Somaliland: The Case for Unitary Government


“If the border between Somaliland and Somalia is allowed to beDr Edna Aden: My country is worthy of recognitioncome chanced for reasons of ethnicity across one side of the border or the other, then every border in Africa would be invalid and would have to move according to ethnic settlements, this defeating the Charters of both the OAU and AU-Edna Aden

Somalilandsun – As Greater Somalia Unionist go on high gear internationally, where they have received some inconsequential successes i.e. US recognition, UK pledge for funding the institutionalization of democratic governance etc. and the stated stand of somaliland on the non-negotiability and irrevocability of its sovereignty, Horns are certainly locked as pertains to the David Cameron hosted, in London, talks resumption between somaliland and Somalia.

In order to reemphasis the Landers 97% majority acquiescence thus tenet of never Hamar/Konfur again, even if 100 years without recognition, we take you down memory lane this time to Lagos, Nigeria, where Rd. Edna Adan then Foreign minister presented a paper titled ‘THE CASE FOR UNITARY GOVERNMENT’ while attending the Ethnicity and Federalism in Africa Conference held on 20-23 February 2006.-Editor

Republic of Somaliland

Ministry of Foreign Affairs


Ethnicity and Federalism in Africa

Lagos 20-23 February 2006

‘The Case for Unitary Government’


Mrs Edna Adan Ismail

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Republic of Somaliland

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I bring you greetings from the people and government of Somaliland and am honoured to represent my country during this conference that is hosted by the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs and the British council.

My sincere appreciation goes to the Government and people of the federal Republic of Nigeria for their hospitality and for having me in their great country again since I was in Ibadan in 1984 as a WHO Temporary Adviser on Human Resources Development.

The case for federalism or for unitary government cannot be made as a generic principle that can be applied in all instances. The case of each country is different and so are the circumstances that need to be taken into consideration. I will use Somaliland to explain why the principles of the unitary government are uniquely favourable and applicable to our country and my task here today is to present to you ‘The case of Unitary Government in Africa’.

In order to do this, however, I need to first give you a brief history of my country, Somaliland. From the outset, I also need to explain that Somaliland’s existence as an Independent State is a historical fact that dates back to 1884 when our people signed Treaties of Protection with Great Britain and become ‘British Somaliland Protectorate’

At a time when most other countries in Africa were Colonies.

After 76 years of harmonious association with Great Britain, during which period our people fought alongside Great Britain in the two World Wars, we achieved a negotiated Independence from Great Britain on the 26th June 1960, thus earning my country an early place among the very few independent countries in Africa that were fully sovereign and free from colonial bondage.

The day after independence, Somaliland becomes recognized by 34 UN Member States, including the five permanent Members of the Security Council, and I am proud to report that Somaliland became the first independent Somali State to gain membership of the United Nations.

I hope that this information will allay the misconception that some might have that Somaliland is not a viable state because of the size of the country and population, and that it is a secessionist fragment of a bigger unit.

Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, these are indeed misconceptions because my country is bigger than 80 countries including England and Wales combined, and Somaliland has a larger population than 83 countries are full members of the United Nations.

On the other hand, our neighbouring country Somalia, which I am sure you have all heard about, became independent from Italy one week after Somaliland following which the two independent Somali ‘States’ unite to become the Republic of Somalia , from 1960 to 1991, to be an illegal partnership only.

The case for Unitary Government is based on the real-life experience of the people of Somaliland who have suffered injustice, oppression, and genocide as a result of the hasty union they entered into with another country, Somalia, whose people had a different culture, different colonial past, different system of administration, different life-styles, different trading partners, and had even indifferent local foods. In Somaliland, we spoke one language, while in Somalia they spoke several different languages and dialects. In short, Somaliland and Somalia were two countries whose many differences far outnumbered the similarities that had made them want to unite in the first place.

Because of these differences, conflict between Somaliland and Somalia was inevitable and became apparent very soon after union. It was aggravated further when the capital was moved to Mogadishu, taking with it the economy and everything else that mattered to the people of Somaliland.

Our schools, hospitals, and other public services gradually lost importance or became totally shut down. This led to the discontentment and eventually to open hostility. The disappointment of the people was such that it prompted the Sand Hurst-trained Army Officers of Somaliland to attempt a Military Coup d’état as early as December 19961, to separate the two countries. Regretfully, the Coup failed and over the years that followed, generated even more hostility and punitive measures against the people of Somaliland.

The conflict between the people of Somaliland and the government of Somalia worsened and culminated into an all-out war. By 1988, the government of Somalia resorted to the aerial bombardment of the major cities of Somaliland, and indiscriminately killed the inhabitants, destroyed civilian dwellings, schools, hospitals, and mosques. The report of the American Human Rights Watch described the brutality they witnessed as ‘A Government at war with its own people’.

To escape the carnage, over half a million of our people became internally displaced, and an additional million sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Others fled to wherever else they could find asylum, some crossing the entire African continent to reach the shores of West Africa.

Finally by 1991, Somaliland was free again and its people began to rebuild the country. They have been extraordinarily successful in doing so as I will shortly recount, but it is important to appreciate that this reconstruction, and Somaliland’s political maturity, have been achieved without the external recognition on which nearly all other nations under the sun expect and receive. Somaliland’s lack of recognition means that we cannot receive more than a few crumbs from the table to international community. We receive no assistance from the World Bank, No aid from international agencies; only a few international NGOs are present in Somaliland. Yet, we look after all ours. We are indeed in all respect the envy of many African countries.

The Reality that is Somaliland today.

The generally accepted criteria for statehood, as laid down by the Montevideo Convention of 1933, are as follows:

A- Permanent population

B- Define territory

C- Government that controls most of the country

D- Capacity to enter into relations with other states.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is broad consensus within the international community that Somaliland fulfils all these requirements.

A) – Permanent Population

There is no minimum requirement for population. Somaliland’s population is estimated at approximately 3.5 million which ranks Somaliland above 80 countries in the World.

B) – Defined Territory

The territory of Somaliland is defined by the borders of the former British Somaliland Protectorate, which are defined by the following international treaties:

• The Anglo-French Treaty of 1888

• The Anglo-Italian Protocol of 1894

• The Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1897

The borders of Somaliland were confirmed and demarcated again by the British in 1935 and 1957.

The frontiers of Somaliland encompass an area of 137,600 square kilometres with 850 kilometres of coastline, ranking Somaliland ahead of many African States.

We have our own passport, our own currency, our own judiciary, and our system of tax collection from which we generate the resources we need to run our country.

We all know that ‘defined territory’ does not mean that boundaries are undisputed. Many Sates in Africa or elsewhere have un-demarcated or disputed frontiers with their neighbours. Somaliland’s boundary dispute with northern Somalia neither invalidates the treaties that defined our colonial borders, nor detracts from Somaliland’s claim to a defined territory. In the case of Somalia, their claim over areas inside Somaliland is purely clan-based while the borders of Somaliland are entirely colonial borders that were demarcated according to international treaties.

Your Excellences, we all know that every country in Africa, including Somaliland, has ethnic settlements across one side of the border or the other. If the border between Somaliland and Somalia is allowed to become chanced for this reason, then very border in Africa would be invalid and would have to move according to ethnic settlements, this defeating the Charters of the Organizations of African Unity and that of the African Union.

Ladies and Gentlemen, you may rest assured that Somaliland stands neither for secession nor for the revision of Africa’s border. The prime task of the Government of the Republic of Somaliland is to protect the territorial integrity of the nation and the inherent interest and dignity of its citizens as we have done successfully, peacefully, as a democracy, for the last 15 years

C) – Government

A State requires a government that functions as a political body within the law of the land. In the case of Somaliland, it has possessed such a government since 1991that has maintained the stability of the country to this day. Somaliland’s Constitution was approved in May 2001 through a popular referendum that won support from over 97% of the 850,000 people who voted.

Somaliland’s system of government is a multiparty electoral democracy featuring a bicameral parliament. The president, Members of the House of Representatives and Local Councils have all been chosen through peaceful and transparent elections that have been witnessed and confirmed by international observers.

D) – Capacity to enter into Relations with other States.

The capacity of a State to enter into relations with others States is a function of independence. A government must not be subject to authority of another state in its handling of its foreign affairs in order to pass this test. Somaliland has demonstrated this capacity during the past 15 years that it had effective control of its territory and had become independent of any other authority.

Somaliland enjoys cooperative relations with a variety of foreign government and intergovernmental organizations on a broad range of security, immigration, economic and developmental issues. These partners include, but are not limited to Denmark, Holland, Djibouti, the European Commission, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the United Nations.

Regarding our failed union with Somalia, we are by no means the first African State to have entered into a voluntary union with another the subsequently withdrawn from that union intact.

The following countries have all done likewise and have never been punished for it as Somaliland is being punished:

– Senegal and Mali in 1960,

– Egypt and Syria in 1961,

– Rwanda and Burundi in 1962,

– Senegal and Gambia in 1968,

– Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau in 1975,

– Ethiopia and Eritrea in 1993.

In Europe, we have the example of Sweden and Norway who were at one time united and have since separated. So have countless other States in Europe and Asia in recent years.

Economic Development in Somaliland

Somaliland has a system of free market economy which seems to fully agree with the entrepreneurial character of the people of Somaliland. We are among the few countries in the world that have no foreign debts since we neither seek nor receive loans and do with the resources we generate ourselves.

We have Oil, gas, and the world’s largest gypsum deposits. In addition to this, we have our main Port of Berbera which serves as a major outlet/inlet for land-locked Ethiopia with a population of over 70 million.


In conclusion, I hope that I have been able to show what lessons the rest of Africa can learn from the story of Somaliland on the topic of the Federation, ethnicity and Unitary Government.

In the late 1800s, the Somali- inhabited lands of the Horn of Africa were parcelled out in the crudest and most insensitive way. As a result, the excitement of independence of Somaliland in 1960 ,combined with the desire to fulfil the ‘Greater Somalia’ ambitions that our people had at that time and which was intended to precede the Pan-African dream of that period, produced a major catastrophe for our people. It led to the death of that dream and the only period of peace and development we have enjoyed since is since our separation from Somalia in 1991.

The Union with Somalia never worked in the same way that federalism failed elsewhere. In the United States, its Act of union led a century later to a civil war with enormous loss of life and scars that are still visible to this day. In Europe, Germany’s unification under Bismarck in 1870 attempted to contain and control dynamic forces which exploded not once but twice in global conflict in 1914 and 1939.

In Africa, there are many examples of the consequences of federalism, which have caused wars to erupt that often reverse the economic progress our people are entitled to have. These situations are too current and painful for all of us and I will not take up more of your time to enunciate individual cases.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is sufficient for me to re-assert that Somaliland’s Unitary Government can be considered a miracle and a rare African success story that need to be given full credit. Undermining the achievements of Somaliland sadly would also undermine the goals of NEPAD that are the promote peace, stability and good governance in Africa.

Independence and sovereignty for Somaliland is a reality with no turning back the clock. Union with another country only resulted in death for our people and destruction for our country Somaliland. Going our separate ways is what has worked for us. Going back into chaos is Unthinkable.

What remains now are for the international community to come to terms with that reality and to arrive at the only possible and just conclusion:

Recognition of Somaliland as rightful member of the world community of nations.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.

Mrs Edna ADAN Ismail

Foreign Minister

Republic of Somaliland

February 2006