An “Oasis Of Peace” To Somalia’s Chaos by Charlotte Gleave Riemann & Sam Gregg-Wallace

The Greater Horn region of sub-Saharan Africa is one of the most volatile conflict zones in the world. As of 2008, Somalia in particular “claims the unenviable distinction of being the state most at risk of failure.”[1] Unbeknownst and unrecognized by most of the world, however, is that in northern Somalia there exists a breakaway republic known as Somaliland which, since 1991, has worked to establish itself as an independent, moderate Muslim democracy. The purpose of this paper is to recommend that the government of Canada recognize Somaliland’s sovereignty, first by taking an active role in facilitating Somaliland’s current voter registration campaign, then by establishing a consulate within the country, and finally by calling on the international community to officially recognize Somaliland’s independence as well.

The Somali people were colonized by three separate powers: France colonized present-day Djibouti, the north of Somalia was colonized by Britain, and south Somalia was Italian territory. After India’s independence in 1947, the strategic importance of Somaliland dissipated, and Britain’s attitude towards its protectorate became one primarily of neglect. As economic progress and development stagnated, cries within Somaliland for self-government and union with the neighboring Italian protectorate grew.  Britain was happy to relinquish the financial burden of the colony and granted Somaliland independence on June 26th, 1960.[2] Multilaterally acknowledged independence, recognized by both the United Nations and Canada,[3] lasted five days before Somaliland voluntarily united with the former Italian-administered UN trust territory of Somalia to create the present-day Republic of Somalia.


Somaliland’s enthusiasm for the union quickly waned. In their haste to reap the benefits of a united Somalia, leaders on both sides had given little thought as to the technicalities of amalgamation. As colonies, they had “two different judicial systems; different currencies; different organization… for the army, the police, and the civil service; different taxation and customs; different governmental institutions… ; different educational systems.”[4] They brought with them four different legal traditions: Italian law, British common law, Islamic shari’a, and traditional Somali law. A North-South divide was immediately apparent. Unification and democratization efforts were additionally undermined by the geographic distance between north and south which not only hampered political representation and communication but also significantly reduced projected industrial and economic gains.  Finally, Somalia fell prey to the all too common cause of political tension in postcolonial African states: the implementation of Western-style administrations and the appropriation of Western class systems and competitive values. In Somalia, this resulted in increasingly competitive clan-based political parties, who saw political power as a means of controlling state resources and establishing themselves firmly in the upper class. Less than a decade after the union, General Mohamed Siyad Barre overthrew the “highly dysfunctional” government of Somalia in the military coup of 1969.[5] So began the autocratic military rule and human rights violations that have characterized Somalia since independence.

Siyad Barre, a member of the Daarood clan of southern Somalia, staffed his military regime through nepotism, obliterating the interests and opinions of other clans. With respect to Somaliland’s quest for sovereignty, it is essential to know that in the 1980s Siyad Barre instigated a military campaign against northern civilians, killing 50 000, and displacing over 500 000 people.  Opposing clan-based guerrilla armies, including the northern Somali National Movement (SNM), overthrew Siyad Barre in 1991 but the anticipated return to peace never arrived. Instead, guerrillas from the south “reneged on an earlier agreement and unilaterally named a southerner president,”[6]ruling the country, de facto, through coercion and intimidation, increasing inter- and intra-clan conflict throughout Somalia. It was at this point, when the country was in the most volatile state to date, that the leaders of Somaliland declared their independence from the union with Somalia and it is from this point on that we see the respective futures of Somalia and Somaliland branching out in two very polarized ways.

Somalia has experienced ongoing conflict since 1991. There have been no fewer than 14 UN-sponsored peace and reconciliation attempts, and the UN peacekeeping mission to Somalia is the most expensive UN peacekeeping mission to date.[7] In 2005 an UN-sponsored Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was set up in the town of Baidoa, while a council of 11 militia-backed Islamic Courts came into power in Mogadishu.  The Islamic Courts, who promote radical Salafism and are suspected of having ties with Jihadist movements, won the support of the people by providing stability and security not offered by the TFG or the warlords. They hold far more power than the TFG and have announced their goal of creating a Somali state that would include Somaliland and the regions of Ethiopia. In 2006 Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia and temporarily dispelled the Islamic Courts but the intervention “which Washington backed and supplemented with its own airstrikes, has sown the seeds for an Islamist and clan-based insurgency in the future.” [8]

In comparison, Somaliland’s recent history has been one of the increasingly successful democratic developments. In 1996 regional elders, business elites, and clan leaders numbering 500 attended a shirbeeleed (clan conference) that saw power peacefully handed from the transitional government of the SNM to a civilian administration. Unlike many poor states that are “held back by administrative and political systems built separately from the societies that they are meant to serve,” Somaliland, having never been subject to foreign advice or interference, has an administrative structure formed solely on traditional and contemporary Somali values.  This means that instead of Western-imposed systems whose top-down implementation often leads to methods of governance that are “illegitimate, ripe for exploitation, and a major hindrance to democratization and development,”[9] Somaliland’s political system stresses Somali notions of governance through consultation and consent, thus attaining more internal and external legitimacy.[10] This mix of modern and traditional needs and values is addressed by having a governmental structure that is comprised of a president and a House of Representatives that are both directly elected by the people, and a Guurti or Upper House of Elders whose members are appointed by clan leaders.

Somaliland today operates on an annual budget of 25 million dollars.[11] Its largest source of income, other than money sent by the diasporic community, is livestock. The new government structure and new government policies have repeatedly gained the respect and support of the population.  Of note is the constitutional referendum called by Somaliland president Mohamed Ibrahim Egal in May of 2001; 1.18 million people voted and the new constitution supporting sovereignty acquired a 97% approval rate.[12]Furthermore, Somaliland held peaceful parliamentary elections in 2005 to elect a president and members to the House of Representatives. According to more than 70 international observers, the election was “the freest and most transparent democratic exercises ever staged in the Horn of Africa.”[13] These international observers recommended that the government create a standard form of identification and a national voter registration system to further ensure the legitimacy of their elections.[14] The government has taken up this daunting task but needs outside help if it is to have a system ready in time for the already postponed federal parliamentary and presidential elections now set for March 2009.

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“The Failed State Index 2008.” Foreign Policy 167 (2008): 64-77.

[1] The Failed State Index, Foreign Policy 167 (2008): 66.

[2] Mark Bradbury, Becoming Somaliland (London: Impressio, 2008), 32.

[3] Paulo Contini, “Integration of Legal Systems in the Somali Republic,” The International and Comparative Law Quarterly 16 (1967): 1088.

[4] Ibid. 1088.

[5] Seth Kaplan, “The Remarkable Story of Somaliland,” Journal of Democracy 19 no. 3 (July 2008): 146.

[6] Peter J. Schraeder, “Why the United States Should Recognize Somaliland’s Independence,” Centre for Strategic and International Studies: Africa Policy Forum,

[7] Jahzbahy, Iqba. “African Union & Somaliland: Time to affirm ‘Africa’s best-kept secret’?” Sub-Saharan Informer (March 17, 2006): 8.

[8] John Prendergast and Colin Thomas-Jensen, “Blowing the Horn,” in World Politics 2008/2009, ed. Helen E. Purkitt (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008), 123.

[9] Seth Kaplan, “The Remarkable Story of Somaliland,”:  144.

[10] Ibid. 144.

[11] International Republican Institute: Somaliland, “Parliamentary Election Assessment Report,” International Republican Institute, somaliland/pdfs/Somaliland2005ParliamentaryElections.pdf, 12.

[12] International Republican Institute: Somaliland, “Parliamentary Election Assessment Report”: 6.

[13] Seth Kaplan, “The Remarkable Story of Somaliland,”: 150.

[14] International Republican Institute: Somaliland, “Parliamentary Election Assessment Report,”: 6.

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