Wednesday, 5 September 2007

The next stage on my travels...

So, I left Uganda on Saturday and flew up to Addis Ababa. Ethiopia celebrates the Millennium on September 12th, so it's technically 1999 here and the celebrations are already starting. I was told that 30,000 Rastafarians from Jamaica have arrived in town to join the party. After a day spent holed up in my hotel - yes, it's the rainy season here and it rained and rained - I met up with 3 colleagues from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Somaliland at the British Embassy on Monday morning. We flew out to Hargeisa, the capital on Somaliland on Tuesday and arrived back in Addis today. For security reasons we weren't allowed to tell anyone about our trip, including the many, many Somalilanders in my constituency who've been urging me for the past 2 years to visit their country. So apologies to Mustafa, Kayse and the rest of you!

We've had a series of meetings so far, including a day in Ethiopia discussing the Somaliland/ Somalia situation with both the British and US Ambassadors to Ethiopia. I also had dinner with the head of DfID's Ethiopia office - interesting to compare notes on Ethiopia and Uganda - and we're due to visit the UK Visas outpost in Addis tomorrow morning. 53% of the applications they handle are from Somalilanders wanting to come to the UK so I'm looking forward to asking them lots of questions. We're also meeting the Prime Minister of Ethiopia tomorrow too, to talk about his country's role in Somalia.

The visit to Somaliland, brief as it was, was absolutely fascinating. Hargeisa, although obviously poor, is a very picturesque place. We met the President, and I had very useful conversations with the Foreign Minister and the Minister for Planning (who handles Development issues too). We also visited a school and hospital, and met with NGOs, as well as various parliamentarians and their Electoral Commission. Lots of complex issues raised, to do with the lack of recognition for Somaliland and the extent to which their future is tied to the fortunes of Somalia, which we will be following up on when we're back in Westminster. For example, there's no postal service in Somaliland at all - because they're not recognised by the International Postal Union as an independent state. Anyone wanting to send mail has to DHL it.

I'm in an internet cafe at the moment and the clock is ticking, but will provide a full report when I return to the UK on Friday!

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