For all the attraction of frequent visits to London it is evident that there is a dawning amongst Somali officials that at present there is a certain amount of inertia in the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Dr Omar expressed the polite frustration of many connected with Somaliland; “We welcome the support that our British friends can give, but we are aware that some of those officials meant to take an interest in the region have minimal knowledge of it or at times seem utterly disinterested, it is as if they are waiting until they secure a more prestigious posting.”.
He goes on to acknowledge that the with the British Ambassador to Ethiopia having Somaliland as part of a diplomatic portfolio that as well as Ethiopia and the Africa Union can only result in Somaliland being somewhat of an afterthought. With recognition still some way off the Foreign Minister accepts that Britain is wary of taking the initiative lest it be accused of neo-colonialism, and accepts that there is little likelihood of the British taking a courageous initiative in this regard. Dr Omar saw the need to make a much more concerted effort to engage more widely across Africa, with a range of nations from Ghana and Togo in the West to Malawi and Rwanda in Sub-Saharan Africa.
He acknowledged the fact that the current Somaliland Government had not done enough to foster purposeful cultural ties and that a pluralist diplomatic approach is required at every level. Whilst he was pleased with the positive role the Diaspora have played in lobbying for recognition, he expressed his disappointment at how few of the Somaliland Diaspora in Britain had bothered to write to their Members of Parliament or to the British Government. “Somaliland is eager for real development and wants to attract serious investors.”
When asked about the possible development of the strategic port of Berbera he acknowledges that not all avenues have yet been explored and that the likes of the Indians and Japanese have yet to be approached. When asked about the much talked about tri-partite talks involving China, Ethiopia and Somaliland he endeavours to clarify matters; “These were in point of fact two separate bi-lateral negotiations, one involving China and Somaliland, the other involving China and Ethiopia. Much solid work was achieved, but negotiations are complex and still on-going.”.
He acknowledged that negotiating with the Chinese had been a very steep learning curve and has proved to be a challenge for all concerned, although he accepted that Chinese investment could be pivotal, particularly with regard to infrastructure projects. “We need to create jobs and real practical skills. It is no good having all our young people studying for degrees in business. We need engineers, mechanics and people who can maintain complex high tech machinery.” He went on to express considerable scepticism about the number of the higher education providers in Somaliland;
“ Somaliland needs a broader range of courses to equip our people for the future, sadly some providers are just not delivering the quality of educatio...Some of our neighbours are doing great things, Rwanda is an example of what can be achieved, we can learn from what they are doing. Is it true that they have a Marriott Hotel in Kigali now? We must try to attract quality businesses.”
Returning to the subject of international investment he recognized the need for a more professional approach to the promotion and marketing of Somaliland. “It is essential that we become much more professional at putting our message across.” He realised that risk was an issues as is negative perceptions or misconceptions. On the issue of the President’s age and health he refused to be drawn, merely stating that constitutional mechanisms were in place to deal with any problems that may arise.
Aware that there has been some international criticism of Somaliland over press freedom Dr Omar was eager to point out that Somaliland offered a broader range of media than most if not all of its neighbours; “We want to see responsible journalism. I feel any problems we have are due to a lack of real training, not malicious intent. That said, I have been a victim. My personal e-mail account was hacked, this is not the sort of activity we would want to encourage.”.
On the issue of corporate taxation he accepted that a number of major companies were not paying their way; “…tax evasion is a problem and it is a complex one. We aim to increase the tax revenue considerably over the next couple of years. Our revenue system is being overhauled and we are fortunate that our Tanzanian friends are helping train us in this.”.
Finally, no interview would be complete without some questions regarding regional security. The Foreign Minister expressed the hope that the forthcoming conference on Somalia that the British Prime Minister, David Cameron plans to host in 2012 will include representatives from Somaliland and be prepared for some genuine creative thinking and pragmatic solutions. Ever the courteous diplomat, Dr Omar avoided any mention of his thoughts on the current Facebook petition entitled: “Official Petition to Extradite David Cameron to Somalia.”.