This chapter will attempt to situate the existing Intra and inter-state instability in the Somali inhabited region in these sub-regional dynamics in the Horn of Africa. In particular, the case of Somaliland, a de facto independent, but unrecognized breakaway state will be analyzed in more detail. Special attention will be paid to the question of Somaliland’s achievements in state building and the questions it has raised regarding sovereignty and borders in the Horn and beyond: are entities such as Somaliland an exception to the sovereign state system or a harbinger of a new fragmented order? Does their existence represent the affirmation of sovereignty or the erosion of it?



Affirmation Or Erosion Of Sovereignty In The Horn Of Africa? The Case Of De Facto State Somaliland

Authors: Urban Jaksa

From: The Horn of Africa since the 1960s: Local and International Politics Intertwined 

Edited By Aleksi Ylönen, Jan Záhořík

First Published 2017

eBook Published 24 February 2017

Imprint Routledge

Affirmation Or Erosion Of Sovereignty In The Horn Of Africa - The Case Of De Facto State SomalilandDescription

The Horn of Africa has long been one of the most dynamic and politically turbulent sub-regions on the African continent. Host to great ancient civilizations, diverse peoples, and expansive states, the region has experienced massive social, economic, and political transformations which have given rise to military coups, revolutions, and intractable ethnic, socio-economic, and religious conflicts.


This comprehensive volume brings together a team of expert scholars who analyze international, regional, national, and local affairs in the Horn of Africa. The chapters demonstrate the intertwined nature of the actors and forces shaping political realities. The case studies, focusing on Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Somaliland, Sudan, and South Sudan eloquently illustrate the complex dynamics connecting the spectrum of political issues in the region.

The Horn of Africa since the 1960s will be of interest to students and scholars of contemporary Africa and political science.

CHAPTER 11: Affirmation Or Erosion Of Sovereignty In The Horn Of Africa?

The Case Of De Facto State Somaliland

Urban Jakša, 

Department of Politics,

The University of York,

United Kingdom

In this chapter



Somalia between 1960 and 1991: Between state building and irredentism

State collapse: Warlords, Islamists, and the international community

Somaliland: An unrecognized success story?

Erosion of sovereignty and fragmentation of the Horn?




In Chapter 11, Urban Jakša examines the unrecognized state of Somaliland. The Republic of Somaliland declared independence in 1991, but since that time has not been recognized by any state in the world. However, despite little external assistance, Somaliland has developed relatively stable state institutions, security apparatus, and political environment through indigenous political processes.


Since 1960, the Horn of Africa[1] has undergone a remarkable transformation shaped by internal dynamics and external intervention. In the last twenty-five years, the sub-region has witnessed important geopolitical changes, which have resulted in: significant corrections to the political map; the process of political fragmentation; state collapse; and the creation of de facto states.[2] Some have viewed the Horn as being synonymous with crisis and as little more than a series of “civil wars, interstate wars, proxy wars, Islamic fundamentalism, revolution, famine, refugee flows, brutal dictatorships, state collapse, warlordism, and unremitting poverty.”[3] Others have pointed out the more positive developments, such as the sustained economic growth in Ethiopia or the establishment of security, peace, and democracy in Somaliland. None of these developments can be understood without understanding the complex relations between the internal and international politics in the sub-region, and as Ferras rightly argues:

The Horn of Africa continues to illustrate a paradox: even when numerous regional actors are committed to peacekeeping or support operations, this region remains the most conflict-torn of the continent. It includes a large part of the problems of different forms of war—interstate, intra- state, by proxy. All states of the Horn of Africa are in conflict or major crisis.[4]

The Horn’s location is of interest to big powers outside the sub-region:

Only a few miles from the Arabian Peninsula and thus near seaways vital to the world economy, the Horn of Africa is a strategic area. The French and American military presence underlines this. It nevertheless remains a geographical space mentioned (in the media) for plagues such as maritime piracy, forced migration, humanitarian crises and war.[5]

The geopolitics of the War on Terror have led to the:

militarization of the entire “Afrabian” expanse, with the US-supported activities and/or basing presences and operations from the north-west African trans-Sahara to Djibouti, which has served as a major backstop to US military activities in the Persian Gulf and south-west Asia.[6]

While during the 1960–1990 period the sub-region was entangled in Cold War and several proxy wars were fought, many of these conflicts remain unresolved until today. Eritrea gained independence in 1991 after a thirty-year war with Ethiopia,[7] but the demarcation of the border remains a problem. After a civil war lasting more than twenty years, South Sudan gained independence in 2011 and entered the United Nations (UN) as the world’s newest recognized country, with relations between Sudan and South Sudan remaining strained to this day.[8] Eritrea and Yemen contest the sovereignty of the Hanish Islands in the Red Sea, while Djibouti and Eritrea have been engaged in limited confrontations over the border dispute in 1996 over the town of Raheita.[9] Somalia has been embroiled in a bitter civil war since 1991.[10] The conflict has drawn the intervention of the UN, the African Union (AU), Ethiopia, and Kenya[11]—to name just the most important external interventions that have become common in other conflicts in the subregion. There is a constant threat of escalation of local conflicts and border skirmishes that could spill over and further destabilize the sub-region. Yet none of the conflicts described above have assumed the complexity and intensity of the conflict in Somalia, which after more than two and a half decades remains embroiled in a civil war.

This chapter will attempt to situate the existing intraand inter-state instability in the Somali inhabited region[12] in these sub-regional dynamics in the Horn of Africa. In particular, the case of Somaliland, a de facto independent, but unrecognized breakaway state will be analyzed in more detail. Special attention will be paid to the question of Somaliland’s achievements in state building and the questions it has raised regarding sovereignty and borders in the Horn and beyond: are entities such as Somaliland an exception to the sovereign state system or a harbinger of a new fragmented order? Does their existence represent the affirmation of sovereignty or the erosion of it?

Somalia between 1960 and 1991: Between state building and irredentism

In the late nineteenth century, Great Britain and Italy established colonial rule in north and South Somalia respectively. While the British were mostly interested in coastal areas (to secure maritime routes and to transport meat from Somalia across the gulf to their colony of Aden) and established only limited control, the Italians were more thorough and systematic in their colonial approach. These diverging colonial practices left the Somali region with different administrative apparatuses and administrative languages, different levels of economic and infrastructural development, and significant differences in skilled labor.[13]

After World War II, following the recapture of Somaliland from Italy, Britain established control over the whole of Somalia, but the two territories were soon again administered separately (most of Somalia was returned to Italy in 1949) and only slowly decolonized.[14] In the 1950s, voices for unification and the creation of “Greater Somalia” became stronger and in June 1960, British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland declared independence and united in the Somali Republic.[15] At its unification and independence, Somalia was regarded as a robust state and one of the least likely in Africa to fall apart.[16] However, the unification was hasty and ill-prepared, with feelings of nationalism and the joy of unification obscuring huge differences between the constituent parts of the newly founded republic. Furthermore, as it was created in 1960s, Somalia did not contain the whole nation (three of five Somali-inhabited territories remained under Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti) and didn’t have defined borders. Despite being seen as stable and secure, Somalia was shook by President Shermarke’s assassination and the coup d‘état, which in 1969 brought to power Siyad Barre, whose new authoritarian regime declared martial law, suspended the constitution, abolished the multi-party system, and began persecuting its political opponents. It also redistributed resources in a way that it severely deprived the north of development funds.[17]

The Ogaden War between Somalia and Ethiopia fueled by Somali nationalism and irredentism was catastrophic for Somalia. It was a major factor contributing to the downfall of Barre’s regime. Somalia, confident that its Cold War patron the Soviet Union would support it, attacked Ethiopia in July 1977. However, in September 1974, Haile Selassie’s government was overthrown and a Communist regime under the leadership of Mengistu Haile Mariam took power. The Soviet Union warned Somalia of its expectations to curb its nationalism and cooperate with the new regime in Addis Ababa on the grounds of shared ideology.[18] Barre imprudently disregarded the warning and proceeded with the invasion. As the war went on and the Somali army came within 100 km of Addis Ababa, the USSR decided to intervene decidedly on the side of Ethiopia, changing the military balance in favor of Ethiopia, which was able to drive out the attacker.[19]

State collapse: Warlords, Islamists, and the international community

When Somalia’s hopes of uniting all Somalis within one country fell apart, a process of political fragmentation ensued. As the regime became increasingly totalitarian and repressive towards the end of 1980s, the opposition in the north of the country transformed into active resistance. The Somaliland National Movement (SNM) was formed with members recruited predominantly from the Isaaq clan in the north.[20] When Siyad Barre’s regime was toppled in 1991, the social framework of “scientific socialism” was undone and the society returned to its ancient ways.[21]

Unlike most countries in the sub-region, Somalia is surprisingly ethnically and religiously homogenous, with most Somalian sharing a common language (Somali) and adhering to nomadic pastoral traditions as defined by the heer.[22] The division between north and south is therefore not grounded in culture, but in colonial history, and is political and administrative in nature. Furthermore, to this day, Somalia remains a clan-based society. In this country, which has the lowest density of population in the Horn of Africa, 60–70 percent of the population is nomadic and even those living in urban areas are in close contact with their nomadic clansmen, while the culture and national identity of Somalia as a whole are rooted in nomadic traditions, such as crafts, storytelling, and poetry.[23] Somali society has generally been republican unlike chiefdom-based societies in many other parts of Africa.[24] However, despite its relative social homogeneity, the clan divides and the latent conflicts which were kept under the lid during Barre’s time became evident and without a strong central authority, the conflicts escalated into a war.

No less than fifteen attempts through conferences and talks have been made by the international community to try to patch up Somalia since 1991.[25] Somalis have always vigorously resisted foreign presence and intervention, and the lack of understanding of local conditions and way of life is the main reason for the UN fiasco in 1990s.[26] Initially the international community only supplied humanitarian aid, but it was routinely looted from the ones in need by warlords (and often sold to buy weapons).[27] The UN commissioned a small force to maintain a ceasefire,[28] which was the first step into the swamp in which UN would become more and more bogged down: “Almost from the outset of operations, and certainly, from UNOSOM II, Somalia was described as one of the worst ever UN interventions anywhere in the world, and with at least part of the blame due to the US.”[29]

Due to Somalia’s proximity to the Persian Gulf, it has long gravitated towards the Gulf States politically, economically, and in terms of migration flows, which has fostered the spread of radical Islam into the Somali region. Wahhabism, a fundamentalist branch of Sunni Islam, is foreign to Somali culture and has been largely unknown in Somalia until quite recently.[30] Among the religious organizations, moderate Sufi brotherhoods, in particular the Qadiriya, Ahmediya, and Saalihiya orders,[31] are the oldest and most widespread, cutting across clan divisions. Shari‘a Law has been applied inconsistently and assimilated into heer. The authority of Somali religious leaders has been quite limited traditionally, with clan elders controlling most judicial functions. However, since the beginning of the 1990s, Wahhabism has assumed a more prominent role through the establishment of Shari‘a Courts in mostly urban settings of Mogadishu and the Shabelle river valley.[32] “The establishment of the Transitional National Government (TNG)[33] in 2000 led to the temporary decline of the sharia militias,”[34] but the government supported by the international community (including political, financial, and logistic support of Djibouti, Kenya, and Ethiopia) ultimately collapsed in 2004, due to internal disputes, resignations, and irrelevance (failure to hold more than a small piece of territory it claimed).

When the unconnected and contradictory[35] external efforts to establish peace[36] proved unsuccessful, peace building fell on the shoulders of the local communities: “Somali diaspora, women’s associations, youth and intellectual groups inside and outside the country,”[37] who were ultimately unsuccessful as they were unable to provide security to their communities. The Islamic Courts Union (ICU), emerged to fill this power vacuum in 2004 as a “growing network of sharia courts in Mogadishu and the countryside” led by a hardline Islamist Hassan Dahir Aweys.[38] The ICU possessed a degree of authority and legitimacy and having armed itself, it initially played a stabilizing role, providing protection to the local population, fighting the corruption and power abuse of local warlords.[39] However the ICU’s aggressive Islamism has become an obstacle to peacemaking as the Union tried to remove or marginalize rival social and political organizations.[40] Although both moderate and extreme strands of political Islam were represented in the ICU,[41] key people within the Union subscribed to “radical, violent and anti-‘Western’ ”[42] ideas. As the ICU’s power and territory grew, so did the concerns of Somalia’s neighbors and the international community. Ethiopia feared that the TNG “was fuelled by alleged Eritrean involvement with the Islamic Courts.”[43] The tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which have fought a long war, now manifested themselves in supporting different sides in the war in Somalia. Western countries led by the USA were also concerned with the rise of the ICU and in the context of the “War on Terror,” the USA accepted working with Ethiopia in the UN, which in December 2006, adopted the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1725, giving the AU the mandate to deploy a peacekeeping force.[44]

Since the end of UNOSOM II in 1995, the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) has been the only international peacekeeping mission and has tried to prop up the fledgling TFG (the TNG had collapsed in 2003 due to internal disputes)—a new transitional government established in 2004—in its fight against the ICU. The TFG, which was formed in Kenya, took seven months to relocate to Somalia and start establishing territorial control. It has also suffered internal splits and defections,[45] and has been forced to invite Ethiopian military intervention, which quickly routed the forces of the Islamic Courts Union at the end of 2006.[46] The ICU has since assumed terrorist tactics and splintered into several groups. One of them, al-Shabaab—the Youth Wing of the ICU—emerged as a seemingly autonomous movement, but with connections to the ICU. It “became an important component of the overall Islamic Courts coalition—especially militarily”[47] and has overshadowed the ICU as the main force fighting against the TFG and what they see as foreign invaders. Al-Shabaab has repeatedly carried out terrorist attacks—with the Westgate shopping mall attack in Nairobi in September 2013 being the deadliest—in response to the intervention. Despite the challenge posed by al-Shabaab, the TFG has regained much territory and seems to be in control at the moment, also due to the presence of AMISOM, Kenyan, and Ethiopian troops.[48] However, it remains unclear if and when Kenyan and Ethiopian forces will pull back, and whether the Federal Government will be able to retain control over the country afterwards.[49]

Somaliland: An unrecognized success story?

As Somalia descended into the longest-running instance of complete state collapse in post-colonial history, Somaliland, a self-declared state gained control of most of the territory that was once part of British Somaliland. This became possible with the collapse of state institutions in Somalia, the weakening control of the center over the periphery, and the power vacuum[50] that emerged as a result of both. Somaliland has not been seriously involved in the sixteen externally funded peace conferences that have failed to bring unity and peace to Somalia, instead “pursuing an internal, parallel process of negotiation and debate”[51] that has ultimately been successful in ending the armed conflict and enabling the reconstruction efforts and state building. In other words, grassroots conflict resolution and state-building among local actors in Somaliland has proved to be more successful than international efforts in trying to bring the warring parties together at the national level. This speaks to the fact that local actors’ trust in and ownership of the process is arguably more important than any support the international community can provide.

At the same time, as Mogadishu was considered the most dangerous city in the world, Somaliland’s capital Hargeisa was considered to be one of the safest cities in Africa.[52] Somaliland has undertaken state-building in the absence of recognition or considerable investment, relying on diaspora funding and traditional institutions.[53] Since 1993, Somaliland has established a functioning central government, a bi-cameral parliament, an independent judiciary, a national army, a working tax system, and—most importantly—has organized several democratic, multi-party elections. This has been achieved virtually without foreign help/interference, mostly with the help of its diaspora and the modest technical and financial assistance of the United Kingdom and Denmark.[54] Since Somaliland’s unilateral declaration of independence, cities, towns, and villages heavily affected by the war, have largely been rebuilt, infrastructure and utilities restored, and commercial activity revived.[55]

Somaliland has declared independence twice: in 1960 and 1991. The second time it merely “ended a union it had entered in as a sovereign independent state.”[56] Before entering the union in 1960, during its brief independence, thirty-five UN members already recognized Somaliland,[57] and its claims to independence are backed by this historical experience of statehood. Conferences at Burao and Borama (similar to the African National Congress’ conferences which played a crucial role in South Africa’s transition from the apartheid regime) have paved the way to Somaliland’s independence.[58] State building assumed a hybrid[59] form composed of a modern state framework and traditional clan structures. These informal clan institutions: “have long been considered as remnants of pre-modern times standing in the way of developmental progress. Today, however, informal institutions are beginning to attract the interest of the international policymakers who have worked so zealously to discard them.”[60] This “state-making under a tree” is an adaptation of the modern state framework to a sparsely populated region in which roaming nomadic pastoralists have lived without a system of central governance for centuries. Governance is done through inter-clan agreements and contracts based on the principles of compensation and enforced by the authority of clan elders.[61] Somaliland’s institutions combine modern Western state elements with pre-modern indigenous ones.[62] Somaliland’s constitution[63] ensures the separation of powers and the legislature is composed of the lower chamber and the upper chamber, the latter being the council of elders that plays an important role in managing internal conflicts. The institutional make-up of Somaliland ensures a balance between the clans, combines representative with direct democracy, gender universalism with male egalitarianism.[64] While in most countries in the Horn of Africa multi-party democracy’s failures were tied to fragmentation and weak opposition party structures (Ethiopian opposition, for example, has for various domestic reasons long been extremely fragmented), especially when undermined by the ruling party, this is not the case of Somaliland.[65] Until today, the Somaliland government has had relatively weak mechanisms of assertion and projecting power against opposition as the clan system remains powerful. This enables peaceful coexistence between the three parties (the constitution limits the number of political parties to three): the ruling UCID (The Justice and Welfare Party), the oppositional KULMIYE (Peace, Unity, and Development Party),[66] and Waddani. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the system is the mutual recognition of the state and the clan system, their integration, compatibility, and overlap rather than dichotomy and exclusivity. In urban areas, this overlap is greater than in rural areas, where the heer-based clan system[67] reigns supreme.[68]

Despite these promising trends, Somaliland has remained in the legal limbo of non-recognition, which prevents states from joining international organizations and from obtaining loans from international creditors, also making it difficult to access foreign markets and for their citizens to travel abroad.[69] Non-recognition has deprived Somaliland of most foreign aid and investment (which has contributed to the external dependence of many other countries), but has accelerated the development of accountability and good governance in state-building based mainly on humble, endogenous resources (a locally mobilized budget of US$20–40 million between 1999 and 2007). As Somaliland is predominantly pastoralist and only exports livestock,[70] while importing practically all other food imports,[71] remittances[72] and investments by the diaspora[73] are extremely important for state building and development.[74] Although Somaliland has not been recognized by any state or international organization, it has managed to establish representative offices in fourteen countries, and forge close trade relations with Ethiopia (with the port of Berbera rivaling that of Djibouti), with Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and South Africa accepting Somaliland passports.[75]

Somaliland also faces other challenges, such as the integration of Somali refugees from other parts of Somalia and the Oromo regions of Ethiopia.[76] Corruption remains one of the main obstacles to development, and the situation has—according to some scholars—deteriorated in recent years.[77] Concerns about the internal security situation in Somaliland remain. In the early 2000s, four foreign aid workers were murdered, but Somaliland’s authorities have been successful in capturing the culprits and bringing them to justice.[78] Despite these drawbacks, the International Crisis Group (ICS) has stated that the recognition of Somaliland would establish “one of the few genuinely democratic states in the region.”[79] Some believe that Somaliland merits recognition as it “meets the objective criteria of statehood and its separation from Somalia represents the dissolution of a state in conformity with international norms.”[80] Others argue that selective recognition of some states-within-states, although potentially very disruptive “does offer promising approaches to more effective governance and more viable and coherent states.”[81] This is a view shared by several scholars and policy practitioners but opposed by Somalia, neighboring states as well as regional (AU) and international organizations (UN).[82] The recognition of Somaliland is not an easy undertaking. In the narrowest sense, it implies the rejection of Somalia’s territorial integrity and poses questions about other Somali regions (most notably Puntland).[83] In a broader sense, it poses a question of reforming the state system in the Horn of Africa (just like de facto states in general challenge the existing system of state sovereignty), which would be a risky undertaking.

Somaliland is bigger than many recognized states. It has a population of three and a half million and covers 137,600 square kilometers, which is approximately the size of England and Wales together.[84] It has proven oil reserves, coal, gemstones, and abundant livestock and fish resources.[85] Taking this into account, the Somali conflict is very much a geo-economic conflict and revolves—as many conflicts in Africa—around the “resource curse,” with resource-rich territories becoming flashpoints and battlegrounds of competing interests. Water and oil,[86] grazing areas and livestock, even qat,[87] have been the primary objects of contention in the Somali region. Out of five areas of oil exploration, four are located in Somaliland and Puntland, and out of those four, two are located in the territory claimed by both Somaliland and Puntland.[88] This means that the two entities, which have shown aspirations for independence (while Somaliland has unilaterally seceded, Puntland is currently working together with the central authorities in Mogadishu to rebuild the Somali state)[89] and their parent state Somalia are claiming these resources without considering the interests of foreign corporations, which will likely benefit most if and when the oil starts flowing. As well as the conflict over land (eastern Sanaag[90] and the Sool region and its capital Laascaanood),[91] resources, and on whether to maintain the common state or secede from it is an important part of Somaliland-Puntland (and by extension Somaliland-Somali) relations, the conflict is also complicated by differences in identity (people from Puntland identify themselves as Somali, while in Somaliland the regional identification is stronger),[92] in social composition (the predominance of the Isaaq clan in Somaliland and the Daarood/Harti clans in Puntland), and in political regime (Puntland is a military dictatorship,[93] while Somaliland can be deemed a sui generis democracy). The conflict between Somaliland and Puntland, although local in nature, has ramifications for the future of the Somali state and even for the international livestock trade in the Djibouti, Somali, and Ethiopian borderlands. Djibouti, despite having few of its own livestock,[94] has emerged as a livestock transit country and export hub, benefiting from Somalia’s inability to participate in international trading regimes.[95] Although it could be argued that it is in the interest of businessmen in Djibouti to have a weak and divided Somalia as a neighbor,[96] this may not be true of the groups living in the borderlands of Djibouti, Somaliland, and Ethiopia’s Ogaden province, many of whom are bound by kinship and clan bonds and who want to live in a stable region.

Erosion of sovereignty and fragmentation of the Horn?

States have always been wary about new recognitions, fearing that this could lead to a “parade of sovereignties,”[97] where a large number of recognized polities would devalue sovereignty and threaten the Westphalian system. However, this “Pandora’s box” or “dangerous precedent” argument, used extensively in post-Soviet space in the 1990s has been shown to be largely invalid when applied to the Horn of Africa. We have, for example, observed no crumbling or territorial fragmentation following the independence of Eritrea and South Sudan.[98] The stubborn insistence of the international community on the principle of territorial integrity, upholding a fiction of sovereign Somalia, and denying the facts on the ground could backfire and prolong the conflicts and the disintegration of Somalia.[99] While Somaliland enjoys high domestic legitimacy (partly as a result of the successful inclusion of traditional structures in its political system), Somalia has very little of it.[100] The UN notoriously continued to recognize Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime as the rightful government of Cambodia between 1979 and 1997, even after it had lost control of the capital and most of the territory. In Somalia, the TNG, which at certain times controlled only a few blocks in Mogadishu, was internationally recognized as the rightful government, and the support extended to the incumbent Federal Government in Somalia, but it is still far from being in control of the whole territory of Somalia. During the latest phase of the Somali Civil War, the conflict has concentrated in the south of Somalia. It has moved away from Somaliland and Puntland but has at the same time drawn in Ethiopia and Kenya, which are getting bogged down in a similar fashion that the international community did in the 1990s. Although the Federal Government of Somalia has regained control of most of the territory, it is still weak and Somaliland’s record of effectively combating terrorism could make foreign governments consider it to be a trustworthy partner in the sub-region[101] and worthy of at least engagement, if not recognition. No pattern of fragmentation or erosion of sovereignty can be established for the whole sub-region and the cases of South Sudan, Somaliland, and Puntland represent three different outcomes: independence, de facto statehood without recognition, and federal integration respectively.

Comparative research has focused mostly on Somaliland and Somalia, but little has been done in terms of comparing Somaliland with South Sudan or Puntland. While Somaliland has decided to build its own statehood and pursue recognition for it, Puntland has decided to pursue a semi-autonomous status in a federalist Somalia—a crucial difference that has been reflected in differences in the state building and democratization between the two regions. Somaliland’s state-building has assumed a bottom-up character and has achieved remarkable success, while Puntland’s efforts have relied on a top-down approach that has proved less successful. Relative peace and stability have allowed Somaliland to focus more on rebuilding its economy in contrast with Puntland, which still spends approximately 90 percent of its budget on the army, police, and administrative expenses (in comparison to Somaliland’s 65 percent).[102] This difference can be partially explained by the greater security concerns over the comparatively heavier presence of Islamist militant groups in Puntland,[103] although Islamism is on the rise in Somaliland as well. While there are many reasons why South Sudan managed to secure recognition, while Somaliland hasn’t, the most important ones have to do with great powers and their regional supporting states’ interests. South Sudan’s bid to join the UN was successful because of its size, location, and resources (Nile river, oil fields), but even more importantly, because it acquired the consent of the parent state’s government, which Somaliland hasn’t.[104] Another reason was its greater visibility and media presence with figures such as Don Cheadle and George Clooney promoting its cause.[105]


The global tendency towards political fragmentation—most noticeable in the Balkans and the Caucasus—has been producing new and often unrecognized or partially recognized states, from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, to Kosovo, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Western Sahara to Somaliland.[106] These aspirations to statehood remind us of a simple truth that is often forgotten among the postmodern narratives about the world becoming flat and de-territorialized: “However much we talk about globalization, erosion of the state, and the increasing irrelevance of territory, statehood remains the top prize.”[107] This is especially important to recognize in the case of the Horn of Africa, where it was often argued that states are not deeply rooted and exercise relatively little power in comparison to clan structures. This, however, doesn’t mean that rival political groups don’t see the state as a top prize and that forces of fragmentation are not present in the Horn of Africa.

The fragmentation of Somalia, when considered historically, is not as much of an anomaly as it is a return to what for most of its history Somali society has been like—a nation without a state and with very decentralized, clan-based social structures. The case of Somaliland has shown that it is possible to successfully combine the modern state framework with clan-based institutions and perform rather well, even in the absence of international recognition by states and international organizations alike. The latter is not incidental and we can only agree with Lewis: “No wonder those international organizations whose interventions in Somalia have been so unsuccessful should prefer to ignore Somaliland’s independent achievements.”[108] Today Somaliland “looks, smells and tastes like a state,”[109] yet remains unrecognized by other states and international organizations, which support Somalia’s territorial integrity instead of acknowledging Somaliland’s right to self-determination and the successes of bottom-up state building that put to shame the efforts of the international community to build lasting and sustainable peace in Somalia and the region.

Urban Jakša

Department of Politics, University of York, United Kingdom.

Urban JaksaUrban Jaksa is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Politics at the University of York, looking at de facto states in the post-Soviet space. He focuses on comparing the associated ethnopolitical and territorial conflicts, as well as external relations of de facto states in order to examine their integration into the international system through the concept of geopolitical role. Urban has presented his research at international conferences at UCLA, the University of Virginia, Clark University, OSCE Academy in Bishkek, Charles University, and others. He has served as the Editor-in-Chief of IAPSS Journal Politikon and published articles and chapters in academic publications. Urban’s academic interests include Critical Geopolitics, relations between statehood, sovereignty and territoriality, and the practices of writing space. He has worked for NATO, OSCE, and think tanks like the CRRC in Armenia and PISM in Poland. Urban has published his research in edited monographs by Routledge, Springer, Palgrave and others.


[1] Leenco Lata defines Horn of Africa as: “the area stretching from the border of Chad, in the west, to the Indian Ocean, in the east, and from the Egyptian border, in the north, to the borders of Uganda and Kenya, in the south.” See Leenco Lata, Horn of Africa as Common Homeland: The State and Self-Determination in the Era of Heightened Globalization. (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2004), 87.

[2] Nina Caspersen defines de facto states as: territories that have achieved de facto independence, often through warfare, and now control most of the area upon which they lay claim. They have demonstrated an aspiration for full de jure independence, but either have not gained international recognition or have, at most, been recognized by a few states. See Nina Caspersen, Unrecognized States: The Struggle for Sovereignty in the Modern International System (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011), 337.

[3] Ken Menkhaus and John Prendergast, “Conflict and Crisis in the Greater Horn of Africa,” Current History 98 (1999): 628.

[4] Patrick Ferras, “Security Stakes and Challenges in the Horn of Africa,” in Alexandra Magnólia Dias (ed.) State and Societal Changes in the Horn of Africa: Conflict and Processes of State Formation, Reconfiguration and Disintegration (Lisbon: Center of African Studies, 2013), 49.

[5] Ibid., 49.

[6] Iqbal D. Jhazbhay, “Islam and Stability in Somaliland and the Geo-Politics of the War on Terror,Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 28: 2 (2008): 173–205.

[7] Gebru Tareke, The Ethiopian Revolution: War in the Horn of Africa (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009).

[8] Edward Thomas, South Sudan: A Slow Liberation (London: Zed Books, 2015).

[9] Markus Kornprobst, “The Management of Border Disputes in African Regional Sub-Systems: Comparing West Africa and the Horn of Africa,” The Journal of Modern African Studies 40: 3 (2005): 380–381.

[10] For a good overview of the Somali Civil War, see Ken Menkhaus, Somalia: State Collapse and the Threat of Terrorism (New York: Routledge, 2008); and Afyare Abdi Elmi, Understanding the Somalia Conflagration: Identity, Political Islam and Peacebuilding (London: Pluto Press, 2010).

[11] Ferras, “Security Stakes and Challenges in the Horn of Africa,” 49–50.

[12] Since it is difficult to talk of Somalia as a state and since “Somali lands” sounds rather irredentist. I also employ the term region, a preferred unit of analysis for geopolitics, to avoid state-centrism and emphasize the cross-border dynamics. Felix Ciută (2008) does a good job at defending the concept of region and its utility as the unit and level of analysis, see Felix Ciută, “Region? Why Region? Security, Hermeneutics, and the Making of the Black Sea Region,” Geopolitics 13: 1 (2008).

[13] Dimitrios Lalos, “Between Statehood and Somalia: Reflections of Somaliland Statehood,” Washington University Global Studies Law Review 10: 4 (2011): 790–792.

[14] Benjamin R. Farley, “Calling a State a State: Somaliland and International Recognition,” Emory International Law Review 24: 2 (2011): 780.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ian S. Spears, “Reflections on Somaliland & Africa’s Territorial Order,Review of African Political Economy 30: 95 (2003): 89 and 92.

[17] Lalos, “Between Statehood and Somalia,” 792–793.

[18] Robert G. Patman, The Soviet Union in the Horn of Africa: The Diplomacy of Intervention and Disengagement (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 200.

[19] Donatella Strangio, The Reasons for Underdevelopment: The Case of Decolonization in Somaliland (Heidelberg: Physica-Verlag, 2012), 32.

[20] Lalos, “Between Statehood and Somalia: Reflections of Somaliland Statehood,” 793–794.

[21] “What has emerged in Somalia by way of governance in the past decade [resembles] a loose constellation of commercial city-states and villages separated by long stretches of pastoral statelessness.” Ken Menkhaus, “Governance Without Government in Somalia: Spoilers, State Building, and the Politics of Coping,” International Security 31: 3 (Winter 2006/2007): 86.

[22] Heer (also written xeer) is an unwritten, decentralized legal system of Somalia where clan elders administer justice using custom and precedents. For more on the Somali legal system, see Michael Van Notten, The Law of the Somalis: A Stable Foundation for Economic and Social Development in the Horn of Africa (Trenton, NJ: Red Sea Press, 2005).

[23] Ioan Lewis, Understanding Somalia and Somaliland: Culture, History, Society (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), 3–4.

[24] Ibid., 28.

[25] The UN in Somalia Yearbook. United Nations Resident Coordinator’s Office for Somalia (2014), 2.

[26] Three UN-sanctioned operations took place in 1990s: UN Operation in Somalia I (UNOSOM I) based on the UNSC Resolution 751 and with a mandate to uphold the ceasefire and facilitate the provision of humanitarian relief. Due to relapse into war and progressive worsening of the security situation, the UN accepted the US proposal to establish and lead a multinational force to secure and protect the provision of humanitarian relief. The Unified Task Force (UNITAF) was a transitional operation, which included forces of twenty-four countries, but the USA provided most of the troops and the mandate of the operation was changed, stating that they can use “all necessary measures” to guarantee the delivery of humanitarian aid. UNITAF managed to secure the environment for the provision of aid, but failed to disarm the warring sides, so when UNOSOM (now known as UNOSOM II) mission resumed in March 1993, it once again failed to uphold the ceasefire and facilitate the provision of humanitarian relief, and was ended in 1995. See UNSC Resolutions 751, 814 and 837 as well as Ken Rutherford’s Humanitarianism Under Fire: The US and UN Intervention in Somalia (Sterling: Kumarian Press, 2008).

[27] Ken Menkhaus, “Stabilization and Humanitarian Access in a Collapsed State: The Somali Case,” Disasters 34: 3 (2010): 320−341.

[28] Ioan M. Lewis, “Sufism in Somaliland: A Study in Tribal Islam,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 17: 3 (1955): 78.

[29] Peter Woodward, US Foreign Policy and the Horn of Africa (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 72.

[30] Stig J. Hansen, Al-Shabaab in Somalia: The History and Ideology of a Militant Islamist Group, 2005–2012 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

[31] Qadiriya, the oldest order, is rather orthodox and puts much emphasis on education and literature. Ahmediya and Saalihiya, which are derived from the former, both date from the end of nineteenth century and are more propagandist than educational in nature, being closely associated with Somali nationalism. Lewis, “Sufism in Somaliland,” 592–593.

[32] Kenneth J. Menkhaus, “Somalia and Somaliland: Terrorism, Political Islam, and State Collapse,” in Robert I. Rothberg (ed.), Battling Terrorism in the Horn of Africa (Baltimore, MD: Brookings Institution Press, 2005), 23–47.

[33] TNG (not to be confused with TFG, the Transitional Federal Government, which emerged in 2006) was formed in May 2000 at the Somalia National Peace Conference in Djibouti, and was founded by the representatives of the warring factions in Somalia.

[34] Menkhaus, “Governance Without Government in Somalia,” 88.

[35] John G. Nyuot Yoh, “Peace Processes and Conflict Resolution in the Horn of Africa,” African Security Review 12: 3 (2003): 90–91.

[36] These include multilateral (UN, AU, US-led coalitions and European initiatives under the leadership of Italy, France, and Britain) intervention, interventions of neighboring countries (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, and Djibouti), and the involvement of Arab states (individually or through the Arab League). The problem with all of these efforts was that they competed against each other instead of cooperating on a common plan, while the neighboring countries “had a vested interest, and tended to favor one faction over the other.” Ibid., 90.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Menkhaus, “Governance Without Government in Somalia,” 86.

[39] For a comprehensive overview of Islamism in the Horn of Africa, see Alexander De Waal (ed.), Islamism and Its Enemies in the Horn of Africa (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2004).

[40] Menkhaus, “Governance Without Government in Somalia,” 76.

[41] Ibid., 155.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Cedric Barnes and Harun Hassan, “The Rise and Fall of Mogadishu’s Islamic Courts,” Journal of Eastern African Studies 1: 2 (2007): 156.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Menkhaus, “Governance Without Government in Somalia, 74.

[46] Ferras, “Security Stakes and Challenges in the Horn of Africa,” 55–56.

[47] Ibid., 155.

[48] Kenya and Ethiopia have several reasons for maintaining a military presence in Somalia. To mention just a few: control of borders, prevention of the spread of extremism (especially to northern and coastal Kenya), the ability to influence internal political processes (TGF) in Somalia, and control over strategic areas and resources.

[49] Martin Riegl and Bohumil Doboš, “Secession in Post-Modern World: Cases of South Sudan and Somaliland,” Acta Geographica Universitatis Comeniae 58: 2 (2014): 173–192.

[50] Markus V. Höhne, “Political Identity, Emerging State Structures and Conflict in Northern Somalia,” Journal of Modern African Studies 44: 3 (2006): 397.

[51] Michael Walls, “The Emergence of a Somali State: Building Peace from Civil War in Somaliland.” African Affairs 108: 432 (2009): 372.

[52] Lewis, Understanding Somalia and Somaliland, 98.

[53] Marleen Renders, Consider Somaliland: State-Building with Traditional Leaders and Institutions (Leiden: Brill, 2012).

[54] Marleen Renders, “Appropriate ‘Governance-Technology’? Somali Clan Elders and Institutions in the Making of the ‘Republic of Somaliland’,” Afrika Spectrum 42: 3 (2007): 439–441.

[55] Mark Bradbury, Becoming Somaliland (London: Progressio, 2008), 137.

[56] Iqbal D. Jhazbhay, “Somaliland: Africa’s Best Kept Secret, A Challenge to the International Community?African Security Review 12: 4 (2003): 77–78.

[57] Riegl and Doboš, “Secession in Post-Modern World,” 178.

[58] Walls, “The Emergence of a Somali State,” 382–385.

[59] Tobias Debiel, Rainer Glassner, Conrad Schetter and Ulf Terlinden, “Local State-Building in Afghanistan and Somaliland,” Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice, 21 (2009), 38–44.

[60] Renders, “Appropriate ‘Governance-Technology’?,” 439–459.

[61] Ibid., 442.

[62] Ioan M. Lewis, A Pastoral Democracy: A Study of Pastoralism and Politics Among the Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa (Oxford: James Currey, 1999), 200.

[63] Constitution of the Republic of Somaliland. Adopted by the Houses of the Parliament of Somaliland on April 30, 2000.

[64] M. Walls, “The Emergence of a Somali State,” 371–389.

[65] Stig J. Hansen and Mark Bradbury, “Somaliland: A New Democracy in the Horn of Africa?Review of African Political Economy 34: 113 (2007): 466.

[66] Ibid., 461–476.

[67] “The urbanized clans are not as concerned with the asabiyya (lineage system) as are the pastoralists, for whom the bond of lineage is paramount,” Mohamed Haji Mukhtar, Historical Dictionary of Somalia (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2003), 63.

[68] Ulf Terlinden, “Emerging Governance in Somaliland: A Perspective from Bellow” in Eva-Maria Bruchhaus and Monika M. Sommer (eds.), Hot Spot Horn of Africa Revisited: Approaches to Make Sense of Conflict (Münster: Lit Verlag, 2008), 51–67.

[69] Caspersen, Unrecognized States, 42.

[70] As with most de facto states, it is difficult to assess the volume of export and import in Somaliland, since no country officially recognizes it and therefore most economic agreements and transactions are conducted unofficially.

[71] Peter Hansen, “Migrant Transfers as a Development Tool: The Case of Somaliland,” Working Paper No. 2004/15 (Copenhagen: Danish Institute for International Studies, 2004).

[72] In a study of Somaliland diaspora remittances sent to Hargeisa—Somaliland’s capital—Lindley concluded that these mostly benefited individual households, with a relatively modest sum spilling over into the budget. Anna Lindley, “Remittances in Fragile Settings: A Somali Case Study,” Working Paper No. 27 (Institute of Development Studies, 2007).

[73] Nicholas Eubank, “Peace-Building without External Assistance: Lessons from Somaliland,” Working Paper No. 198 (Washington, DC: Center for Global Development, 2010).

[74] Ismail I. Ahmed, “Remittances and Their Economic Impact in Post-war Somaliland,” Disasters 24: 4 (2000): 380–389.

[75] Riegl and Doboš, “Secession in Post-Modern World,” 186.

[76] Anna Lindley, “Seeking Refuge in an Unrecognized State: Oromos in Somaliland,” Refuge 26: 1 (2010): 187–189.

[77] Nasir M. Ali, “Somaliland: Curbing Corruption and the Quest for Effective Governance,” Asian Journal of Humanities and Social Studies 2: 1 (2014): 54–65.

[78] Alison K. Eggers, “When is a State a State: The Case for Recognition of Somaliland,” Boston College International and Comparative Law Review 30: 1 (2007): 221.

[79] International Crisis Group, “Somaliland: Democratization and its Discontent,” Africa Report no. 66 (Nairobi/Brussels: ICG, 2003), 41.

[80] Farley, “Calling a State a State,” 777.

[81] Spears, “Reflections on Somaliland & Africa’s Territorial Order,” 89.

[82] Ibid., 90.

[83] Puntland is most well-known, in fact notorious, for piracy.

[84] Jhazbhay, “Somaliland: Africa’s Best Kept Secret,” 79.

[85] Mohammed Y. Ali, “Geology and Coal Potential of Somaliland,” International Journal Oil, Gas and Coal Technology 2: 2 (2009): 168–185.

[86] David M. Anderson and Adrian J. Browne, “The Politics of Oil in Eastern Africa,” Journal of Eastern African Studies 5: 2 (2011): 369–410.

[87] Cathula edulis—a plant of which leaves are chewed and have the effect of a mild stimulant. Lewis, Understanding Somalia and Somaliland, 24.

[88] Tuesday Reitano and Mark Shaw, “Briefing: Peace, Politics, and Petroleum in Somalia,” African Affairs 112: 449 (2013): 667–668.

[89] Höhne, “Political Identity, Emerging State Structures,” 401.

[90] Marleen Renders and Ulf Terlinden, “Negotiating Statehood in a Hybrid Political Order: The Case of Somaliland,” Development and Change 41: 4 (2010): 740.

[91] Ibid., 405.

[92] Ibid., 401.

[93] Ibid., 410.

[94] Majid Nisar, “Livestock Trade in the Djibouti, Somali and Ethiopian Borderlands,” Chatham House Briefing Paper (September 2010), at: (accessed April 25, 2016), 3.

[95] Ibid., 1.

[96] This would allow Djibouti to increase its share in the livestock market and reap the profits in transit and trade due to the weak bargaining position of its trade partners. Lack of international recognition of Somaliland has also allowed Djibouti to co-opt Somaliland’s businessmen by offering them Djibouti passports. Ibid., 8.

[97] Henry Hale, “The Parade of Sovereignties: Testing Theories of Secession in the Soviet Setting,” British Journal of Political Science 30: 1 (2000): 31–56.

[98] Riegl and Doboš, “Secession in Post-Modern World,” 173–192.

[99] Jhazbhay, “Somaliland: Africa’s Best Kept Secret,” 78.

[100] Scott Pegg and Pål Kolstø, “Somaliland: Dynamics of Internal Legitimacy and (lack of) External Sovereignty,” Geoforum: ScienceDirect 66, at: (accessed January 21, 2015).

[101] Kurt Shillinger, 2005. “Recognizing Somaliland: Forward Step in Countering Terrorism?,” The RUSI Journal 150 (2): 46–51.

[102] Martha C. Johnson and Meg Smaker, “State Building in De Facto States: Somaliland and Puntland Compared,” Africa Today 60: 4 (2014): 7 and 13.

[103] Ibid., 3–23.

[104] Riegl and Doboš, “Secession in Post-Modern World,” 173–192.

[105] Ibid., 183.

[106] Svante E. Cornell, Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in Caucasus (London: Routledge, 2001), 394–400.

[107] Stacy Closson, “What do Unrecognized States Tell Us about Sovereignty?,” in Nina Caspersen and Gareth Stansfield (eds.), Unrecognized States in the International System (London: Routledge, 2012), 68.

[108] Lewis, Understanding Somalia and Somaliland, x.

[109] Matt Bryden, “The Banana Test: Is Somaliland Ready for International Recognition?.” Les Annales d’Ethiopie 19 (2003): 362.

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