Somaliland: The Issue of International Recognition


Published on January 23, 2006 by the UNPO

 While the worlds attention has focused largely on Somalia the source for much of instability in the horn region there is a good news story in the Horn of Africa that goes largely unnoticed Somaliland.

Somalilandsun – Somalia in its modern boundaries was formed by a unification of the two former colonies Italian Somaliland and British Somaliland. The two different forms of colonial rule left Somalia with very diverse colonial legacies

When the regime of Siad Barre was ousted from power in Mogadishu in 1991, it left a power vacuum that could not be filled by the many varying and still belligerent Somali factions. Somalia in its modern boundaries was formed by a unification of the two former colonies Italian Somaliland — the southern part of present-day Somalia — and British Somaliland in the north. The different forms of colonial rule adopted by the British and the Italians left Somalia with very diverse colonial legacies.

For Italy, colonies were a question of national pride and status, its colonial policy aimed at the total assimilation of the colonial territories. British Somaliland, on the other hand, was only of marginal importance to the British Empire and was used as a logistical supply outpost for British ships sailing to India or the Gulf of Aden. The British colonial praxis there could best be described as indirect rule and, as a result of this soft approach to indigenous political systems, the traditional order stayed largely intact.

Additionally, the relationship between north and south Somalia has always been difficult. Only days after gaining independence in 1960, the two countries unified and Somalia has since been dominated by the southern part of the country. After the bloody 1977-78 Ogaden war between Ethiopia and Somalia, the government of Siad Barre became more repressive, and more Somalis from the former British Somaliland protectorate called for national sovereignty free from Barre’s rule.

SL Som two different countriesDue to the Barre regime’s violent repression, Somalilanders, encouraged by Ethiopia, took up arms and formed the Somaliland National Movement (S.N.M.) in 1981 to resist Barre. In the late 1980s, Barre virtually lost control of the province and ordered the air force to bomb Hargeisa, today’s capital of Somaliland. The bombing and subsequent raids of government troops claimed tens of thousands of casualties. However, by the end of the 1980s, what has become the unrecognized Republic of Somaliland was nearly totally under the control of the S.N.M. The vacuum left by the collapse of the central government in Mogadishu in 1991 had, therefore, less effect on Somaliland than it did for the rest of the country.

Somalis, although belonging to one nation, are organized along clan lineages; traditionally, conflicts are solved by local clan elders. After state collapse in 1991, clan leaders and elders in Somaliland gathered in a traditional meeting, a so-called Guurti, and proclaimed Somaliland’s independence in May 1991.

Since then, Somaliland can be regarded as a relatively stable region. With little foreign help, it has managed considerable progress in consolidation of statehood: in a nationwide referendum held in 2001, the country introduced a new constitution with overwhelming support from voters. In April 2003, voters were again called to the polling stations for the election of a new president.

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