Somaliland at Cross Roads


The writer argues that the lack of international support combined with internal fragmentation is a threat to the existence of unrecognised states

By: Kadar Hussein AbdiSomalilanders have  huge challenges to overcome

Somalilandsun – Somaliland has been, since the collapse of the Central government in Mogadishu over two decades ago, a separate entity from Somalia. Somaliland government has created and maintained peace since then, but it lacks economic development.

Unlike Somaliland, Somalia was chaotic, and there was no functioning government over two decades. Two decades is a quite long time, but Somaliland had a huge challenges to overcome, among the most important were establishing itself as a sovereign state, building government institutions, creating viable economic system, reducing poverty, building country’s infrastructure, and most importantly investing human capital to reproduce a social model that we can pass on to the next generation.

However, this article is not intended to evaluate the socio economic development in Somaliland. Nevertheless, as Somaliland still lacks international recognition the challenges are mounting. Then, this article discusses the alternative strategies to sustain peace and provide development. The article argues that the lack of international support combined with internal fragmentation is a threat to the existence of unrecognised states, but if the domestic governance is based on justice and equality with the aim to establish national identity and harmony coupled with economic progress states de facto could be sustained, otherwise, collapse is inevitable, and leadership is central to both sides.

Historically, the path of recognition of emerging states was narrow, because the member states of the United Nations were principally against the notion of secession. For example, in 1970, UN Secretary General U Thant said, “The United Nations has never accepted and does not accept and I do not believe will ever accept the principle of secession of a part of its member states” I argue that the case of Somaliland is reclaiming of her sovereignty, and in that sense is different from a region seeking separation, but as Somaliland has never become a member of the UN, under the rules of the UN Somaliland falls into this category. However, despite the persistence of the international community to oppose the fragmentation of the UN member states, the number of states who claimed to be sovereign since the Second World War exceeded to 27, but most of them fall short to convince the international community. Among the 27, East Turkestan, Western Bosnia, Chechnya, Somaliland, South Sudan and Abkhazia are included. The experience of those nations varies, but there are common characteristics which include weak institutions, lack of development, unstable economy, and the absence of external legitimacy. Many of the unrecognised states could not maintain their separation because of the internal divisions and lack of economic development. The success was limited and always needed the concession of the mother state as the case of South Sudan.

Taiwan and Kosovo have relatively enjoyed some degree of international acceptance as more than 10 states offered official recognition, but they still lack the pivotal membership of regional and global institutions, for example, Taiwan is not able to sign up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which is an important vehicle for economic, social and cultural development in the region. South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transnistria and Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus have also achieved limited success, and Somaliland has yet to wait for the first nation to offer diplomatic recognition. In a globalized world populated with over 190 states, the economic and diplomatic interaction of states in the international system is essential for the social, economic, political and human development of any particular state, then recognition is imperative for the long term existence of the state.

untapped Oil seeps freely in SomalilandGiven that the absence of international recognition is a challenge there must be an alternative to maintain security and provide development. According to the University of Oslo (2006) many researchers upon this issue concluded that the sustainability of unrecognised states is supported by a number of factors, despite their tendency of weak governance structure and poor economic performance. First, their success in building strong internal unity based on shared identity, and the establishment of responsive and representative political structure combined with better justice system to ensure that they have the necessary internal legitimacy. Second, externally they benefit from the support of a strong patron state which serves them as an economic and diplomatic vehicle. The patron states are mainly attracted by ethnic links and strategic interests. Such support helps to compensate for the absence of international recognition and considerably aids the course of state building. For example, Armenia serves as an essential economic lifeline for Nagorno Karabakh. In addition, Armenia provides passports for Nagorno Karabakh citizens.

Similarly, the unrecognised states of South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnitria are all dependent on Russia’s economic and military support. However, Somaliland did not only fail to take on her place in the international arena, but also could not attract a single country to serve as a patron state. Somaliland politicians signalled a number of times that Britain could be such a patron state for Somaliland because of the historic links between the two nations, but the recent history has proven that wrong, as Britain is actively seeking to restore the Somali Unity. In the same way Ethiopia has been supposed to be in favour of Somaliland’s independence, but such assumption is a myth, and Ethiopia is not able to provide significant financial help for Somaliland. However, the recent claims that Ethiopia is willing to protect Somaliland is a positive step, but to be seen as a serious political shift Ethiopia should go beyond, because at it stands now Ethiopia does not see any strategic interest to support the independence of Somaliland, and the current relations between the two countries is security –centred. Such view has been outlined in Ethiopian foreign policy strategy. Therefore, Somaliland should re-focus on generating regional support, particularly, Somaliland needs to revisit her relations with IGAD member states to convince them that Somaliland statehood would contribute to the better of economic, social, cultural and the security of the region, and our politicians should come up a sketch in regard to how such contribution could be visible on the eyes of IGAD member states, and in other words Somaliland needs visionary strategy as Professor Samatar put it in a recent public lecture at Hargeisa University “Somaliland needs an innovative ambitious international relations strategy”.

The second element that helps the continuity of unrecognised states is the domestic political architecture, and how the government works on the issues of state building, establishing a shared identity to avoid internal division, the formation of effective justice system, enhancing of state institutions to tackle corruption and the creation of jobs to keep the aspirations of the people alive. To that end, for example, Transnstria which is among the unrecognised states established an institutional design guided by a constitution which defines the roles and responsibilities of the different bodies of the government, and this is not only on paper, but government organs reflect their constitutional roles. Such system provides accommodation to the social divisions based on religion and ethnicity in Transnstria, it also enables the state to institute viable economic structure with appropriate re-distribution mechanism. According to the Centre for Eastern Studies (2013), the economy of Transnstria is booming, and in 2012 it reached around one billion dollars, and the GDP per capita is estimated to be $ 2000, this means that the entity’s GDP per capita bypasses all East African Countries, for Example, Kenya is the economic powerhouse in East Africa, and has a GDP per capita of $ 800. This is an indication that there is an alternative route of economic development if the leadership understands, and as widely accepted the political survival of states de facto correlates to the level of economic development.

However, in the case of Somaliland, there is a significant success in relation to the democratization of politics Somaliland has managed to secure peace even without external supportwhere political parties have been founded, and there have also been a number of successful elections and most remarkably, the last peaceful power transfer. Such an overview of the domestic politics in Somaliland is encouraging. Yet, only elections do not provide the necessary democratic credentials as well as the internal legitimacy, and it is widely perceived that the power lies at the executive while the other organs are mainly supposed to be irrelevant. Then, as a result the executive have become unaccountable to any other state institutions, and obviously, the absence of checks and balance in the political system facilitates corruption, bad governance, incompetence, power abuse and finally leads to the collapse of the state as historical evidence suggests in the context of failed states. It is observable that to date Somaliland politics is characterised by nepotism, corruption, in justice, in equality and lack of ideas. Furthermore, in the wider society the division in clan lines becomes apparent, the recent local elections explain how tribalism emerged as the primary identity of our society, and this is a major threat to our statehood. Unfortunately, such awful tribal politics is created and driven by the so called political class in Somaliland, and they are utterly falling short to our expectations.

For the last 22 years, the external relations of Somaliland was evolving in a less challenged environment, where the Somali state was dragged into a complex layers of regional, ideological, international and tribal conflicts, but as the prospects of Somali state is at our sight the political maturity and skills of Somaliland politicians is under scrutiny, and the signs, sorry to say, are indicating that they are not capable to articulate coherent argument. For example, their simplistic explanations about the possible implications of Somalia’s reintegration to the international community and the recognition of US to Somalia with the strong diplomatic words which Mrs Clinton used to demonstrate the America’s commitment to give Somalia both diplomatic and economic support is a manifestation of the incapacity of Somaliland politicians to grasp the complex international order, I am not singling out our ex top diplomat “The Doctor” but similarly the explanations of the other political organs in the country such as the opposition parties and the parliament show their inability to contextualize the implications of the changing order from the part of Somalia. Similarly, the recent British travel advice and the response of the government which was not coordinated expose their weakness when it comes to dealing with the international community. Let along the on-going conflict between Somaliland and the UN which is the product of Somali’s attempts to stretch her diplomatic muscle.

Moreover, although Somaliland is independent, under the international law still Somaliland is a part of Somalia, therefore, the UN resolutions have impact on Somaliland. Yet, instead of trying to shape the future of Somalia in which Somaliland people could realise their aspirations, the Somaliland politicians failed to show competence to influence or set the agenda in regard to what the international community doing in Somalia. Somaliland politicians did not, explicitly, try to explain their point of view in regard to Somali issues such as UN arms embargo, or the other UN resolutions. Then, instead of coming up with strategies to change this reality our politicians prefer to delude the public which has become the soft aspect of the issue, and this has underscored the fundamental weakness of Somaliland politicians, “incapable to present coherent argument in the international arena.”

In summary, international recognition is vital for the existence and the progress of nations, but as historical evidence shows, the path of recognition has always been difficult. Therefore, nations who have aspirations to sign up in the international system employ different strategies to sustain their hope. While their efforts of convincing the international community to accept their self-determination is underway in one hand, unrecognised states constitute their strategy of sustaining their statehood without getting international legitimacy on the other hand. Such strategy involves in winning a patron state which offers diplomatic and economic support. In the meantime, there must be effective state institutions to deliver public services. In the case of Somaliland, the internal fragmentation has been fuelled by the rise of the tribalism which is the most single threat against the Somaliland statehood, and also there is no yet a patron state that Somaliland could be relied on. However, despite all those threats, there are two reasons that Somaliland can still survive. First, notwithstanding the poor leadership, the people of Somaliland are resilient and willing to realize their ambitions. Second, the utopian thinking in Mogadishu is still premature, and as one layer of the conflict in Somalia seems to be elapsing another layer of conflict is on the making. For example, as Al Shabab seems to be on the run, the conflict in Kismayo and the tribal politics play out, and then realistically the Somali government is not in a position to be a significant threat to the sustainability of Somaliland in the near future

Kadar Husein AbdiYet, Somaliland should not be under any illusion that the current political class in its contemporary form is failing, and if we go on such deep rooted tribal politics coupled with the poor economic performance with higher level of unemployment and in justice, it should be understandable that unrecognised state with such characteristics could not be sustained in the long run.

Khadar Hussein Abdi