Somaliland, the self-declared independent region north of Somalia, on Saturday officially launched a renovated Berbera International Airport, seeking a slice of the growing aviation earnings in the region.
President Muse Bihi, alongside Somaliland government officials and a delegation from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), cut the ribbon, officially announcing that the airport, locally known as madaarka caalamiga ah ee Berbera, is open to commercial operations.
The airport is located a short distance off the port town of Berbera.
With nearly five kilometres of runway, the airport will have a new expanded passenger terminal, including the much-needed separation between arriving and departing passengers as well as the security separation from the airside.
Officials say they want the modernised airport to start attracting major airlines in the region.
With a major seaport, Somaliland hopes the airport could add to lucrative connectivity, aiding business with neighbours.
Ethiopia, which imports most of its goods through the Djibouti Port, had earlier expanded ties to Somaliland, having stakes in its ports. But under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the policy shifted to Mogadishu where they signed four MoUs to develop ports, including those in Somaliland.
Somaliland, a self-ruling region of Somalia that has been seeking international recognition as a state independent from the rest of Somalia since 1991, is striving to achieve economic progress though relations with willing countries and institutions.
The United Arab Emirates and Taiwan (which China considers its territory) are some of the countries that have built relationships with Somaliland.
DP world, a leading ports operator from the UAE, has rebuilt and injected capital in the port of Berbera.
Officials from Transportation Infrastructure Services (TIS), a company that specialises in development and management, stated that the UAE had injected $55 million in rebuilding of the Berbera International Airport for passenger and cargo services.
“The capital was used for the rebuilding of the runway, lighting, entire building of the terminal and equipment, and installation of airspace services facilities,” the TIS officials stated, hinting that everything at the airport is automatic.
Bihi reiterated that Somaliland is a state fully geared to work with any government and institution in the world that is willing to cooperate on equal terms.
“Somaliland is ready to work with any country, whether rich or poor, big or small, that respects the independence of our country,” Bihi stated amid applause from a large audience.
As per initiative by the Somali government in the 1970s, the Berbera airport was initially built by the Soviet Union in mid-1970s, with a 4km runway. It was used for military and civilian purposes.
Somalia was then pro-Eastern European block during the East-West cold war rivalry. Following the Ogaden war between Ethiopia and Somalia in 1977/78, the latter shifted to the West, and the Berbera airport was rented to United States Space Agency NASA in 1980 as an emergency landing site for the Space Shuttle.
The scheme, however, ceased when the military rule of the late General Mohamed Siad Barre stopped following the collapse of the central government in Mogadishu in 1991 as a result of insurgency. The rebel group that seized the northwestern regions, the Somali National Movement (SNM), declared Somaliland an independence state.
The uniqueness about Berbera is that it faces the Gulf of Aden and is a short distance from Bab-el-Mandeb, a strait between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula and Djibouti and Eritrea in the Horn of Africa.
With a large number of commercial vessels plying between Asia and Europe, passing through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, Somaliland intends to benefit from an Exclusive Economic Free Zone next to the Berbera port and airport, forming a gateway to commerce with the landlocked Ethiopia and other countries.