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Home » Cultural Geography, Geopolitics, Sub-Saharan Africa

Somaliland’s Quest for Recognition

Submitted by on May 12, 2010 – 3:28 pm 8 Comments |  
Although Somaliland is well governed when contrasted with the rest of Somalia, all is not well in the breakaway republic. On May 4, 2010, StrategyPage warned that “Somaliland is sliding towards civil war.” Such an assessment may be unduly harsh, but Somaliland’s much-touted democracy did lose some credibility recently when a government-run radio station linked the main opposition party to Al Shabaab, the extreme Islamist militia inflicting havoc across southern and central Somalia. The opposition group denied the allegation, arguing that the report had “seriously dinted [sic] the image of top figures in Somaliland’s political landscape.” More troubling in the long run has been the failure to hold elections after Dahir Rayale’s presidential term expired in May 2008. Yet another postponement in September 2009 brought threats of a political boycott by rival parties.

Despite such problems, Somaliland’s election appears to be on track for June 2010. Official ballot boxes arrived from Denmark on April 19, and biometric voter registration cards are currently being issued. One of the main campaign issues is the country’s lack of international legitimacy. Candidate Faisal Ali Warabe has promised that, if elected, he will make the breakthrough: “The name Somaliland is not even known in 10 countries in Africa, and I will guarantee the people of Somaliland that if I am elected as the next President of Somaliland I will promise that I will achieve recognition for our country, and my words are final and by doing this I will do all means and ways and I know easy tricks to do that.”

Gaining even limited international recognition will likely prove more difficult than Faisal Ali Warabe anticipates. But it is not entirely out of the question. In March 2010, reports circulated that Israel was considering recognizing the de facto country. Such rumors provoked the Arab League – of which Somalia is a member, despite its miniscule Arab population – to call vaguely for “diplomatic action” against Israel. The Egyptian government in particular has reacted firmly: “Egypt is a friend of the Somali people,” proclaimed Cairo’s ambassador to Somalia, “[and] it will never allow the disintegration and division of Somalia.” The fact that Somalia did indeed disintegrate in 1991 and has been divided ever since has apparently made little impression on the ambassador.

Some high-level members of the United States military establishment have floated the idea of recognition. In 2007, Defense Secretary Robert Gates discussed the issue on a visit to neighboring Djibouti, a key U.S. ally in the volatile region. “Somaliland is an entity that works,” reported a senior defense official. Another official supposedly claimed that the Pentagon favored formal acknowledgement: “Somaliland should be independent… We should build up the parts that are functional and box in Somalia’s unstable regions, particularly around Mogadishu.” The State Department, however, disagrees strongly. Not wanting to be seen as meddling in African affairs, the U.S. government has consistently deferred to the African Union, which rejects recognition. As Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi E. Frazer put it, “We do not want to get ahead of the continental organization on an issue of such importance.”

Somaliland’s closest relations are with neighboring Ethiopia. Landlocked Ethiopia depends heavily on Somaliland’s port facilities in Berbera, and seeks to leverage its influence in Somaliland to counter the threat of radical Islamists elsewhere in the region. In June 2007, an official Ethiopian communiqué referred to the leader of the breakaway republic as the “President of Somaliland,” implying sovereignty. But as long as the African Union denies recognition, Ethiopia – home of the AU’s secretariat ­– is unlikely to formally grant it. The same is true of the European Union and its member states.

Somaliland faces additional challenges in its struggles against Puntland, another governmental entity that has emerged out of the wreckage of Somalia.More on that in tomorrow’s post.

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  • Anonymous

    Very informative post, Prof. Lewis. Has the African Union explained or given a rationale for WHY they oppose recognition of Somaliland?

    Thanks, Chris in Binghamton

  • Martin W. Lewis

    Thanks, Chris, for the important question. I will try to answer it at more length in a subsequent post. The simple answer, however, is one of precedent; most of the the member states of the A.U. are afraid that such a move would risk granting a kind of legitimacy to their own secession movements.

  • Dayeer

    Firstly, your earlier prediction or prognosis that Somaliland was sliding into civil war has been proven wrong, as you somewhat grudgingly admit. Secondly, the original source linking certain elements of the Kulmiye leadership to Al-Shabaab was an ISSA report written by David Copely – a foreign commentator on Somaliland. The radio station you refer to, as well as many other Somaliland news sources (web-based as well as print) have commented upon and referred to this report. Finally, Ethiopia has long treated Somaliland as sovereign state and has accorded its President Head of State status when receiving him in Addis. Further, Somaliland maintains a diplomatic mission in Addis Ababa that is accorded diplomatic mission status and privileges by the Ethiopian government; equally Ethiopia has upgraded its mission in Hargeisa from a trade representation office to a Consulate with diplomatic status.

    I trust that these clarifications will inform your understanding of Somaliland.


  • Martin W. Lewis

    Thank you, Dayeer, for the clarification. I did not intent to imply, however, that Somaliland was actually sliding into civil war; my point was rather that other observers (StrategyPage in particular) had made that assessment.

  • Somalilandersister

    Thank you Martin for the article. Post 1960 the regime of Siyad Barre and his allies from Majeerteeniya(Puntland) and Ogaden(ONLF) made sure that Somaliland's history is forever burried from the Horn of Africa. Luckily just like the Sphinx Somaliland will rise always. Referring to the point about linking Somaliland's biggest opposition party with terrorism is very wrong and a crime against the nation of Somaliland which also breaks the constitution of Somaliland. Calling Kulmiye SNM veterans are linked to terrorists only shows that who ever wrote these articles does not know anything about the history of Somaliland and its liberation. It is almost like calling great persons likes Mandela and Desmond Tutu that they are trouble makers. SNM Veteran politicians are the heroes of Somaliland and their history is written on the green olive leaves of the Liberation history of Somaliland. These founding fathers of Somaliland have many enemies from their neighbours especially Puntland,Mogadisho, Ogaden and other areas so they will use every trick in the book to destabilise Somaliland.

    Somaliland luckily has brave army and vigilant citizens who since 29th of October 2008 terrorist bombings are even more alert.

    The quicker Somaliland is recognised the better for the security of the Horn and the Middle East especially Israel. Little is known about how these terrorists are using every trick in the book to disguise themselves behind all forms of names regrouping and constantly changing their names. The main two groups that are behind these are Majeerteeniya(Puntland) and the Ogaden group(ONLF) who somehow believe that Somaliland can not exist. These two groups have become the alliance of destabilization agents in the Horn by regrouping with Al Shabaab . What they are doing is not new but happened in the 1920's to 1940's but with a different radical Mad Mullah who came originally from Ogaden. He called the Isaq clan of Somaliland infidels who always side the West. Their story has not changed that much.

    Hopefully the elections will happen and Somaliland will move on. Somaliland always stood on its own with so many enemies trying to sabotage them both through religion and culture constantly creating outside alliance with the Arab and the muslim world. It is almost a miracle that Somaliland has survived to date. Somaliland just like Israel has so much to offer not only Somalis but also to other muslim african countries who are sleep walking so far not realising that just like Somaliland their nations will suffer for long time. Africa is too poor to deal with terrorism and little people know that radicalisation is the root of this evil. It is only through democracy and respecting humanrights that this evil ideology can be contained.

    Somaliland is the only friend and ally that the International Community have in this strategic part of the Horn and that sometimes is taken too lightly. Hopefully one day the global world will realise that the people of Somaliland deserve some sort of recognition and will learn from their hard earned experience.

    Sadly Somaliland's historical records have been destroyed and to learn about Somaliland's history one needs to reference books pubished by Britain before 1960's. Most of the maps published on the internet all favour Majeerteeniya(Puntland) and their partner oganisation ONLF who somehow engineered the crimes behind the Horn but are camouflaging their work very cleverly using their other groups in Mogadisho and are busy 24/7 rewriting the history of the Horn to give a different picture..

    The more enlightened writers like you that expose the hard work of small nations like Somaliland the better and safer this planet would be. Until to date we are not sure why the world is spending so much time and effort to put together a state that has failed beyond recognition to the level that the security of the globe is endangered.

    I do apologise about the long post .

    Thank you again.

  • Anonymous

    Mr Lewis i have yet to understand the interest of such reports about Somaliland. Is this perhaps a fourm to educate people on the current development of east Africa or you are currently studying the people of the horn of Africa and their democratic development. Throughout the African history its well known how the 'educated western white men' are not trusted or appreciated since their intentions are not very clear.I hope your intentions are clear and sincere when covering issues concerning Somaliland.

  • Martin W. Lewis

    First, many thanks to Somalilandersister for the informative comments. I will address some of the issues that you mention in next Tuesday's post. To anonymous at 8:29 on May 15, I would urge you to examine the rest of the site to discover what Geocurrents is about. I would also urge people who support Somaliland to take the approach of Somalilandersister and deal with the facts of the matter. Impugning the motives of those who report on the issue will not help your cause.

  • Somalilander

    Good article sir. While I dont blame you for certain mistakes such as the map which is not correct, I would however like you to understand the extreme nature of Somali tribalism which in its cero sum game is not beyond producing fake map to advance the cause of this tribe or that, in this case the map you posted here is utter nonsense propoganda produced by Puntland supporters. Otherwise your article was fair and balanced. Please keeep up with Somaliland affairs and keep writing analysis and if possible visit Somaliland and really get a feel for the topic at hand. Tnx again.