The Tragedy Of Africa’s Secret State: Somaliland, an independent state located in the Horn of Africa, has been plagued by conflict and tragedy for decades. Despite its efforts to establish itself as a stable and democratic nation, it remains unrecognized by the international community
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Summary of the Transcript
Despite its size and population of 4.5 million, Somaliland is not legally recognized as a state. The country has its own government, borders, currency, and army, but no other nation recognizes its existence. The government in the capital of Hargeisa controls the nation’s borders, and it has consulates in Washington DC and hosts official missions from the UK, UAE, and Turkey. Despite its unique status, Somaliland is part of the larger basket case of Africa’s secret state, which has a significant impact on its millions of citizens.
Somaliland, a relatively stable country with no significant terrorist attacks since 2008, has a relatively stable economy with a GDP of two billion dollars and a crime rate comparable to most American cities. The dominant clan is the culturally distinct Isaaq, but the country’s success in not being Somalia is attributed to its ethnically similar population and clan background.
Somaliland’s lack of recognition and lack of aid and international business has led to its isolation and a lack of access to basic global services.
The region’s history is built on colonialism, exploitation, and unimaginable violence.
In 1839, the British Empire established an agreement with tribes across the Gulf to supply goats to feed the garrison at its new coaling station in the port of Aden. This led to a series of internal crises that put Egypt on its own path to colonial domination. In 1888, London signed new treaties with coastal tribes, creating the protectorate of British Somaliland. This marked the beginning of a divergence from Somalia, as the British considered it a backwater and left the country to run itself according to old clan structures.
In 1899, a religious rebellion broke out in Somalia, leading to the British colonial administration being confined to the coast. The Italian colonial project was more hands-on, allowing the Italians to impose a top-down structure on Somalia. Old clan politics were erased or sidelined, and the process only grew steam after the first fascist governor was appointed in 1923.
By 1936, Somalia was no longer an independent colony but a mere province of Italian East Africa alongside Eritrea and newly annexed Ethiopia. By 1940, Somaliland and Somalia had been under separate administrations for over 50 years. The two colonies were soon joined by one of the most disruptive events of all time, World War II. In 1950, both British and Italian adventures in the Hall of Africa were over, and both nations were given 10 years to prepare their Somali colonies for freedom.
The British bowed out first, but only on June 26, 1960, when London’s rule over Somaliland came to an end. The new state was recognized by 35 countries, including China, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Ghana, Israel, Libya and the Soviet Union. The politics of the country were determined by clan allegiances, leading to the Somali National League dominating the new legislature. The league wanted to take their new nation into union with its brother the day after the botched ceremony of her independence.
Somali society revolved tightly around clans, with the dominant clan being the Isaaq. The dominant clan became one of the four major clans of the Somali state, along with the Darrod, Hawiye, and Dirr. The dictatorship was a mixture of ideas stolen from North Korea and China and was liberally spiced with clan rivalry. The privileging of Barre’s clan spurred eye-watering levels of resentment in an Isaaq-dominated Somaliland. However, since this was a dictatorship, there was little people could do about it.
The trouble began in 1977 when the Haile Selassie was overthrown and Ethiopia plunged into chaos. The Ogaden War, intended as a land grab, triggered a major backlash, and Somalia’s Soviet backers ditched it to support the more geopolitically significant government in Addis Ababa, making him look weak.
In 1981, the Somali National Movement (SNM) was founded by dissidents in London with the goal of removing Siyad Barre from Somaliland. The SNM succeeded within 10 years, but at the cost of hundreds of thousands of Isaaq lives. The civil war in Somaliland escalated in 1988, with Siyad Barre’s forces killing 200,000 people and causing the Hargeisa Holocaust. The city was also bombed by fighter jets, causing mass graves and a grim legacy. The SNM’s actions emboldened other clan militias to rise up against the dictator, who was widely despised.
The central government collapsed in 1991, and Siyad Barre fled the country. The region’s unique history led to a Grand Shir meeting in 1991, which aimed to hammer out a peace deal. However, the proclamation issued in 1991 was breathtaking, as Somaliland would dissolve its union with Somalia and become an independent republic. The SNM faced challenges in forging a successful new state, as no one believed in its existence. Fighting broke out between some SNM sub-clans, and the SNM’s gorillas were still the only law of the land.
At independence, Somaliland controlled 60% of its territory, but most infrastructure had been destroyed. The end of armed groups meant the end of clan conflicts and a chance to rebuild cities. However, it took nearly another 10 years before Somaliland made its last great leap towards stability. In 2001, a referendum approved the concept of multi-party democracy, with the first vote held in 2002. This was mostly a success, as multiple presidential and parliamentary elections have taken place in Somaliland, despite the authoritarian neighbors of Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Somalia.
Somaliland has shown signs of improvement in 2021, with cities rising, civil society improving, private businesses flourishing, and the education system improving. The country’s security situation is light years ahead of neighboring Somalia, and it hasn’t seen a major terrorist attack since 2008.
However, the world still struggles to accept this poor but stable nation, as many people want it to fail for the United Nations, the United States, and the EU. The African Union has argued that redrawing colonial borders on the continent would lead to chaos and bloodshed, which could lead to secessionist movements and civil wars. Somalilanders have answers to these concerns, as they have not been the first African nation to end a voluntary union.
Foreign investors are starting to invest in Somaliland, with Dubai’s DP World signing an agreement to invest heavily in the port city of Berbera, including plans to develop a special economic zone. This represents hope and hope for the future of Somaliland, which has been starved of foreign investment for three decades.
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