia many of them on scholarships, we have a well-established consulate in Addis Ababa, our diplomats are given appropriate protocol, and Ethiopian Airline services us well. NONE of that has changed. But to assume that we will not be touched by what is going around us will be naive. We will have a clearer idea when we meet Dr. Abiy.
SII: The Somaliland president publicly said and required his new cabinet members to declare and reveal their wealth, financial and business interests to curb the senior government official’s potential corruption. Could you shed some light on how this have been received within the cabinet members?
Dr. Sa’ad Ali Shire: No one has objected to it. On the contrary, they welcomed it. That is a standard requirement in most countries.
SII: It could be argued that Somaliland has only recently pursued the strategic bilateral/multilateral alliances that are often the prerequisite for first, regional statehood recognition and which later are crucial to international recognition in a meaningful/mutually beneficial way (e.g. through DP World: first bilaterally with UAE and later multilateral with Ethiopia) what are the diplomatic implications for these developments and are we to expect more of these strategic alliances?
Dr. Sa’ad Ali Shire: Recognition is roughly defined as the ‘unilateral recognition of a state of the acts and status of another state’. Recognition is usually automatic when a country gains independence from a colonial power, but otherwise it is interest based which is either strategic (security) or economic. Every time we sign a deal, it creates interest which brings recognition closer. Our doors are open for business. Of course, it must be in our best interest. Not all deals are good deals.
SII: Since you became a participant in Somaliland Administrations, you served as a cabinet member for three ministries including your current position as Minister of Finance. Do you believe you are in the right position that suits to your expertise and knowledge or you would have preferred to be in other ministries? In other words, when you are asked to work at the blessings of the president, do you have the opportunity to tell the president I would rather be there instead of here.
Dr. Sa’ad Ali Shire: I am not an extrovert, but what I can tell you is that I have done well everything I had to do in my lifetime. I worked in academia, in the private sector, in the UN system (FAO and World Bank), in the not for profit sector and in government and I can say I did an excellent job in all. Can someone else do a better job as a Minister of Foreign Affairs? May be and Probably. I am not perfect, and nobody is. We all have our shortfalls and make mistakes as humans. But do I have the skills required to do this job: management, strategic thinking, verbal and written communication, inter personal relations, patience, hard work etc. I think yes. Here are some of the things we achieved in the 33 months I was in this position.
- Established legal and planning departments;
- Established a Diplomatic and Strategic Studies Institute within the Ministry;
- Introduced annual plans and reporting systems;
- Built the capacity of the staff through training and scholarships;
- Produced more than 15 publications including: the History of Somaliland, the legal case of Somaliland, the Humanitarian case of Somaliland, manuals for missions and consulates etc.;
- We created an up-to-date, informative website with over 70,000 Facebook followers;
- Organized more than one million petition campaign;
- Lead the team that sealed the deal with DP World;
- Lead the successful negotiations with Khaatumo;
- Opened offices in Nairobi, UAE, China, Sweden, Brussels (soon), and USA;
- Appointed Special envoys for the UN, AU, EU, Somaliland-Somalia talks etc.;
- Paid visits to 12 African countries, Malaysia, UAE, Saudi Arabia, UK, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, USA;
- Attended on the fringe 3 AU summits;
- I keep record of my diplomatic meetings, and so far this year, I have 136 meetings on record etc.;
You may not be aware of all that, because I believe in quiet diplomacy. I don’t think it is helpful to share everything you do before TV cameras . Are there other portfolios where I could have done better? May be.
SII: There are reports that you may be running for the presidency of Somaliland one day, not too distant in the future. Can you shed some light on that please.
Dr. Sa’ad Ali Shire: No. I have no intention of doing that. I have in mind better ways of serving my nation.
SII: Historically, countries that already have financial imbalances that host a military base see a further exacerbation of the purchasing power of locals. What is Somaliland planning to do to control inflationary problems that may arise due to the stationing of a military base?
Dr. Sa’ad Ali Shire : In the past, when security was not an issue, military bases’ personnel used to shop in the local markets, raising demand for services and goods and perhaps bringing in a bit of inflationary pressure. But since 9/11, military bases have established closed economies, where everything is provided internally. They have their own supermarkets, cafe shops etc. and have limited interaction with the local economy. But I expect local farmers to benefit as they would need fresh vegetables every day. Livestock for fresh meat will be also in demand. That may raise the prices of these items, but it will also encourage production. The question I have for you is: What can you do to help Somaliland’s recognition?