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Somaliland and Taiwan: two territories with few friends but with each other

Somaliland’s mission to Taiwan began in September last year

Taiwan and Somaliland are fundamentally fully functional territories that proudly declare their independence, but neither are internationally recognized and now, as Mary Harper reports, they are getting closer.

“Welcome to our humble office,” said Chou Shuo-Wei Amir, third secretary of the Taiwanese diplomatic mission in Somaliland.

In fact, “humble” is misplaced as the mission is rather swish, located in a large villa next to the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa.

A Taiwanese flag flies gently in the warm breeze – its colors red, white and blue striking against the clear blue sky.

Although some see their relationship as bizarre, Somaliland and Taiwan are in many ways natural companions.

Anger China and Somalia

The two are unrecognized internationally and both have larger neighbors – Somalia and China – who insist they are part of their territory.

Somaliland and Taiwan established diplomatic relations last year to the fury of those neighbors.

Somalia denounced Taiwan for becoming friends with Somaliland. Chinese officials have visited Somaliland and insisted it sever ties with Taiwan.

China may see Taiwan’s relations with Somaliland as a potential disruptor to its Belt and Road initiative, which plans to develop sea and land trade routes across Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

An obstructive Somaliland, with its highly strategic port of Berbera, could block the continuity of its maritime silk route along the eastern coast of Africa.

`` Somaliland is Taiwan's gateway to East Africa, from there I represent Taiwan in 10 East African countries, '' Source: Allen Chenhwa Lou, Description of source: Taiwan representative in Somaliland, Image: Allen Chenhwa Lou

“Somaliland is Taiwan’s gateway to East Africa, from here I represent Taiwan in 10 East African countries” “, Source: Allen Chenhwa Lou, Source Description: Taiwan representative in Somaliland, Image: Allen Chenhwa Lou

China might also be eyeing the Somaliland-Taiwan friendship a little nervously because it has established its first overseas military base anywhere in the world, in neighboring Djibouti.

Taiwan sees Somaliland as the first step in its ambitions in the region.

“Somaliland is Taiwan’s gateway to East Africa,” said Taiwanese representative to Somaliland Allen Chenhwa Lou, seated under a photo of its president, Tsai Ing-wen.

“From there, I represent Taiwan in 10 countries in East Africa, including Kenya and Ethiopia.”

Somaliland is one of only two African territories to have full diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The first was the small nation of Eswatini, which forged ties in 1968.

“ The big brother of Somaliland ”

Mr. Lou describes the relationship between the two territories as “win-win”. Taiwan offers assistance in the areas of agriculture, technology, education, health, elections and energy. Somaliland has a strategic location, rich fishing stocks, natural resources and tourism potential.

“Somaliland calls Taiwan its ‘big brother’,” Lou says. “But I prefer to see our relationship as one of sharing and cooperation. We will always be together with Somaliland.

“We don’t need to seek independence now because we are already independent. What we both need is recognition. We both share this predicament.”

Somaliland and Somalia

Russian-made mig fighter jet that was used in 1989 seen hanging in Hargeisa as a reminder monument to the Somali people

Russian-made mig fighter jet that was used in 1989 seen hanging in Hargeisa as a reminder monument to the Somali people

  • The former British protectorate joined the rest of Somalia on July 1, 1960

  • He declared his independence after the overthrow of Somali military dictator Siad Barre in 1991

  • This came after a conflict in which tens of thousands of people were killed and towns were razed to the ground.

  • Somaliland has a functioning political system, government institutions, a police force and its own currency

Learn more about Somaliland

But not everyone in Somaliland is impressed by the new friendship and wonders if losing China as an ally is a price to pay.

“Two naked people cannot help each other,” says cattle trader Ismail Mohamed. “We need the Chinese superpower much more than we need little Taiwan.”

Businesswoman Muna Aden is also skeptical.

“The relationship with Taiwan shows the madness of the Somalilanders,” she said.

“We thought Somaliland had made overtures to Taiwan in an attempt to attract China by saying, ‘If you don’t marry us, we will marry each other.’ We didn’t expect them to forge ties. .

“This is a big mistake that China will never forget.”

But the Somaliland authorities are not moving. Acting Foreign Minister Liban Yousuf Osman defends the relationship, saying the two territories have common values ​​of democracy and freedom.

“We welcome all countries that want a relationship with Somaliland, including China. But we will not drive Taiwan out because of China.”

Taiwan and China

  • China and Taiwan have had separate governments since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949

  • Tensions have intensified in recent years and Beijing has not ruled out the use of force to retake the island

  • Although Taiwan is only officially recognized by a handful of countries, its democratically elected government has strong commercial and informal ties with many countries.

Learn more about Taiwan

Mr. Osman has big ambitions for Somaliland. “We could become the Taiwan of the Horn of Africa. Taiwan is a success and we want to reproduce its model of development.”

He explains how a growing number of countries are establishing offices in the capital, Hargeisa, including Turkey, Ethiopia, Djibouti, the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates.

Like Taiwan, a number of other unrecognized territories wish to establish links with Somaliland.

In 2020, representatives of the Yellow Mountain Kingdom, an unclaimed piece of land between Egypt and Sudan, traveled to Hargeisa in the hope of setting up an “embassy” there.

`` I have to explain to them that Somaliland is not Somalia, which they only associate with pirates and terrorists, '' Source: Mohamed Hagi, Description of source: Representative of Somaliland in Taiwan, Image: Mohamed Hagi

“I have to explain to them that Somaliland is not Somalia, which they only associate with pirates and terrorists” “, Source: Mohamed Hagi, Description of source: Representative of Somaliland in Taiwan, Image: Mohamed Hagi

For its part, Somaliland has opened a diplomatic mission in Taiwan, headed by Mohamed Hagi.

“I really like living here in Taipei,” he says.

“The weather is good and the people are quite civilized. They want to learn more about Africa from us.

“I have to explain to them that Somaliland is not Somalia, which they only associate with pirates and terrorists.”

Mr Hagi says that to his knowledge there are only three Somalilanders in Taiwan – himself and the other two who work with him.

But he expects more company soon, as 20 Somaliland students have received scholarships from Taiwan and there is a possibility of an influx of businessmen as economic ties develop.

Taiwan’s representative in Somaliland, Lou, said he experienced culture shock upon arriving in the territory in 2020 as it was his first visit to Africa. He does not have the facilities he had in other diplomatic assignments, but has come to appreciate the “simplicity and spirituality” of life in Somaliland.

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Mr. Lou explains how everyone thought he was from China when he arrived.

“I like walking the streets. Everyone looked at me and said, ‘China.’ I said, ‘No, I’m from Taiwan,’ and they’re starting to learn. ‘

“But there is still a long way to go,” says Lou. “I was on Berbera beach when a young girl, no more than five years old, came towards me. She only spoke Somali, but then she pointed at me and shouted ‘Covid-19!’. Again, I said, ‘No, I’m from Taiwan, but I’m not sure she understood. “

It is too early to say whether this new friendship between two unrecognized territories will help them in their quest for international recognition, whether their relationship will be mutually beneficial, or to what extent it will provoke China and Somalia.

But they have both functioned as de facto independent states for decades and share a seemingly unwavering desire to continue to do so.


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