THE Somaliland community in Cardiff was celebrating last night as Council voted to recognise the Republic of Somaliland as a country, the second city after Sheffield to officially support the campaign for independence. Councillors from all parties spoke of their support for the cause and paid tribute to the contribution made to Cardiff by Somalilanders.
The city has one of the largest British-born Somali populations in the UK, many of whose families came to work in the docks while Somalia was under British rule. Though not internationally recognised, Somaliland has its own government, police force and currency and has had de facto independence from Somalia since the 1990s civil war.
Four ministers from Somaliland made the visit to the Cardiff to listen to the vote and join in the celebrations. National television networks from Somaliland were broadcasting live from outside City Hall, where hundreds gathered waving flags and signs, and dancing. The singing of traditional Somaliland songs and drum playing continued long into the evening.
The motion was proposed by Grangetown’s Councillor Lynda Thorne, who said at Council: “the Somali community continues to be an integral part of Cardiff. They have been ignored by the international community but not by Cardiff and not by Wales.”
These words prompted loud applause from the full public gallery. Sayid Abdi, a member of the Somaliland community in Cardiff, who works for the charity Movement for Change, said: “We have been in Cardiff for so long, and councillors have recognised this and the fact that Somalilanders have been hardworking people here who should be given respect for their strife. We’re going to celebrate all night with traditional dance and songs now and outside the town hall tomorrow.”
For once Cardiff’s councillors seemed almost unanimous in their support for a motion, although members of the Independence party left the chamber saying they did not have enough information on the issue.
Councillor Gareth Aubrey of the Liberal Democrats said: “Sometimes in this chamber we debate things that have already been debated and had their time. But these are issues that have not been discussed in our parliament or any parliament. “For reasons which elude all analysis, we deny recognition to a state which has all the qualities of statehood except our recognition. Somaliland is a country for all reasons but that we say that it isn’t. We need to change our position.”
Labour Councillor Ed Stubbs said: “Some people will ask why we are debating this motion when there are so many other issues in the UK today and an election coming up. But looking around the gallery today and listening to people’s stories, I am very moved and I am proud to support this motion today.”
Fowzia Ali is a Somaliland migrant who has lived in Roath for fifteen years and works as a housing officer at Cardiff Council. She said: “Cardiff is very multicultural. The Somaliland community is very close-knit and I am so glad we did this today. “I work for the council and when I said I was from Somaliland everybody used to say ‘Isn’t that the same as Somalia?’ It’s different from the south, we have our own government, but nobody knew. Now to have our councillors recognise this, it means a lot to everyone.We hope it will lead to international recognition.”
Roda Husein, a 25 year old business student who moved to Cardiff with her family when she was 14, said: “We’d never move to another city, we love Cardiff. The Somaliland community here is really big, especially in the docks. They have stayed altogether all these years. “This means a lot for the country and the people, recognition for Somaliland means the people of the world will start to notice the country and support it.” Last year the Government of Somaliland officially launched a campaign to seek international recognition, with President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo saying he was inspired by independence movements in Scotland and Catalonia.
However the UK Government has shown little sign that it will involve itself in the issue. A spokesman for the Foreign Office told the Guardian: “The UK’s position is that it is for Somaliland and Somalia to resolve the issue of Somaliland’s status, and the region should lead on recognising any new arrangements.”
Councillor Mohammad Maroof, the Sheffield Councillor who proposed the first motion to get a city council to recognise Somaliland, said: “We are forming a campaign group, which believes that as a former colony of Britain, Somaliland should have full membership of the Commonwealth. We are going to take the message to parliament, possibly with a petition if we reach over 100,000 signatures, hopefully to get a debate in the House of Commons.
I think if people in other cities passed a motion the campaign will be boosted and one day the UK can lead the campaign for recognition. “I did not fight for this motion just because of the Somaliland community in my ward. I did it because I believe in democracy and solidarity. 97 per cent of people in Somaliland have voted to live independently and I think it is up to the international community to respect that democratic decision.”
The Wales Somaliland Recognition Taskforce has been working in the city to promote the independence cause. Nura Aabe, who works on the Bristol campaign for Somaliland recognition, said: “I have been working with the Wales organisation for Somaliland as part of a network of different cities in the UK. What this gives to the Somaliland community is identity. Being in a country without identity and not being part of the world map is very difficult for a young generation who should be proud and confident in society that they have an identity. This is what this vote will do.”