The African Union is coming under increased pressure from the Republic of Somaliland to accord its recognition.
This follows revelations that an AU fact-finding mission to Somaliland between April 30 and May 4, 2005, had expressed that Somaliland had been made a “pariah region” by default. It strongly recommended the country’s recognition, saying that since its declaration of independence in 1991, Somaliland has been steadily laying the foundations of a democratic “modern state.”
However, the report of the mission – which was appointed by the former president of Mali and chairperson of the AU Commission, Alpha Oumar Konare – has been kept under wraps and is yet to be discussed by the AU executive council for possible adoption by the heads of state summit.
The mission also noted that the lack of recognition ties the hands of the authorities and people of Somaliland as they cannot effectively transact business with the outside world in pursuit of their reconstruction and development goals.
It was of the view that while it is the primary responsibility of the authorities and people of Somaliland to make efforts to acquire political recognition from the international community, the AU should be disposed to judge the case of Somaliland from an objective historical viewpoint and a moral angle vis-a-vis the aspirations of its people.
The authorities of Somaliland have successively visited the AU Commission in 2003, 2004, and early 2005, seeking an observer status for Somaliland within the AU, not only to be able to follow developments on the continent but also to gain a platform from which the country can state its case for being recognized as a sovereign state.
That proposed status is based on the recognition by the Somalilanders of the inherited colonial borders at the time of independence from Britain in June 1960.
As a result, there is a visibly emotional attachment to the reclaimed independence and a firm determination among the people of Somaliland not to return to the failed union with Somalia, whether or not recognition is granted.
Somaliland – situated on the northern tip of the former greater Somalia – boycotted the two-year peace process in Nairobi that culminated in the election of President Abdullahi Yusuf in October 2004.
The Somaliland authorities have consistently rejected the idea of reuniting with Somalia and recently warned that should Africa and the international community insist on Somaliland re-establishing the union, the leaders and people of Somaliland would fight to preserve their independence.
The mission takes this line of argument by stating that the Union established in 1960 between Somaliland and Somalia brought enormous injustice and suffering to the people of the region.
“The fact that the union was never ratified and also did not work to satisfaction while it lasted from 1960 to 1990, makes Somaliland’s search for recognition historically unique and self-justified in African political history. As such, the AU should find a special method of dealing with this outstanding case,” the report recommends.
Furthermore, given the acute humanitarian situation prevailing in Somaliland, the AU should mobilize financial resources to help alleviate the plight of the affected communities, especially those catering for internally displaced persons and returnees.
The mission set out to assess the prevailing political, socio-economic, security, humanitarian and other related issues, as well as to listen to the concerns of the leadership and people of Somaliland, and duly report back the findings and the recommendations to the AU Commission for further action. It was led by the deputy chairperson of the Commission, Patrick Mazimhaka.
While calling upon the international community to consider the issue of self-determination objectively, the mission noted evidence of democratic institutions sprouting among them; the constitution of Somaliland, which entrenches, among other aspects, the separation of power between the three arms of government; the balance of political forces built upon the functional co-habitation of traditional governance institutions, as embodied in the political role of clan elders and elected representatives; the existence of active opposition political parties with some capacity to influence public policy; and a budding independent press.
The plethora of problems confronting Somaliland in the political, socio-economic, military, humanitarian and other sectors stem from the legacy of a political union with Somalia, that malfunctioned, bringing destruction and ruin upon the population.
Though credit has to be given to Somaliland for promoting a democratic order within a relatively short span of time, there are gaps that need attention from both policymakers and the individual citizens. One critical gap lies in gender relations in terms of the predominance of men in the various structures, institutions and processes.