Chapter 6: Somaliland

On This Chapter


From colonialism to secession


Justifications for statehood

Features of statehood

International reactions

Explaining external opposition

What future for Somaliland?



At first glance the Republic of Somaliland should have had a smooth passage to confirmed statehood after its unilateral declaration of independence from Somalia in 1991. Unusual among secessionist entities, Somaliland has not been subjected to competing historical claims to its territory by rival ethnic groups, either from within Somaliland or from the central state of Somalia. This is because the former Somali Democratic Republic was a rare African example of a true nation-state: the entire population spoke one language (Somali), practiced the same religion (Islam), had a shared social structure (clan families) and engaged in common economic activity (pastoral and agricultural).1 Somaliland’s claims to statehood rested on stronger legal and historical grounds than those of many other contested states. Somaliland moreover broke away from a state that was in the throes of implosion and that has still not been able to rehabilitate itself. Whereas Somalia carries the dubious distinction of the world’s longest limping failed state, the Republic of Somaliland has managed to develop its empirical statehood. Yet Somaliland has been prevented from graduating to confirmed statehood. We need to investigate why the entity has been consigned to international limbo, how it is coping with life on the margins of the world community, and how it might exit this awkward existence.