HARGIESA – The United Kingdom’s Foreign & Commonwealth office is reportedly ’embarrassed’ by remarks made by the UK Minister for Africa during a TV interview in Somalia’s capital earlier this month.
Harriet Baldwin mistakenly called Somaliland ‘a member state of Somalia’, after she was asked about possible UK recognition of Somaliland, during an interview with Goobjoog TV.
“No, the UK doesn’t recognize Somaliland as an independent country – it is a member state of Somalia. What we do encourage though, is for the people of Somalia through the political processes and through the discussions about the Constitution to engage with each other to decide for themselves what is the best way to take Somalia forward,” Baldwin said in the interview.
The Republic of Somaliland is a de facto state that has been independent for the last 27 years. Somaliland has never taken part in Somalia’s federal conferences over the last 27 years, and has never been a member of Somalia’s federal structure.
Less than 24 hours after the interview was aired, Baldwin arrived in Hargeisa, Somaliland and met with the President Musa Bihi Abdi to announce a $25 million pound donation to the Somaliland Development Fund.
After the meeting, Baldwin praised Somaliland’s ‘long and historic relationship with the UK’ in a joint-press conference with Foreign Minister, Saad Ali Shire. Baldwin didn’t mention Somalia or the federal system at all during the press conference.
Baldwin’s different statements in Mogadishu and Hargeisa, sparked outrage from Somalilanders on social media, who described her comments as ‘dishonest’.
Somaliland’s government, particularly the Foreign Ministry, and the President’s communications office, was also heavily criticized for failing to correct Baldwin’s error upon her arrival in Hargeisa.
The National has learned that senior officials within Somaliland’s Foreign Ministry were said to be ‘furious’ after finding out about the interview – which was reportedly after Baldwin’s meeting with the President.
The head of the UK office in Hargiesa, Rosie Tapper, reportedly apologized to a senior Somaliland foreign representative, after she was questioned about Baldwin’s statements, according to a close source that spoke with The National.
Other FCO diplomats assigned to Somalia & Somaliland were also said to be ’embarrassed’ and ‘upset’ with Baldwin’s remarks, according to our sources.
The same sources told us that a senior FCO diplomat told foreign Somaliland officials that the Minister didn’t have any prior knowledge on Somalia/Somaliland and was handed a 100-page briefing book – only two days before her arrival in Mogadishu.
Baldwin was also described as ‘clumsy’ and ‘not fit for the role’ by the FCO diplomats who were tasked with cleaning up the mess of her disastrous trip.
This is the first time a UK Africa Minister has referred to Somaliland as ‘a member state of Somalia’.
Previous UK Africa Minister’s such as Henry Bellingham, Mark Simmonds, James Duddrige, Greg Shapps and Rory Stewart never referred to Somaliland ‘a member state of Somalia’.
Baldwin’s predecessors were known to be vocally supportive of Somaliland’s democratic achievements, and would refrain from giving a straight answer on Somaliland recognition when asked about the UK’s stance on Somaliland.
Many former UK Africa Ministers and former UK ambassadors to Somalia/Somaliland, would often say that ‘it’s up to the Somali people to decide their fate and not the UK government’.
This is a developing story. Please check back at The National for more.