5.  Somaliland and the Montevideo Criteria of Statehood

Although some authors (e.g. Balthasar 2013; Hoehne 2011; Bryden 2003) focus on the negative sides of Somaliland’s statehood, with regard to the goal of our text, which is understanding the internal structures of statehood legitimization, on whose foundation the political representation of Somaliland bases the right to independent existence, in the following two chapters we will rely primarily on the opinions of the political representation of Somaliland presented in official government documents or the interviews mentioned in chapter 2.

An important part of the legitimization strategy of Somaliland`s government is pointing out the fact that Somaliland meets the basic attributes of statehood defined at the Montevideo Conference in 1933, i.e. It has a permanent population, a defined territory, a government and the capacity to enter into relations with other states (Government of Somaliland 2013a). The following pages thus specify the individual criteria of statehood applied to Somaliland in detail.

5.1 Permanent population

With regard to the nomadic way of life of clans in Somaliland, it is difficult to determine a precise number of inhabitants in this de facto state, but the population is estimated to range from 3.5 to 4 million (interview with Abdillahi Duale). To justify the claims for self-determination, the government of Somaliland emphasized nation-building after the declaration of independence and as a result, objective, as well as subjective signs of a nation, can be identified. The objective signs particularly include a different ethnicity, cultural differences, and an independent historical evolution.


The population of Somaliland is mostly formed of the Isaaq clan-family, where minorities include clans of the Daarood clan families (the Warsangeli and Dulbahante clans) and Dir (the Gadabuursi and Isse clans). The northern clans differ from the southern Somali clans in their way of life, where pasture grazing prevails in the north of Somalia, in the south settled farming is a way of livelihood (Lewis 2003: 22–24; Carroll and Rajagopal 1993: 673).

The subjective concept of a nation of Somaliland inhabitants is particularly based on the shared experience in the struggle, first against Britain as a colonial power, and later against the regime of Siyad Barre (Carroll and Rajagopal 1993: 673). The government also emphasizes achievements in the field of forming a national identity in the period after the declaration of independence and thus creating a distinct nation in Somaliland in contrast to southern Somalia (interview with Abdillahi Duale).

Legitimization Of Statehood In De Facto States A Case Study Of Somaliland5.2 Defined territory

The territory of the Republic of Somaliland is based on the frontiers of the former British Somaliland which was founded in the territory in 1887, and its frontiers were determined on the basis of international treaties among colonial powers in the region and Ethiopia between 1888 and 1897 (Bradbury, Abokor and Yusuf 2003: 457).

The Constitution of Somaliland also refers to the colonial past, where it defines the territory of this de facto state as follows: “The territory of the Republic of Somaliland covers the same area as that of the former Somaliland Protectorate and is located between Latitude 8°00΄ to 11°30΄ north of the equator and Longitude 42°30΄ to 49°00΄ east …” (Constitution of the Republic of Somaliland 2001).

The existence of colonial frontiers is an important prerequisite for the establishment of new states in Africa, and therefore, it forms part of the legitimization strategies of the Somaliland government (interview with Abdillahi Duale).

However, the real control over the entire Somaliland territory seems to be a problem with regard to the fact that the eastern regions of the state, Sool and Sanaag, are not only inhabited by two Isaaq clan sub-clans, Habr Jalo, and Habr Yonis, but also by the Harti clan group from the Daarood clan-family which consists of the Dulbahante and Warsangeli clans. These regions have common borders with Puntland, an autonomous region of the Republic of Somalia which defines itself as a state of the Harti clan group.

Puntland also defines its borders[4] on the basis of the geographic distribution of its clans, unlike Somaliland which defines its borders on the basis of the former colonial administration (Henwood 2007: 174; Hoehne 2011: 324).

Using the clan relationship of the Harti group, the administration of Puntland tried approaching the Dulbahante clan in the regions of Sool and Sanaag and provided important positions in the new administration to their members. Its aim was to turn these clans to the idea of the reunification of Somalia into a federal state which would include the whole territory of the former Republic of Somalia.

Paradoxically, its efforts resulted in the strengthening of the national identity of Somaliland which took form in the opposition against the destabilization efforts from Puntland (Hoehne 2011: 324–325). Several independent states have been declared in the disputed territory between Somaliland and Puntland which declared independence both from Somaliland and Puntland. The first of these was Maakhir, which declared independence on 1 July 2007, however, it was included in the territory of Puntland two years after its formation.

A new entity, Khatumo State, historically deriving its origin from the Warsangeli Sultanate and the Dervish state, has laid claim to a major part of the disputed territory since 2012. According to Crawford (2006: 48), the existence of border disputes does not deny the fact that the state in question controls its claimed territory, i.e. one of the Montevideo attributes of its statehood. Thus, the border disputes between Somaliland and Puntland cannot serve as an argument for questioning the statehood of Somaliland.

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