British Parliament’s Debate On Somaliland
Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab): The Select Committee on International Development has just returned from a visit to Somaliland. Our visit prompted questions in us all about British policy there and, indeed, in the whole of Somalia—questions about the Government's aid policy and about international recognition, which deeply affects the assistance that we give to Somaliland. Our foreign service hang-ups about recognition are getting in the way of us fulfilling our duty to pursue the millennium development goals for the poor people of Somaliland, and we are failing to build adequately on the efforts of the Government of Somaliland to create a modern, democratic state. In effect, we are putting the interests of the warmongers in the south ahead of those of the peace-builders in the north."we are still treated as pariahs by the world, despite the flourishing, fledgling, thriving and booming peace, tranquillity and development."
This was my third visit to Somaliland, but my first in more than 10 years. I think that no British Member of Parliament had visited the country since I was last there, which shows how isolated Somaliland has been and how let down it must feel given that it was formerly British Somaliland. That said, we were astonished by the warmth of the reception that we received. For more than 80 years, British Somaliland was either a British protectorate or colony, and there has always been the most astonishing loyalty and affection for this country. To take just one example, the Somaliland Scouts regiment played a valiant part in the second world war.
The reception that we received included the honour of addressing both Houses of Parliament. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the Somalis feel badly let down because Britain has failed to respond to their needs. It is a matter not only of their wish to be internationally recognised but of access to long-term development aid from this country, the European Union, United Nations organisations and international finance institutions. That is the central subject of the debate.
Let me give some background. Somaliland entered an ill-starred union with the former Italian Somalia in 1960 in response to the dreams of Somali patriots who wished to unite the lands in which Somalis lived. Over time, the people of the former British Somaliland became so hostile to the way in which the nation was being administered, with the allocation of resources being skewed in favour of the south and the capital, Mogadishu, that they started an insurrection and eventually declared independence.
I first visited Somaliland's capital, Hargeysa, in 1992, at the time of Somalia's great famine, and I have never seen such devastation. We travelled for mile after mile through Somaliland without seeing a building with a roof on it. The devastation was caused by the country's ruler, Siad Barre. In 1988, we had the extraordinary situation in which Barre's aircraft would take off from Hargeysa airport, bomb and strafe the city, load up again at the airport and carry on. They continued until there were 50,000 dead in Hargeysa and hundreds of thousands dead in the rest of Somaliland. Those people are now buried in mass graves, and the rest of the population fled. That was the most extreme attempt at genocide against the dominant Isaq clan, but the world ignored it. In fact, the developed world largely gave up on all Somalia after 18 US rangers were murdered in 1994.
4 Feb 2004 : Column 274WH
The withdrawal from Somalia had profound consequences elsewhere in Africa and was one reason for the world's appalling lack of action in Rwanda. Liberia was also left to rot. The creditable exception was Britain's successful intervention in Sierra Leone. The world regarded Somalia as a basket-case, but Somaliland is not a basket-case, and it deserves better. However, since the declaration of independence, which no country in the world has accepted, Somaliland has rebuilt its country and the city of Hargeysa in the most inspiring way. It has created most of the institutions of a modern state. It has acted totally on democratic lines, and the demand for independence was supported in a referendum by more than 90 per cent. of the population. The level of stability is impressive; and the rule of law exists, with a proper police force and a properly constituted national army—as against warlords elsewhere in Somalia. Guns are genuinely not allowed on the streets.
Presidential elections were held relatively recently. The president won by only 280 votes out of a population of 3.5 million, but the election passed off peacefully. I met Ministers there, and I was far more impressed with their plans than those of several other African countries that I have visited—countries that we recognise and support. Somaliland is doing nearly everything right, but it is being ignored.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the achievement has been the contribution of the far-flung diaspora of Somalis to rebuilding Somaliland. The website for the Somaliland front organisation shows a long list of projects that are being funded with the assistance of the diaspora. For example, they support the university of Somaliland trust fund, they organise donations to the Farah Omar secondary school and to the malaria treatment and prevention programme. They also contribute to the campaign for the recognition of Somaliland, to the campaign to lift the ban on Somaliland livestock and to the rebuilding of Burco hospital—it is not named in honour of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who speaks for the Conservative party on these matters—and the Hargeysa psychiatric hospital.
The leading names among those who organise those campaigns live in north America and in the United Kingdom. One of the positive aspects of our visit was that we called a meeting of British Somali residents in Hargeysa. It was the first time that they had met. Out of that meeting, a British Somaliland society was formed. I hope that it will lead to future positive links between Somalilanders in Britain and in Somaliland.
Remittances have made a major contribution to the economy of Somaliland. However, remittances tend to go to individuals and families, rather than to rebuilding the infrastructure of Somaliland. That job is one for the Department for International Development, the European Union, United Nations organisations and international finance institutions; we need them to assist with long-term development aid. It is a job also for the private sector, including British firms such as DNOS, which brought itself to our attention. It contacted us about developing the country's high-value minerals and hydrocarbon deposits, and the rich fishing fields off Somaliland. However, the lack of recognition and the uncertain legal position of Somaliland institutions inhibit such firms.
4 Feb 2004 : Column 275WH
Somalilanders are caught in a vicious Catch-22 position. They are being told, "Destroy your nation by joining the destroyers in the south, and we will recognise you. Stay outside, with stability and democracy, and we will ignore you."
There is an understandable paranoia about changing old colonial boundaries in Africa, because of the fear that the habit may spread to other countries. Somaliland is a rare example, however; it wants to return to its old colonial boundaries at the time of independence. The rest of Somalia is hostile. That is the only thing that unites the warlords. However, the people of Somaliland are unequivocal in not wanting to join peace talks and being sucked in to the fratricidal squabble that is southern Somalia.
When I have visited Somaliland in the past dozen years, I have met absolutely no one who believes that an enduring state will emerge from the peace talks. I shall give one illustration. When I first visited the country in 1992, the capital Mogadishu was divided in two—between the fiefdoms of Ali Mahdi and General Aideed. The capital city was divided by a war front. The world was appalled, because Somalia was literally starving, but we had to negotiate with and pay those people to get food to starving children. Those thugs regarded the famine as an opportunity for a nice little earner.
On our recent visit, I was told that Mogadishu is now divided not into two zones but into 10, each under the influence of a warlord. They are not interested in setting up a stable state, but rather in continuing their protection rackets in a way that resembles the Chicago gangs of the 1920s, but without the law and order that the Mafia bring to these matters. [Interruption.] I do not want to be mealy-mouthed about this. There is not the slightest chance of a democratic Somalia emerging from Somaliland and the rest of Somalia. There is little chance of a stable regime emerging in the rest of Somalia alone. The Somalis, with their nomadic way of life and strong clan-based system, have great difficulty in accommodating the requirements of a modern state.
I note that there have recently been some promising signs indicating an agreement emerging from Nairobi from the 48 clans or warlords gathered there for talks. There is said to be agreement on a Parliament, but I have no faith in this—we have been here before. The peace talks have been going on since 2000, first in Djibouti and then in Kenya, and there were other efforts before then. The alleged progress is more likely to be the result of threats from the host powers to withdraw hotel and other facilities from the negotiators.
Even if there were progress, that would not be the end of it. The move to unite British and Italian Somalia was seen by people at the time as but the first stage in uniting all the lands where Somalis dwelt—not just British and Italian Somalia but also French Somalia, which is now known as Djibouti. There are also extensive Somali links in the Ogaden, in Ethiopia and in Kenya. Periodically the Somalis are seen as fomenting trouble in those areas.
Kenya has borne a heavy burden in refugees from Somalia, and we have a very high number of requests for asylum from that area. The few traditional areas of Somali settlement in this country have been very heavily increased—I am thinking, for example, of the
4 Feb 2004 : Column 276WH
constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) and Sheffield, areas in which Somalis have traditionally settled.
The international tactic of waiting for Somalis to come together is simply not working. There are costs and risks associated with simply waiting, with inordinate patience, for progress. We risk driving Somaliland backwards as, despite the progress being made, it is a very poor country. More than 73 per cent. of the Somaliland population live in poverty, and 43 per cent. in extreme poverty. The GDP per head is $226 a head per year. There are appalling rates of maternal and infant mortality. Adult literacy is 22 per cent.;life expectancy is 47; and the lack of long-term education and health services penalises children particularly. Female genital mutilation is endemic, and there is a distressing subjugation of women. However, the millennium development goals have to be met in Somaliland as well as everywhere else in the world. We are simply not giving it our best shot in Somaliland for diplomatic reasons, and I ask what is being gained by the present stance on non-recognition. Certainly a lot is being lost.
The longer the world ignores the achievement of Somaliland in creating stability and democratic institutions, the greater the risk that wilder elements will take over, and the longer Somaliland is left to fend for itself without resources for schools, for example, the more willing will radical elements be to step in. Although the country has been governed by a moderate form of Islam since it declared independence, there is always the possibility that it will give way to a form of Islam that plays into the hands of those trying to stimulate terrorism, and there is tension in the country as a result. Investors wanting to develop the mineral resources of Somaliland are unwilling to do so when the status of the country and its legal system are so uncertain.
My belief is that we should stop waiting as we have done for about 14 years for the Somalis to come together and love each other. This is not going to happen. We should build on the one source of strength in the area—Somaliland. We should reward good behaviour, rather than neglect the area as we do at the moment. If recognising Somaliland is a step too far, we should at the very least pay substantial attention to the needs of Somalilanders in areas such as education, health, livestock, water and the infrastructure. Somaliland has ministries with plans and aspirations with which we could work. There is no DFID presence in the area at the moment, although British non-governmental organisations such as Oxfam and ActionAid undertake work such as providing safe water.
Recognition may not be the risky step that it seems to be. I believe that if we were to give a lead, many other countries would quickly fall into line. There can be no doubt that we would have to give that lead.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)(Con): The hon. Gentleman may be about to cover this point, but does he recall that we were told that the Ethiopian Government said that they would be the second Government to recognise Somaliland as soon as soon as someone else did?
Tony Worthington : I was there at the time, but my discretion about private conversations led to me leave
4 Feb 2004 : Column 277WH
that bit out. However, I confirm that the hon. Gentleman heard what I heard. That belief exists, but it would obviously provoke people in the rest of Somalia who have not achieved a stable state in their area. However, I sense that attitudes to the recognition of Somaliland have become less hostile over the years. The relationship with Djibouti has improved considerably, and the Government of South Africa have been saying supportive things. The new Government in Kenya have been much more positive than their predecessor, and have been very critical over the dispute between Somaliland and Puntland—the neighbouring part of Somalia. Puntland's leader is said to be backed by Ethiopia, but he is probably trying to flex his muscles to gain brownie points with other Somalis.
It is crucial to bring in support to bolster the formidable self-help activities of the Somalilanders. During my visit, I thought that United Nations organisations such as the World Health Organisation and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees responded much more warmly to the needs of Somaliland than did bilateral donors such as the United Kingdom. The WHO has a base in Somaliland and, during our visit, the UNHCR came to Hargeysa just to stress the needs of Somalilanders.
In recent years, more than 600,000 refugees, out of a population of about 3.5 million, have returned to Somaliland. We had the opportunity to see the refugee camp in the grounds of the former state house in Hargeysa. The conditions were appalling. Another reason for increasing our support is that if we are going compulsorily to return Somalis who seek asylum in this country, we should ensure that they return to better conditions than those that we saw. It is irrational to complain about the large number of Somalilanders claiming asylum because of conditions in their country and then denying their country the long-term development aid that would slow down the stream of applicants to the UK.
The antagonism towards Somalia also inhibits its main trade in animals such as camels, sheep and cows to the Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Egypt—activities that form about 65 per cent. of Somaliland's export earnings. We must overcome this paralysis, but I am sure that the antipathy towards Somaliland as an independent nation is lessening as the exasperation with the rest of Somalia grows.
A local newspaper, The Horn Tribune, is one of the thriving free local papers. It recently said that
I realise that issues such as recognition are matters for the Foreign Office, and that it must take into account issues and countries other than Somaliland. However, the reason that I secured this debate is to say to DFID that we need to move beyond a holding pattern for Somaliland. I believe that my colleagues agree. Failure to move to another stage of development assistance would mean that we, and Somaliland, risk losing what
4 Feb 2004 : Column 278WH
has been created. I look forward to the Secretary of State's response and a continued dialogue on this matter.
Several hon. Members rose—
Mr. Frank Cook (in the Chair): Order. I remind hon. Members that it is customary to begin the first of the three winding-up speeches 30 minutes before the end of the debate. Currently, I see four hon. Members seeking to catch my eye, not all of whom have written in. I will do my best to accommodate them all, provided that they remember the time constraints when making their contributions, and when accepting or responding to interventions.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): We are a disciplined group, Mr. Cook, and I think that we will manage to divide the time equally.
It is a great pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington), because he is a distinguished member of the International Development Committee, having served on it for two Parliaments. He is also the chairman of the all-party group on overseas development. I have checked the records of the House and I can find only one instance of Somaliland having been raised since it gained independence in 1960—in a debate initiated by him in April 1994. Modestly, he did not tell us that he was kidnapped in Somaliland, prior to that debate taking place, so he knows a lot about this topic.
On 9 February 1959, in Hargeysa, during a constitutional conference on the Somaliland protectorate, the then Secretary of State for the Colonies said that
"whatever the eventual destiny of the Protectorate, Her Majesty's Government will continue to take an interest in the welfare of its inhabitants, and will in the light of the circumstances prevailing from time to time, be prepared to give sympathetic consideration to the continuation of financial assistance within the limits of the amount of aid at present being provided to the Protectorate."
That statement was reiterated in a Colonial Office report, which was submitted to Parliament on independence, on 4 May 1960. The Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, told the House:
"I should like to say, however, that it is Her Majesty's Government's hope that whatever may be the constitutional future of the Protectorate, the friendship which has been built up between its people and those of the United Kingdom for so many years will continue and indeed flourish."—[Official Report, 11 April 1960; Vol. 621, c. 104W.]"
If ever there was a need for the United Kingdom to give friendship and financial assistance to Somaliland, it is now.
Few of us knew much about Somaliland prior to our visit, which was a very humbling experience. In Hargeysa, we met Dennis McNamara, the inspector general of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who was visiting to assess the situation. At a public meeting, he said that practically everyone in Hargeysa was once a refugee or an internally displaced person. The return of the refugees and IDPs and the reconstruction of Hargeysa followed its devastation in 1991. The Somalis in the south had completely destroyed Hargeysa—every house and hospital had
4 Feb 2004 : Column 279WH
been bombed and destroyed by MiGs, tanks and other equipment. How on earth one can expect there to be a reunion of those peoples is beyond credibility.
We saw mass graves, in which thousands of Somalilanders had been murdered in cold blood with their hands and feet tied together. Bodies were piled up and crammed into ditches, and bones were scattered all over the area—we could still see them. Among our guides were many people who had lost fathers, brothers, mothers and other loved ones to the genocides.
Dennis McNamara explained that Somaliland is one of Africa's untold success stories. Nearly 250,000 people have been returned there by the UNHCR, and a further 400,000 have returned under their own steam. That is a humanitarian success story. He said that what is needed now is a shift to longer-term development assistance.
There is a gap between the fulfilment of humanitarian needs and the provision of development assistance. Such a gap means that the achievement of millennium development goals in Somaliland remains out of sight. Somaliland and its friends in the international community face two challenges: recognition and—the focus of this debate—longer-term development assistance. Mr. McNamara also made the point that many returnees live in conditions worse than those that they endured in refugee camps. He explained that UNHCR and other UN partners were ready to roll with an inter-agency, multi-sectoral programme of development and assistance, but were waiting for donor support.
I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie that the effort to tackle poverty—one of the millennium development goals—should be blind to boundary disputes. Somaliland is not a conflict area; it is a settled area where the people have enormously improved their lot practically without assistance from the international community.
There is a desperate need for health assistance. We visited the Hargeysa group hospital, which was built in 1953—coronation year. Much good work was being done by non-governmental organisations, such as Kings College hospital and the Tropical Health and Education Trust, but the pharmacist there was running a pharmacy lacking the most basic drugs. We visited a facility run by the Red Crescent to help people with artificial limbs and those who have been injured by land mines, but everything was being done on a wing and a prayer. We were told by Save the Children UK that 80 per cent. of children in Somaliland are not in school. Somaliland is falling behind according to practically every indicator.
I hope that the Secretary of State will give the simple pledge that, having considered the matter in the light of today's discussion, he will think about establishing a small DFID office in Hargeysa to explore how DFID could provide long-term development assistance. There is a much larger devolved DFID office in Addis Ababa, which is good news, but I see no reason why we cannot establish an exploratory team in Hargeysa, managed by the Addis Ababa office. There is no justification for holding Somalilanders to ransom or for treating them, as The Horn Tribune put it, "as pariahs".
The people of Somaliland have worked extremely hard to rebuild their country and community, and they deserve our help and support. Somaliland supported this country during the second world war. It is worth
4 Feb 2004 : Column 280WH
recalling that 91,000 Italian troops, together with 200,000 local troops raised by the Italians, confronted 9,000 soldiers, mainly from the Somaliland Scouts and the Somaliland Camel Corps. The BBC documentary, "The Second World War", reported that the Italians
"were held at bay for four days"
and that our troops had
"inflicted over 2,000 casualties at a cost of around 250 men."
The documentary concluded:
"Furthermore, the impression that their defence left on the Italians would greatly influence future actions."
The people of Somaliland stood shoulder to shoulder with us in the past and, as the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie said, they have done everything asked of them. They have had free and fair presidential and municipal elections. When we addressed both their Houses of Parliament and said that they would need parliamentary elections, there was no dissent. They said that they had to address some issues to achieve that, but that they want to do so. If ever a community deserved long-term development assistance, it is the people of Somaliland. I hope the Secretary of State takes steps today to achieve that.
Mr. Tony Colman (Putney) (Lab): I will take your advice, Mr. Cook, and speak briefly to enable colleagues to contribute to this important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington). When he spoke to both Houses of Parliament in Hargeysa, I, like others, was surprised to hear of his previous experiences. There was almost a sense of redemption that he had come back to fulfil his wish to see and deliver change.
Today's debate is about delivering change for the people of Somaliland. As Members who were in Hargeysa know, our visit was extraordinary as I met many of my constituents on the roads of Hargeysa, and I am very proud of that. I deal with concerns expressed in my surgery in Roehampton library or Southfields library and see the results in circumstances such as the rebuilding of Somaliland. I am proud to see that many people wish to go back to rebuild the country.
I pay particular tribute, as others have, to the leader of the KULMIYE party, Mr. Silanyo, who lost the presidential election by 280 votes. He met us to describe how he wanted to continue to take part in future presidential and parliamentary elections. He may live in Putney heath, but his heart is in Hargeysa, and I know that he spends a great deal of time there. The chair of the electoral commission was from Southfields and went back to Somaliland to supervise the elections. That is part of the rebuilding process and the attack on poverty in Somaliland.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West) (Lab): My hon. Friend makes a very important point about the links between Britain and Somaliland. Is he aware that there is also a long-standing Somali community in Cardiff? Many of the citizens who would like to see an independent and recognised Somaliland live in Cardiff. The antecedents of the community go back to the seamanship of those people in the century before last.
Mr. Colman : I was not aware of that. However, if my hon. Friend would like to suggest that his constituents
4 Feb 2004 : Column 281WH
contact me, I will put them in contact with the new British Somaliland Society, which is based in Putney; I say that out of pride.
Other Members have mentioned whether there is a need to take account of events in Nairobi. It is important to put on the record that the hon. Members for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) and I met 30 warlords and members of civil society who have been meeting in Nairobi; I think that it was the 17th meeting of the parties to take place. I pay tribute to the staff of the British high commission in Nairobi, who have put an enormous amount of effort into bringing the matter if not to a successful conclusion, certainly to a successful temporary conclusion: there is now agreement on the essence of how to work together. We will see how that agreement goes forward. I also pay tribute to the Kenyan Government, who took part in those discussions. We could obviously have a separate debate on that.
I want to express solidarity with the speakers so far who have made it clear that those discussions are going on in parallel. They should not undermine the need for international development aid to Somaliland. We should ensure that Somaliland is not held back by the discussions. All those who took part in the visit were concerned about that. When it comes to the issue of recognition, in July 2003, the Home Office signed a memorandum of understanding with the Somaliland Government for the return of failed asylum seekers from this country. Denmark is the only other country to have done so. It is one of those strange fictions that we can have a memorandum of understanding to return failed asylum seekers to a country that we do not recognise. The reality is that a Government and a country are there, but that there is not sufficient support in-country for the asylum seekers who have returned. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie about the appalling conditions in which asylum seekers were living in the grounds of the old state house.
There is a long shopping list of international development aid items that DFID could help with. Our last meeting was at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the redoubtable Foreign Minister Edna Adan Ismail, who I hope will soon be able to come to Westminster to address the House. There is an excellent planned strategy for economic recovery and poverty reduction, which I am happy to pass on to the Secretary of State.
We are not groping in the dark: the Somalilanders have a clear vision of where they wish to go forward in terms of poverty reduction. I am glad to say that that vision is shared by the Norwegian Red Cross, which is working with the Somaliland Red Crescent Society and the limbs prosthesis centre, which we visited. We met aid workers from the Netherlands, who were supported by the Dutch Government. Although this point has already been made, it was good to see the work of the Africa Educational Trust and to meet Dr. Michael Brophy, and the excellent work being done by the surgeons, doctors and nurses of King's college who were working to rebuild the hospitals in Hargeysa.
4 Feb 2004 : Column 282WH
Returning to the need for development aid and to achieve the millennium development goals, we are told that 73 per cent. or more of Somalilanders live in poverty, and that some 43 per cent. live in extreme poverty. GDP per head is $226 a year. If that figure is divided by 365 days, one can clearly see that people are living on below $1 a day. There is 45 per cent. unemployment, only 17 per cent. primary school enrolment, and the enrolment of girls is way below that. Life expectancy is only 47 years.
I felt that our visit was an example of how we, as parliamentarians, could make a difference. This debate is to hold our Government to ransom for money and development aid for Somaliland, and to ensure that they join us in delivering that to the people of Somaliland.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): How nice it is to have cross-party consensus; we should all agree on that. I am particularly delighted to welcome the Secretary of State to the debate as it is not normal to have a Secretary of State in Westminster Hall. Although I know that he has been here before, it shows how seriously he takes both the subject and the debate. It is a matter of huge consequence to the millions of people living in Somalia and Somaliland. I know that he is going to Addis Ababa soon, but perhaps he will take the opportunity to tell his diary secretary and his other officials—he could take Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice—to go elsewhere. He might take a short trip to Somaliland; he would find it illustrative, as we did.
I do not want to cover the old ground that has been covered extremely well by the three hon. Members who have already spoken. However, it was touching, to say the least, to be greeted on our visit by posters saying, "The Queen: our mother". As an old-style Conservative, whose family served the empire—I would certainly have served the empire if I had had the opportunity—it reminded me of the great white mother of the seas. It was touching and showed the feeling that people in Somaliland have for the United Kingdom.
If I can paint the picture a little more, there is no alcohol in Somaliland. We almost survived for the 24 hours that we were there, but that is how they want it and there is very little disturbance: it is safe on the streets. The police are not armed, and that is extraordinary in that part of the world. If anyone can tell me where to go in that part of the world where the police are not armed, I should be astonished. It is my wont to go up to people and say, "What's the truth? What's going on here?" rather than just listening to Government spokesmen, and I wrote down a particular quote at the time, I was told, "We are absolutely free." That is quite something in that part of the world.
I hope that I have painted a picture of freedom in a grindingly poor country, where 43 per cent.—nearly half the population—live in extreme poverty. As we have the Secretary of State here—I reiterate that I am thrilled to see him—I should like to cover some issues that have not been covered by my hon. Friends that pertain to him. The first is the ghastly issue of female genital mutilation. There is a prevalence of that in Somaliland of perhaps 85 or 95 per cent. It is illegal in this country, because of two private Member's Bills. The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) made it
4 Feb 2004 : Column 283WH
illegal last year with her private Member's Bill on the sending of children out of the country, and that is marvellous. The Secretary of State will understand that female genital mutilation is a means of keeping women in subjugation. It also constitutes grievous bodily harm against defenceless children.
I will send the Secretary of State a paper, which contains perhaps the most moving comment on this. It is written by Mrs. Edna Adan Ismail, the Foreign Secretary of Somaliland. She is the former wife of the first Prime Minister of Somalia who subsequently became the first president of Somaliland. I hope that the Secretary of State will read it because a prominent politician—the Foreign Secretary of this small, fledgling republic—is trying to lead a campaign. With DFID's help, she might be able to do some good for the people of Somaliland, for young girls and for future generations. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman agrees that that is the way that international development should work. It should do good and be seen to do good. I could raise with him the issue of direct budgetary support in Ethiopia, but I will not do so at the moment because it is outside the scope of the debate.
I turn now to mine clearance. The Secretary of State will know that I am the chairman of the trustees of the HALO trust. I visited the trust in Somaliland where it is the biggest private employer, employing some 300-odd Somali workers at $150 a month, which is much more than most people in the country earn. As well as clearing mines along the border with Ethiopia, it is also clearing an enormous Soviet ammunition depot about half an hour's drive from Hargeysa, which I visited. It is clearing it, at the Government's request, because children, who are so poor that they go there to get the scrap metal from the ammunition, keep getting blown up. Again, I repeat the invitation to the Secretary of State to visit that site, because it is very interesting.
Another important point has wider ramifications. We have already referred to Islamist extremists. In the rest of Somalia, people will dig up mines and sell them, typically to the Yemen or Saudi Arabia where they are then passed on perhaps to al-Qaeda. Atrocities are then committed with these mines. That does not happen in Somaliland because the Government have stopped it. If someone is storing mines in their house, they will be arrested. That is an important point for the whole world, let alone this debate.
The next issue that I would like to raise is small arms and light weapons destruction, and I know that the Secretary of State is aware of that. It is a joint responsibility between the Ministry of Defence, the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I had a meeting with a DFID consultant yesterday, and I understand that £19.5 million of Government money has been put aside for the three years up to the end of this March for the small arms and light weapons destruction programme. I was told yesterday that part of that money is being spent in Somalia. I find that hard to credit. It seems to me that it is a lawless society where, I suspect, it is difficult to spend money sensibly, particularly in clearing weapons. Perhaps the Secretary of State might like to look at that matter later and find out where the money is being spent, what it is being spent on and whether any small arms or light weapons are being destroyed.
4 Feb 2004 : Column 284WH
The Secretary of State knows that a few years back the Select Committee produced a report on conflict. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) rightly pointed out, there was no conflict in the Government of Somaliland itself. However, there is a conflict in Sool down in the south-east where the warlord of Puntland, which is the northern bit of Somalia, has moved into the province and taken the town of—I hope that I pronounce this properly—Las Anod.
Tony Baldry : Say it again.
Mr. Robathan : Las Anod.
The conflict is a huge dilemma for the fledgling republic. If it goes to war with Puntland, everybody will say that it is another typically lawless society fighting among itself. Here again, we can offer help, perhaps through the United Nations to support the Government there to find a way out of the conflict whatever that way may be. I do not know enough about the dispute, but I know that it is about clans, clan territories and so on. The conflict could destroy the republic of Somaliland, and I am sure that we would not wish that to happen.
That brings me to my last point, which is about what the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) referred to as the genocide of 1998. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury talked about the bits of cloth with bones sticking out of them in the mass graves outside Hargeysa. Responsibility for those war crimes—there is no other way to describe them—is a matter for the courts. However, it is generally accepted that General Morgan, who was in Siad Barre's Government at the time, was responsible for the shooting of a large part of the male population. People were tied up, sometimes with barbed wire, shot and buried in rather ineffective mass graves—as the water comes down it washes away the sand, leaving bodies literally sticking up, which is pretty disgusting. The crimes should be investigated, even though they happened in a country a long way away of which we know little.
Where is General Morgan, the person who is alleged to be responsible? We met him last Monday. He is the guest of the British taxpayer, which I, as a representative of taxpayers, resent. We are paying for him to stay in the Safari Park hotel outside Nairobi, as part of the conference on the future of Somalia, about which we have heard already. My view is that General Morgan should be in jail, but he should nevertheless be tried for whatever crimes he has committed. I understand that there is even a warrant for his arrest for the murder of a British subject, who was one of the victims. I am investigating that claim. Is it true? The Secretary of State is a pursuer of justice, so I am sure that he would like to speak to the Home Secretary about that.
Having seen the meeting in Nairobi, I think that little good will come out of the conference on the future of Somali, but I suppose that it is worth the effort. Surely none of us wish to see a culture of impunity in which war criminals and mass murderers are allowed not only to escape, but to become guests of the British Government and the British taxpayer.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): I am intrigued by what my hon. Friend is saying. Did he tell General
4 Feb 2004 : Column 285WH
Morgan at his meeting last week much the same as he is rightly relaying to us today? If so, what was the response?
Mr. Robathan : My hon. Friend raises a good point. As it happens, I did not think that a room filled with 20-odd Somali warlords was the place to raise war crimes. However, if I had had General Morgan on his own, I would have been happy to raise such issues.
Colonel Yusuf is the self-styled leader of Puntland who lost an election, but decided that he would stay on. His family is in the UK and I understand that he may be wanted for crimes as well. Again, perhaps the Secretary of State could have his officials look at that case.
In the name of justice, General Morgan, Colonel Yusuf and others must provide answers about the crimes that they might have committed. Every hon. Member in the Chamber would agree that justice should override the culture of impunity that happens to prevail. There is obviously a culture of impunity in Nairobi, and the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) can bear that out, because he took a photograph of me with the alleged war criminal in question.
I shall pursue this subject because it is important. A peace process for Somalia as a whole cannot be built with war criminals. I hope that the Secretary of State will also pursue the matter. I wish him well on his coming visit to Addis Ababa. I hope that he goes further and will, either now or later, answer some of the points that I have raised.
Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) on securing this important debate. I agree very much with what he said. I should also like to echo my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) and say how much we appreciate the fact that the Secretary of State is spending time listening to the debate personally. I trust that he will not be disappointed by what he hears, because the Chamber infrequently experiences an apparent cross-party consensus among MPs who have no party political, personal—that may not apply in Putney—or, in many cases, constituency interest in pursuing a subject. I think we are all here because we feel the need to testify to what we saw a couple of weeks ago.
The visit to Somaliland was a complete revelation for me. I expected to see a country that was unstable, insecure and chaotic, where the atmosphere was volatile—perhaps rather menacing—and where there was considerable destitution and a general sense of breakdown. However, although all those epithets apply, I think, to neighbouring Somalia, none of them applies to the Somaliland that we saw. There is poverty and life is austere, although we saw no signs of malnutrition. As several hon. Members said, however, we saw some pretty grim refugee camps. That is inevitable because of the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people who have come back from Ethiopia and Djibouti to nothing—to find their homes destroyed and their cattle killed long ago. All they get is one month's handout from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
4 Feb 2004 : Column 286WH
There is an enormous burden on the Somalilanders who are there and who have been able to rebuild their city. The rebuilding has been extraordinary. Again, only 12 years or so after the destruction of Hargeysa, I expected that there would be considerable signs of that destruction and that the rebuilding would be very incomplete, but that is not the case. Of course, there are signs of the fighting, including in the former state house or governor's house, but that has deliberately been left in that condition. In any case, no one is likely to want to live in such pomp and circumstance in the present conditions. The town shows no sign of having been razed to the ground only a short time ago.
It is remarkable that such a poor country has been able to put itself together again. The atmosphere, far from being menacing in any way, was relaxed and friendly. It is clear that the Administration are thoroughly in control of events and operating extremely effectively. We gathered that the total budget, at the market rate of exchange, for the police service, army and everything else for a country of about 3.5 million people is $14 million a year. Perhaps it is a good thing that the state apparatus in Somaliland is so light that it cannot develop the conditions of bureaucracy, corruption and so on that in many poor countries often make the Government more of a problem than part of the solution.
We met quite a lot of officials and representatives of the Government, and we were impressed by their competence and motivation. We also saw a vigorous parliamentary life, which, again, it was encouraging to see in a country that is emerging from such a grim period over the past 20 or 30 years.
I think that there is complete agreement in our minds about what needs to be done: we in this country should support people who show such courage and determination in rebuilding their country and such commitment to the principles of democracy. One impressive group that we saw involved a number of Somali ex-patriots from this country who had returned, including a number with professional qualifications. We met doctors and accountants—people whose standard of living would be vastly higher in this country, but who, for patriotic reasons, had returned and want to contribute to the emergence of a successful new Somaliland. In some cases, they have set up businesses and made personal investments there. That is all splendid.
I completely endorse the point that has been made by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber—there is no division between us on these matters—that DFID should establish an office there. It is right that the Somalilanders should get whatever help they can from bilateral and multilateral aid agencies. They thoroughly deserve that and will make good use of it—of that, I have little doubt. However, the issue of recognition cannot be avoided.
Although I recognise the fact that the Secretary of State for International Development does not have this responsibility, I hope that he will have a word with the Foreign Secretary. Although the Government should spend taxpayers' money on contributing to the development of Somaliland, it would be perverse and crazy to do so while by political action or deliberate political inaction—a refusal to recognise—they are cutting Somaliland off from a considerable amount of
4 Feb 2004 : Column 287WH
private sector money that otherwise would flow there. For oil companies that want to prospect, those amounts of money are obviously a considerable multiple of what could reasonably be found in a DFID budget.
It is crazy that we do not recognise Somaliland when it has the basis for attracting substantial investment flows and has people who are already trained—many of whom were trained in this country—and others who are extremely eager to learn the requisite skills to support that investment. The situation is impossible. Like me, the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) has some experience of international business and he knows that if one went to a board with a proposal to invest in a country that no one recognises, one would be laughed out of court. One simply cannot make such an investment. Recognition is key, and not just a political issue or a sideline. It is fundamental if there is to be any progress in the economic development of Somaliland or any rationality in setting up a DFID office, which we hope will happen.
Somaliland is a fascinating example of how it is worth our taking the time and trouble—and using taxpayers' money—to visit other countries, because none of us could have imagined the situation on the basis of some desk research, however thoroughly it may have been conducted. I hope that it will be registered that several hon. Members, from different party political perspectives, have been able to reach the same conclusions. My hope is that the Secretary of State, having shown the courtesy to Parliament of attending the debate, will not feel that he has given his time in vain.
John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) and all other speakers, who have made positive contributions in showing that Somaliland has something that can be built on. There are opportunities and there is definitely hope for the future.
It is right that the debate has concentrated on development aid because although recognition is a key to Somaliland's future, we must not let the political process get in the way of the real and urgent needs of the people who live there today. As has already been mentioned, some images will stick in the mind for ever; mass graves, the bombed maternity hospital and even the paper that was given to us by the Foreign Secretary on female genital mutilation. The images generated by that paper will stick in the mind for a long time. I recommend that the Secretary of State should read that paper, because we must take action to protect children from what is nothing other than assault.
Somaliland is a country with needs that must be addressed urgently. The situation is more complicated because of its recent history. As we have heard, it has problems with health, education, food insecurity, water supply, HIV/AIDS and infrastructure. Much of that relates to the possible recognition of Somaliland. We have heard about its recent history, that it was a British protectorate for 80 years and that, five days after independence, it joined with Italian Somaliland. We must now look to its future. Whether the UK decides to recognise Somaliland at some time in the future, we should realise that action must be taken now to help those in great need.
4 Feb 2004 : Column 288WH
The suffering continues in a land that is relatively peaceful and stable compared with the chaos in the south, where the fear remains that aid delivered to an area under the control of warring factions will result only in that aid being diverted to the same factions, which will use it to strengthen their grip in their own areas of control. It was with some amusement, after the 14th meeting in Nairobi, that some positive results emerged from the warlords meeting. I must put that down to the hon. Members for Banbury (Tony Baldry), for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) and for Putney (Mr. Colman) who attended.
Problems may arise from recognition of Somaliland, such as the UK being accused of reverting to colonial days, and the hope must be that an African nation leads the way so that others might follow. The Somalilanders hold the UK in high regard. I found something unusual in the amount of Union jacks and photographs of the young Queen Elizabeth being displayed in a country that describes itself as an African republic.
All they are asking for is the right of self-determination within boundaries that are long established. If the majority of the people of Scotland or Northern Ireland wished for that same right, would it be denied? If the recognition problem is holding up aid, the Secretary of State should try to separate the delivery of aid and recognition, so that the aid can carry on.
Delivery of aid to an area of conflict is a real problem. There are dangers to aid agencies and to everyone involved. The situation in Somaliland is one of relative stability and ease of access; there are flight connections, a port capable of receiving aid and road links to the regions most in need. Somaliland is also in desperate need, having suffered from terrible droughts, the worst in decades, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of animals; 200,000 people were left vulnerable. There is much that could be done with the basic provision of boreholes and water harvesting, to make the most of a scarce resource when the rains do come. To see dried out riverbeds and no provision for storing water where so many people do not have access to a basic drinking water supply must not be tolerated in this day and age. I hope the Secretary of State will think about what can be done to provide clean drinking water supplies, particularly to those in urban areas.
An assessment must also be made of the lack of food security and to consider the earliest suggestions about whether DFID could open up a base in Hargeysa to establish what is possible and what the UK Government could be doing on the ground. This could be linked to the DFID office in Addis, but kept separate from the political discussions, which could be dealt with elsewhere. That might avoid the process stopping aid, and I hope the Secretary of State will consider that option.
With so little support from the outside world, what has already been achieved in Somaliland is impressive. The rebuilding of Hargeysa has started and, although there is much to do and the Government have a relatively tiny budget—$15 million to $20 million to spend—there is little scope for lavish spending or waste. Most of this money seems to go on civil service salaries, so it is possible that some expenditure in priority areas is being held back.
4 Feb 2004 : Column 289WH
This sum is dwarfed by remittances from the diaspora. The total is between an estimated $300 million and $500 million a year. This proves there are many outside the country who want to send money to their homeland, but it also shows that probably many more people could be organised to increase this figure. A 10 per cent increase in the Government's budget would be less than a 1 per cent increase in remittances. One problem with remittances is the easy flow of money back to many developing countries. Will the Secretary of State say what can be done, at a low cost to the sender—that can make a massive difference to the recipients—to ease the flow of remittances?
Not only money from abroad but also those with skills are currently required back in Somaliland, which is encouraging them to return. If we encourage people to go back to Somaliland—they benefit by getting back to their homeland—we have to accept responsibility for the fact that what they go back to is in no way comparable with life over here. We must take a direct interest in the standard of life over there. Her Majesty's Government are trying to reduce the numbers fleeing from terror. It is a stable country. I could understand people from Mogadishu saying that they were in real danger, and I have a fairly small number of Somalis in my constituency. If someone came from the south of the country I would understand the danger they were in, but I would have to say that Somaliland looked like a very peaceful and stable nation.
Somaliland also has oil and mineral resources, which could help in the drive towards prosperity. But until contracts can be signed, these resources cannot be exploited. It may not be within the Secretary of State's power to move this issue along, but it is a tragedy that wealth could be just below ground level while there is so much poverty just above it.
Real progress could be made with assistance to clear up confusion around the truth with Rift Valley fever. For many years, the export of sheep, goats and camels to Saudi Arabia was the region's main export, but that has now stopped because of Rift Valley fever. Some people maintain that the disease does not exist, while others maintain that it will return during the wet season. Whatever the problem, will the Secretary of State use DFID's expertise to end the confusion and restore what was the country's main income source for many years?
Health care has been mentioned, and was available to some. The ever-present scourge of AIDS cuts through every aspect of life in Africa, and Somaliland is no exception. Money is available for the war against AIDS, but political problems should not be allowed to get in the way of making resources available, particularly to deal with mother-to-child transmission. Land mine clearance, which was mentioned earlier, has been a success, and I, too, pay tribute to the HALO trust.
Children are particularly at risk in Somaliland. UNICEF is doing good work, but there are an estimated 10,000 street children and 20,000 underage workers in that relatively small country. We must not let that situation continue, and access must be given to agencies that have the capacity to improve the lot of those children and orphans.
4 Feb 2004 : Column 290WH
We should not forget the other group that was mentioned earlier and which is at the opposite end of the range; the dwindling band of old soldiers who fought with us during the last world war. In a country where the average life expectancy is below 50, it is no surprise that there are few old soldiers left. While visiting a centre that produced artificial limbs, we met a few of those gentlemen. They asked about their pensions and hoped that the British Government would consider their plight given that they had fought on our side, just like those who were buried in the war cemetery in Hargeysa. They added, however, that they would happily give up the thought of a pension if their country could be recognised. It was a real contrast to see old soldiers next to limbs that were being made for children.
The country has many scars from war, but it is rebuilding itself. It suffers from drought, but when the rains do come, mass graves are exposed. An estimated 9,000 people are buried in 160 mass graves. None the less, democracy is stable and peaceful in the part of Somalia that is Somaliland, and I hope that the Secretary of State will do all he can to ensure that aid gets through.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): I join colleagues in congratulating the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) on securing the debate and on his contribution to it. He has vast experience of the area and spoke with knowledge, sincerity and passion. He was followed by the distinguished Chairman of the International Development Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), who spoke in a similar vein, and then by the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman), my hon. Friends the Members for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) and for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett).
In opening the debate, the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie set out the historical background, which is the cause of many of the problems that are endemic in the area today and which the international community must address. Specifically, he pithily characterised the unhappy merging of Somaliland into the united republic of Somalia, and Somaliland's subsequent, understandable wish to secede or—I use my language carefully—withdraw from it. All sorts of problems have been spawned by the historical background.
Mention has been made of the large and enduring refugee phenomenon, which was created by the civil war. As Somaliland became relatively safe, there is no doubt that those refugees thought it reasonable and timely to return to their homes. However, the emergency and humanitarian aid that is trickling into Somaliland is meagre compared with what the rest of Somalia and other countries in the horn of Africa receive. With zero or negligible help from the international community, Somaliland inevitably continues to absorb, although with the greatest difficulty and strain, tens of thousands of refugees from Ethiopia's refugee camps.
The country's social problems have been compounded by the return of those hundreds of thousands of refugees through the UNHCR's assisted
4 Feb 2004 : Column 291WH
repatriation programme during the past six or so years. That has placed stress on the still relatively fragile and war-torn infrastructure, and the lack of development assistance has inevitably limited and constrained the already weak capacity of the Government, which is seeking proper and effective reintegration of refugees into society.
There is, of course, the second, dramatic problem of a severe drought—the worst experienced by Somaliland in some three decades—leaving 200,000 people vulnerable to starvation. That matter is specifically within the purview of the Secretary of State, whom I warmly welcome to the debate. I know that he will want to say something about it, and I shall return to it briefly.
Where do we stand on the critical issue of recognition? As Somaliland lingers in a sort of diplomatic no-man's land, there is a practical consequence for the nation, as well as a stain on the independence and integrity of the country. The practical consequence is that Somaliland cannot enter into formal trade agreements with other nations and has understandable difficulty, in seeking, and certainly securing, any sort of assistance from world financial institutions, as my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) mentioned.
The late President Egal remarked that the most disabling thing was the lack of communication with the international community. "We have no ambassadors," he said, "we have only international agencies." Attracting foreign investment is difficult, as there are no proper banks and although Somaliland is believed to have large oil deposits in the coastal region, there is a lack of interest due to insufficient insurance for equipment and personnel. President Egal endorsed a liberal economic regime, resulting in a potentially thriving private sector. However, it is handicapped—I return to the problem yet again—by a lack of recognition. We are in danger of going round in circles in our attempt to resolve, or at least minimise, the burdens of that proud but beleaguered country. Unless it receives recognition, so much else that could flow by way of economic potential and political reconstruction will not be possible.
There is relative stability, and there is also significant economic progress, but that is not as great as it could be. The debate has already focused on the economic statistics. The World Bank survey illustrates the immense poverty that exists. It is important to be accurate; one wants to celebrate the country's successes under duress, but also to recognise that those successes are modest and that they are not indefinitely sustainable. If more than 73 per cent. of the population lives in general poverty and 43 per cent. in extreme poverty, we cannot turn a blind eye. If GDP is only $223 per head, we cannot turn a blind eye; if 45 per cent. of the population is unemployed, we, in our comparative extreme wealth and political good fortune, cannot turn a blind eye. If primary school enrolment stands at only 17 per cent.—that is, non-enrolment is over 83 per cent.—and maternal mortality stands at 1,600 per 100,000 births and infant mortality at 224, almost one quarter, per 1,000 live births, we, in our comfort, cannot stand by, self-satisfied. If adult literacy stands at only 22 per cent. and life expectancy is only 47 years, we cannot stand by.
4 Feb 2004 : Column 292WH
In reality, for all the country's stability, the lack of recognition by the international community is a serious impediment to the proper entitlement of what should be a sovereign state to grow and to flourish.
Like other Members, I want to hear what the Secretary of State has to say, so I shall try to exercise a self-denying ordinance and conclude with a series of polite but probing questions. How much humanitarian aid is being given to Somaliland to cater for the problems resulting from the drought? What form does it take, and what mechanism of assessment of its efficacy is in place? Of the total aid given to Somalia, what proportion comes from the UK and what proportion goes directly to the Somaliland Government? As several hon. Members have rightly inquired, can a base be established? What have the Government done or propose to do to promote UK business investment in Somaliland, particularly considering the potential for exploration of the oil field capacity?
What assistance have the Government given to Somaliland to cope with the influx of refugees, and how do they intend to monitor and improve on it? What moves has the Secretary of State made to establish a British diplomatic presence in Somaliland? What efforts have the Government made to encourage a successful outcome from the peace talks? Alternatively, if the Secretary of State shares the pessimism of the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie, is he inclined to reconsider recognition and have a huddled serious conversation with the Foreign Secretary? What is his attitude to recognition, and will he elaborate on it?
This is an important debate that has been characterised by serious contributions. I have tried to pose some pertinent questions, and I look forward to the Secretary of State's answers; preferably today but, if not, as soon as possible in writing.
The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn) : I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) on securing this debate and, from what I have learnt, the history of his involvement. I was aware of the kidnapping episode, but I was not aware that all the debates in the past 40 years on Somaliland have been generated by him. He has undoubtedly flown the flag and put the rest of us to shame.
What has come across powerfully in the contributions, which have been outstanding, is that members of the International Development Committee and other hon. Members have used their experience in this debate. As the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) said, the Committee members have used what they saw and heard to bear witness to the situation in the Somaliland as they found it during their visit. We are all grateful for that, not least me, and later in my remarks I shall tell the Chamber about the steps that I propose to take as a result of this debate. The debate has been all the more powerful for the fact that we have heard current witness—Committee members visited only very recently—and it is an excellent example of hon. Members doing their job. That is precisely what we are in this House to do.
We have heard about the history, and I do not need to go back over how Somaliland is former British protectorate that sees itself as an independent country.
4 Feb 2004 : Column 293WH
We have heard powerful evidence about the extent of poverty in Somaliland. However, because of the progress that it is making, in contrast with other parts of Somalia, it has placed fewer demands on the international community for emergency humanitarian assistance. As my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie outlined, one reason for that is the extent of the support that a sizable diaspora provide to Somalilanders. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) talked about the range of estimates of the size of remittances. The figure that I have is in the middle of that range; about $425 million a year. That is a significant commitment of resources and demonstrates the great interest shown in Somaliland by those for whom Somaliland has been their home or to which they are returning.
I concur completely with what we have heard today about governance and the progress that Somaliland has made. Indeed, it provides some important lessons, and in some respects acts as a beacon to other parts of Africa because of the relative stability that it has enjoyed for 10 years. It has held democratic elections—municipal and presidential—and aims to hold parliamentary elections in, we all hope, the not too distant future. It has a traditional bicameral Parliament, and it was interesting to hear hon. Members talk about speaking in it, because hon. Members of this House do not often have the chance to address other Parliaments, especially both Houses. It has a police force, a defence force, its own currency and a relatively free and lively press. Undoubtedly, in contrast to the rest of Somalia, it has achieved an enormous amount for its people.
As hon. Members will know, reconciliation has been fraught with difficulty. Puntland has made some progress since 1998, and we are encouraging its efforts to achieve greater stability, but people in the rest of southern Somalia have suffered enormously. We have not talked a great deal about those people, and I want to talk briefly about their situation. We have heard powerful testimony about the impact of the slaughter in Hargeysa, and the picture that I will take away with me from the Chamber is the description of the bodies literally returning from history as they rise from the sands.
No one can be sure of the exact figure, but an estimated 500,000 people—about 7 or 8 per cent. of the population—lost their lives in this conflict. My maths is not very good, but if we think about the impact on a country of our size, that is the equivalent of about 4 million people in the UK losing their lives in a conflict. We have to pause only for a second to take in that figure to realise the scale of the loss.
It is encouraging—I use that word deliberately—to hear the news that emerged from the discussions, negotiations and breakthrough on 29 January. I entirely understand the caution expressed particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie, but the people in the rest of Somalia have just as much need of peace and stability, and just as much of a right to a better life, as the people of Somaliland. There should be no conflict between the two, and no competition. Bitter experience teaches us the need to be cautious, but it is right and proper that we should be doing all that we can to support that peace process.
4 Feb 2004 : Column 294WH
The benefits that will flow to the people in the rest of Somalia will be considerable if peace can be achieved, which is why we have been offering support.
Mr. Robathan : I am not the only one who is ignorant about the breakthrough on 29 January. Will the Secretary of State briefly talk about it?
Hilary Benn : I will gladly do so. In those talks, the faction leaders agreed to proceed to the selection of a transitional federal Parliament with 275 Members who would elect a President to head a new five-year transitional federal Government. That process is likely to take between four to six weeks, after which the parties would be ready to return to Somalia. If the agreement is reached, and if it sticks—I understand the caution—it is the international community's responsibility to support that process. Somaliland has not, of course, been part of the process, but if the process is to be successful, there will need to be some form of reconciliation for peace to be established throughout Somalia. I entirely understand the strength of feeling in Somaliland because of the history of the region. This difficult issue needs to be confronted.
It has been very encouraging to see the very strong lead taken by Somalia's African neighbours in supporting the peace talks. As Members will know, these talks were sponsored by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development with the active support of the Kenyan Government. IGAD are now considering how best to build on the success of the talks, including trying to secure agreement to a comprehensive ceasefire. We played a modest part in those talks, and—linking to the point raised by the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) concerning the financial assistance we have given to those negotiations, alongside contributions from Sweden and the European Union—dedicated a member of staff from our high commission in Nairobi to help mediate between the factions. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the role that he and others have played.
On recognition, when my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) was talking about the extensive links between his own constituency and Somaliland, I thought for one moment he was going to suggest that UK Government recognition should be extended to parts of his constituency in view of the very large diaspora.
I understand entirely why hon. Members have so forcefully raised the question of recognition for Somaliland, because it is a subject about which the people of that country feel extremely strongly. We encourage Somaliland's progress towards democracy, and we should do all we can to reinforce their efforts. As Members have kindly indicated, this is not directly a matter for me. But we should be careful about doing anything that undermined the prospects for success in those talks and the reconciliation elsewhere in Somalia. I advance the argument for the simple reason that the people of the rest of Somalia deserve the same right to be able to live in stability and security. We also have to acknowledge that the question of recognition is the subject of some controversy, not least among neighbouring African countries. Having said that, it is my view that the issue of recognition—a point raised by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West—should not get in the way of development and assistance.
4 Feb 2004 : Column 295WH
Our priority now should be to increase the support that we provide. In the current financial year we anticipate that our total support for Somalia as a whole will amount to some £3.5 million. That figure includes help for health through Médecins sans Frontières, education projects through the UN, support on governance, peace building and the issue about which the hon. Member for Buckingham particularly asked, humanitarian relief. This last includes the drought relief to which we have contributed £1 million through UNICEF by way of humanitarian assistance.
In addition we contribute 19 per cent. of the funding for the EU programme; that is $9 million out of the $50 million in total. It is rather difficult to disaggregate from within this total amount the specific spending in Somaliland because most projects cover the whole of Somalia. The best estimate that I am advised of is that about 40 per cent. of all international aid, which is about $170 million a year, is spent in Somaliland. I hope that is helpful, and I will happily undertake to write to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) with further information about how that figure breaks down. I shall add to his list of needs, which he read out so powerfully. In Somalia, there is less than half a doctor and two nurses per hundred thousand population. We have also provided support to the electoral process in Somaliland, specifically providing £160,000 to help secure these elections.
On the subject of female genital mutilation, I agree entirely. We should do all we can; indeed the Government supported the Bill that was referred to. I will find out the answer to the question on small arms.
Finally, I want to respond to the plea from the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). We are in the process of drafting our country engagement plan. We do not normally consult on such plans, but I make this commitment to the Members who have spoken today: I propose to do differently in this case, and to consult the Select Committee formally or informally in whatever way they decide. When we have had a chance to reflect on this debate, they will have a chance to see what we propose to do in response to their plea to me today. I look forward to hearing their views on that offer, and I hope that it is acceptable to the House.