ABSTRACT: De facto states constitute an interesting anomaly in the international system of sovereign states. No matter how successful and efficient they are in the administration of their territories, they fail to achieve international recognition.

The main priority is given to maintaining their existence and to an effort to convince domestic and international actors of their right to independence. Currently, most scholars consider only six entities as de facto states: Somaliland, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, and Northern Cyprus.

The aim of this article is to determine which legitimization strategies for the right to independent statehood are applied by Somaliland representatives.


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The research is conducted through an analysis of official government documents supplemented with an interview with Abdillahi Duale, Somaliland’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, and two representatives of the African Union.

1. Introduction

Apart from standard states, which are subjects of international law and have full inner sovereignty, there are two other types of countries that go beyond the current typology. On one hand, there are internationally recognized states that are not able to collect taxes and in return offer at least basic social services and security to their citizens. In the taxonomy of weak statehood, these entities range from weak states, through failing states to collapsed states (Jackson 1993; Zartman 1995; Rotberg 2004).

The states in the second category are admittedly capable of performing sovereign legislative, executive, and judicial power over their territories, they struggle for independence, but lack international recognition, or are recognized by only a few other states (Pegg 1998). There are many terms commonly used in connection with such entities, for example, unrecognized states, separatist states, pseudo-states, or de facto states (Kollosov and O’Loughlin 1998; Pegg 1998; Riegl 2010; Šmíd and Vaďura, 2009).

Somaliland (Jamhuuriyadda Somaliland), which is our case study, is one of these de facto states, as we will call these entities in our text. Currently, there are only five other entities in the world which are generally[1]considered as de facto states: Abkhazia (Apsny), South Ossetia (Husar Iryston), Nagorno-Karabakh (Lernajin Gharabagh – Arcach), Transnistria (Pridněstrovskaja Moldavskaja Republika – PMR) and Northern Cyprus (Kuzey Kıbrıs Türk Cumhuriyeti).[2]

All of these were formed as a consequence of armed conflicts in the second half of the 20th century, and up to the present time, political representatives of these de facto states and their mother countries have not been able to find a mutually acceptable solution to the political status of the newly formed political entities (Hoch, Kopeček, Baar 2012). And thus, even though the armed phases of the conflicts have ended, the conflicts persist and are often labeled as being frozen, protracted, or intractable.3

De facto states function in many aspects (as will be described below) as specific actors in the international system of sovereign states. However, they are anything but rare phenomena. They have become relatively common since World War II. Though most researchers agree that currently there are only six such entities, there are several areas under territorial dispute and in the recent past, there have been many de facto states in almost all world macro-regions (e.g. Biafra and Katanga in Africa, Republika Srpska Krajina, and Republika Srpska in Europe, Tamil Eelam, East Turkestan Republic and Tannu Tuva in Asia, Anguilla in America or Republic of North Solomons in Oceania).

And because the political map of the world is not stable at the present time, it is highly probable that sooner or later new de facto states will emerge. As a matter of fact, de facto states are not a political-geographical oddity, but an important phenomenon that should be put under scrutiny.

Protection of the existence of de facto states and an effort to convince domestic and international actors of their right to independence are among the most important factors for each of the de facto state governments. Therefore, we see a legitimization strategy to gain international recognition as one of the key components of foreign policy in every de facto state. The aim of this text is to describe and analyze the nature of legitimization strategies for the right to independent statehood applied by the Somaliland representatives.

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