Former British colony Somaliland is seeking recognition as an entity free from its paralyzed southern neighbor, Somalia. Somaliland stands accused by the AU of the cardinal sin of secession.

Having vacated the chair of the African Union, South Africa is now freer to step out of line on controversial issues on the continent.

The case is growing for the country to do this on one of the prickliest matters: Somaliland. The former British colony is seeking recognition as an entity free from its paralyzed southern neighbor, Somalia.


Law advisers from the South African Department of Foreign Affairs support Somaliland’s argument for independence. ”It is undeniable that Somaliland does indeed qualify for statehood, and it is incumbent upon the international community to recognize it,” read the report that was recently commissioned by Minister of Foreign Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma.

Former British Colony Somaliland Has Case For Independence
South African Minister of Foreign Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma

The government’s lawyers agree that ”any efforts to deny or delay would not only put the international community at the risk of ignoring the most stable region in the Horn [of Africa], it would impose untold hardship upon the people of Somaliland due to the denial of foreign assistance that recognition entails.”

Somaliland stands accused by the AU of the cardinal sin of secession. Absolute recognition of colonial boundaries, logical and historical reality notwithstanding, was a preoccupation of the AU’s predecessor, the Organization of African Unity (OAU).

The OAU feared that if ever this can of worms were opened, it would lead to incessant border wars.

This does not apply in the case of Somaliland, which broke an inequitable and eventually genocidal union with Somalia 12 years ago without claiming a centimeter more than the territory it had at independence in 1960.

The South African law advisers address this issue too.

”The interest of world peace and stability require that, where possible, the division or fragmentation of existing states should be managed peacefully and by negotiation. But where this is not possible, as is the case with Somalia, international law accepts that the interests of justice may prevail over the principle of territorial integrity,” they say.

The document on Dlamini-Zuma’s desk was supported this week by the assertion from the Brussels-based think tank, the International Crisis Group (ICG) that Somaliland’s demand for recognition presents the international community with stark choices.

”The question confronting the international community is no longer whether Somaliland should be recognized as an independent state, but whether there remain any viable alternatives,” the ICG report says.

It says that the international community could either “develop pragmatic responses to Somaliland’s demand for self-determination or continue to insist upon the increasingly abstract notion of the unity and territorial integrity of the Somali Republic”.

It warns that the latter course is likely to lead to a new round of civil war in Somalia.

The ICG says an international fact-finding mission should visit Somaliland to assess the situation and ”recommend policy options”. It also calls on the AU to grant Somaliland “observer status pending a final decision on its international status”.

Dlamini-Zuma knows South Africa’s decision will be key to the rest of the continent’s action. Earlier this year she invited a Somaliland ministerial delegation to South Africa and she has sent senior officials there.

Former British Colony Somaliland Has Case For Independence
South African businessman, Tokyo Sexwale

South African businessmen, including Mvelaphanda’s Tokyo Sexwale, recently visited Somaliland, which offers interesting mineral resources and, more importantly, the political stability in which to exploit them.

The country’s democratically elected President, Dahir Rayale Kahin, this week reiterated his refusal to join the stuttering peace process.

His Information Minister, Abdillahi Muhammad Duale, said Somaliland would welcome any peace deal between the parties “in the former Italian Somalia”, but noted that “this has nothing to do with Somaliland”.

Du’ale was reacting to media reports that a Kenyan government delegation was on its way to Somaliland to try to convince it to attend the talks in Nairobi. He said any Kenyan delegation to Somaliland was welcome “so long as they are coming to discuss bilateral issues and ways of developing bilateral relations”.

He warned, however, that Somaliland “will not entertain any delegation whose objective is to bring us into these talks. Such a mission will not be welcome, and they should not waste their time.”

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