Somalia is an artificial country created by European intervention, while Somaliland deserves self-determination and recognition as a legitimate nation.

By Aaron Sobczak, Mises Wire

Created in 1960, the United Nations–recognized state of Somalia is, by almost all accounts, a failed state. Yet it continues to assert dominance over regions that are seeking further autonomy or independence. The UN has listed self-determination as a human right, but the global neighborhood rarely sees this human right respected or enforced by the UN. This is likely because of how slow-moving the UN can be and because the nations that make up the UN have conflicting national interests. A United Nations that is slow to act has led to de facto independence or autonomy in some regions, with international recognition sometimes coming later. This is seen in the two northern regions of Somalia.

The modern state of Somalia was not created through mutual agreement or due to a similar culture in the region but through European planning. The Italians had conquered the eastern coast and south of Somalia by 1927, with the British holding the northern region. World War II would pit the British against the Italians in East Africa. Mussolini invaded British Somalia in 1940 and unified both protectorates. The British later regained control of its portion and conquered Italian Somalia later in the war. The territories would remain separated after the end of World War II, with Italy and the United Kingdom preparing each territory for eventual independence. Unification occurred in 1960, forming the Somali Republic.


The following decades would be filled with conflict within the country and with its neighbors. The government was becoming more totalitarian, with an ostensibly communist leader. A civil war would break out, with the UN and the United States invading in 1993. As a reaction to the civil war, the people of Somalia became largely reliant on local self-rule, with some parts of the economy beginning to grow exponentially, while the northern region began to separate itself further.

While there was relative freedom and economic growth in the late 1990s, there was no centralized government, which made many in the international community nervous. Warlords were seen as unallowable to the United States, and it was time to install a permanent, centralized government. The US would then ally with warlords whom they had previously fought against in 1993 and give them direct aid in the hopes of forming a new government.

Somaliland Deserves Self-Determination, Should Be Recognized As A Legitimate Nation
Young girls on Daallo Mountain in the Sanaag region proudly wearing the flag of Somaliland. (c) Twitter

This eventually worked, although not in the way that the Central Intelligence Agency had hoped. In 2006, various warlord factions formed what would be called the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts. This group was Islamic but not terrorist in nature. This would change once Ethiopia invaded at the end of 2006, with help from the United States. This invasion was initially successful, the US-supported Transitional Federal Institutions had defeated the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts, and all seemed right in southern Somalia.

Unfortunately, blowback is persistent in these conflicts. Factions of the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts would form the terrorist group, Al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab became a significant military threat to the transitional government and to the Ethiopian troops stationed in the capital. Al-Shabaab has continued to be a thorn in the side of the federal government in Somalia, and it would not exist if the United States had not given billions of dollars in aid to warlords and assisted Ethiopia during its invasion.

During this time, northern Somalia would be growing increasingly separated and disillusioned with the rest of the country. Remember, the north of Somalia had been a separate entity for decades before being forced to integrate in 1960. The region of Puntland did not declare independence but did gain significant levels of autonomy. Somaliland declared independence in 1991, forming a separate government and economy. The transitional government in the south has been largely unable to challenge the declaration, but the declaration was not recognized internationally. It would go largely unnoticed, as the United States and the transitional government focused on fighting Al-Shabaab throughout the country.

Recent developments have changed this situation. Ethiopia, being a landlocked state, is naturally interested in a good deal on leasing waterfront property to build a port or naval base. Somaliland offered this, with Ethiopia providing tacit recognition of Somaliland in return. Somalia is, of course, rejecting the pretense of this deal outright and has cut diplomatic ties with Ethiopia.

Some defenders of the status quo may reject the idea of a new country in the Horn of Africa. However, the government of Somalia is having enough trouble dealing with Al-Shabaab and other rebel groups; it is not in a position to refuse self-determination. Somaliland has had a relatively free and stable government since it became practically independent in 1991. With its own currency, government, and now diplomatic relations, Somaliland should be allowed to secede from Somalia. Unique to some independence movements in Africa, Somaliland has shared little violence with the government of Somalia since 1991; thus, recognition would not be admitting defeat in a violent conflict.

The recognized right to self-determination is logically a right to secede after all, even if secession would change the global order in some way. The world before Somalian independence was dominated by imperial powers, with few independent states in Africa and Asia. Now there are almost two hundred recognized nations in the UN. Adding one more to the list is perfectly reasonable and would be a step toward further decolonization. Smaller polities are, of course, preferable to anyone who is a state-skeptic. The de facto country of Somaliland deserves international recognition not because it is more stable or free than Somalia but because every locality and community deserves self-governance if they wish for it.

About Aaron Sobczak

Aaron Sobczak

Aaron Sobczak holds an M.A. in Public Policy with an emphasis on International Policy. He has written for various outlets and especially enjoys researching topics related to international law, American history, and public choice. He is currently part of the Mises Institute’s apprenticeship program. Aaron lives in Lynchburg, Virginia, with his wife.

About Mises Institute

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