4. Creation of Somaliland

Somaliland is a territory situated in northern Somalia covering an area of 137,600 square kilometers and includes the regions of Awdal, Woqooyi Galbeed, Togdheer, Sahil, Sool, and Sanaag. This is a semi-arid savannah region divided into three topographic zones. In the north, on the coast of the Gulf of Aden, there is a coastal plain with a hot climate; further to the south there are highlands with a milder climate, but a lack of water sources. The third topographic zone includes the region of Haudu with water sources, i.e. the region is suitable for agriculture.

During the year the territory of Somaliland experiences two periods of rain, nevertheless the region often suffers from a lack of rain and long droughts. This is the reason why the most widespread source of livelihood in the region is pasture farming and agriculture-dependent on irrigation in some areas. As a result of the civil war, some pasture communities moved to larger cities, the largest of which is the capital of Hargeysa (Bradbury 2008: 50–52).

Somaliland has a strategic position because its territory is situated on the coast of the Gulf of Aden. Important sea routes from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal where oil from the Arab Peninsula is transported, lead along its coast. The geopolitical and the geostrategic position of the region is also emphasized in relation to the combat against terrorism, arms smuggling, and drug trafficking (Huliaras 2002: 172–173).


Modern Somaliland corresponds to the area of the former British protectorate of Somaliland which became a member of the union with the former UN Trusteeship under the administration of Italy in 1960, creating the united Somali Republic.

The de facto state of Somaliland was created in response to the repressive rule of General Siyad Barre, who seized power in Somalia by means of a military coup in 1969. During Barre’s government clan identities were politicized and northern Somali clans were marginalized, in particular, the Isaaq clan.

Consequently, opposition groups were created, of which the Somali National Movement (SNM), which removed Barre’s regime at the beginning of 1991, played the most important role for the future development of Somaliland. On his removal, however, a power vacuum occurred and individual clan factions in the south of the country tried to seize power.

The development in the north of the country took a different direction when on 18 May 1991 the leaders of the SNM from the Isaaq clan, supported by representatives of other Somaliland clans, declared the establishment of an independent state – Somaliland at the conference in Burao, the so-called Grand Conference of Northern Nations (Shirweynaha Beelaha Waqooyi) (Bradbury, Abokor and Yusuf 2003: 457; Huliaras 2002: 160).

In fact, this was not a declaration of secession from Somalia, but the leaders of the SNM declared that Somaliland “reverts to the sovereign status [it] held at independence from Britain on June 26, 1960 …” (Quotation in Farley 2010: 783). Thus, this was a one-sided cancellation of the Act of the Union, the basis on which the Italian and British Somalia were united in 1960.

The original essence of the ideology of the SNM was not the idea of an independent status for Somaliland, but of overthrowing the regime of Siyad Barre and creating a representative government with guaranteed autonomy for northern Somalia (Bradbury, Abokor and Yusuf 2003: 457; Bryden 2004: 24). With regard to the fact that after the overthrow of President Barre it was the United Somali Congress (USC) which seized control over Mogadishu, it was obvious that the southern Somali clans would re-try to concentrate power into their hands, thus the representatives of the SNM decided to withdraw from the idea of a united Somalia.

Moreover, the leaders of the Isaaq clan enforced the idea of an independent Somaliland as the goal of their fight in the civil war, and the independent existence of Somaliland was supported by inhabitants of northern Somalia at demonstrations in cities, such as Hargeysa, Berbera or Burao (Brons 2001: 245–246; Bryden 2004: 24; Hoehne 2009: 258).

Another factor which helped the leadership of the SNM in their decision to accept the declaration of independence was the development in Mogadishu where Ali Mahdi, a leader of one of the armed groups, had himself declared president without consultation with the other opposition movements. This news suggested that the situation in Mogadishu could turn into long-term battles for power among individual fractions. Therefore, it was the interest of the SNM and Somaliland, to dissociate from events in southern Somalia (Hoehne 2011: 312).

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