In his inimitable prose, ‘The Country That Does Not Exist: A History of Somaliland’, Gérard Prunier conveys how one of the world’s newest nations came into being and survived, against all odds.
The Country That Does Not Exist
A History of Somaliland
The Somali people are fiercely nationalistic. Colonialism split them into five segments divided between four different powers. Thus decolonization and pan-Somalism became synonymous.
In 1960 a partial reunification took place between British Somaliland and Somalia Italiana. Africa Confidential wrote at the time that the new Somali state would never be beset by tribal division but this discounted the existence of powerful clans within Somali society and the persistence of colonial administrative cultures. The collapse of parliamentary democracy in 1969 and the resulting army—and clanic— dictatorship that followed led to a civil war in the ‘perfect’ national state. It lasted fourteen years in the ‘British’ North and is still raging today in the ‘Italian’ South.
Somaliland ‘re-birthed’ itself through an enormous solo effort but the viable nation so recreated within its former colonial borders was never internationally recognized and still struggles to exist economically and diplomatically.
This book recounts an African success story where the peace so widely acclaimed by the international community has had no reward but its own lonely achievement.
‘The Country That Does Not Exist is the book on how a post-nation-state world order may unfold. A breath of fresh air, it is a must-read for academics and policy experts alike, showing the elusiveness (and futility) of conventional approaches to rebuilding states.’ — Will Reno, Professor of Political Science, the Program of African Studies, Northwestern University
‘Prunier provides an insightful and comprehensive analysis of the formation of the Republic of Somaliland. He manages to connect local details to regional and global developments, and delivers a timely and highly accessible interpretation of the turbulent history of the region.’ — Jutta Bakonyi, Associate Professor of Development and Conflict, University of Durham, and author of Country without a State: Economy and Society in Wars, the Example of Somalia
‘This compulsively readable book, filled with eyewitness testimonies, tells the story of the birth of still-unrecognized Somaliland from the wreckage of the collapsed Somali state. It provides an unrivaled guide to how governance among Somalis can, and cannot, be created.’ — Christopher Clapham, Centre of African Studies, University of Cambridge
‘A very readable history of the enigma that is Somaliland—a country that does not exist in the eyes of other nations, but whose people crafted a political settlement that has endured for decades. Prunier describes Somaliland’s remarkable story, but also the risks of young Somalilanders living in their parents’ “frozen dreams”.’ — Mark Bradbury, Executive Director of the Rift Valley Institute and author of Becoming Somaliland
Gérard Prunier is a renowned historian of contemporary Africa, author of, inter alia, the acclaimed The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide and editor of Understanding Contemporary Ethiopia, both published by Hurst.
TABLE OF CONTENT
A recent article on Somalia presented the country as ‘the most failed state in the world’, giving its subtitle as ‘twenty-five years of chaos in the Horn of Africa’. As a kind of polite aside, the author of the article admitted to the existence of
‘Somali statelets operating more or less independently. Some, such as Puntland in the north, are fairly well organized. Others are little more than warlords’ fiefs … But the real prize—a Somalia with a functioning government and safe streets—seems as distant as ever.’
And yet four months before this piece had been published, I had been sitting at a café in a safe Somali street, watching the school children, the civil servants and the soldiers of a functioning Somali government all parading in celebration of the proclamation of their independence twenty-five years before. But that independence was not the independence of ‘Somalia’— which took place in 1960—it was the independence of a sub-unit of that ‘country’ which had broken away thirty-one years later from the deadly embrace of its brothers. It had achieved peace, stability and a fair amount of democratic governance. Its press was free, it had periodic free elections, and its streets were probably the safest you could find anywhere in Africa. Although 99 percent Muslim, it had not given birth to any radical Islamist movement, preferring to collect the garbage and balance the budget as its most serious endeavors. This ‘country’ is called Somaliland and, by the world’s legal standards, it does not exist.
Of course, it does exist ‘for real’ (as children would say) and its years of struggle and sacrifice have led to the birth of a perfectly normal and rational state. But since it was born as an exception to the sacrosanct principle of ‘national determination’ enshrined by the Treaty of Westphalia in European diplomatic practice since 1648 and reaffirmed worldwide by the creation of the United Nations in 1945, ‘Somaliland’ has never been recognized as a ‘real country’. Never mind that it has achieved civil peace, built up democratic institutions practically without any outside help, and then lived up to its ideals, it has remained ‘a country that did not exist’. Peace, stability, democracy and human rights notwithstanding, it remained ignored by the rest of the world, which was meanwhile channeling diplomatic attention, military support and a fair amount of economic aid to the rest of ‘Somalia’, that ‘most failed state’ existing in permanent chaos.
This book is about trying to understand this bizarre paradox, its cultural and historical origins, its twisted development, its dead ends and its upturns. Let’s try also to understand the frustration and shame of being shunned after so many efforts and so much suffering. ‘Somaliland’ was born in blood and fire, and it sacrificed much to exist. Later it succeeded in avoiding the clanic civil war that mangled its surviving relatives down south, in what is today called ‘Somalia’. It also avoided developing the radical Islam which is today a hall of mirrors for many unhappy Muslim communities. Its southern cousins fell headlong into radical Islam and are still battling with it today. Somaliland was both typically Somali and the odd man out as well. To say that it is a mystery would be an exaggeration but to label it an enigma is fair. It shares a religion, language, social structure, prejudices and large parts of history with the rest of Somalia. But large parts only and not all history. And this is where the answer to the paradox might lie.
But the future is threatening. The past has been violent and bloody and the danger today is that an arrested development has resulted in paralysis and could end in decomposition. The majority of human beings who exist in that land and who are, willy-nilly, ‘Somalilanders’ are less than twenty years old. They live in the frozen dream of their parents and, without international recognition, they now have only three options: keep stagnating; join the confused anarchy of Southern Somalia, at the ‘most failed state’ level; or else jump into the boiling pot of the jihadist ideology. The world has a choice, and it could help Somaliland help itself. But does the world even know that Somaliland exists? This book is about trying to retrace its birth, explain its hard choices and doubts, understand from the inside what has made it. And then it tries to chart its pattern of survival since its painful beginnings, in the hope that, once all this has been said and done, it will enhance its powers of survival.
- The UNIQUE Case For The International Recognition Of Somaliland
- Somaliland: The Little Country That Could By David Shinn
- The World Can Learn From How Somaliland Overcame Militias
- KOIGI: Acknowledge Somaliland To Cure Festering Wound On Africa
- Somaliland Declaration On The Origin Of African Borders
- Somaliland Is A Beacon Of Democracy In An Unstable Region