Activists within Somaliland argue that international recognition could lead to economic growth.
By: Ethan Tyrrell
By almost every measure, Somaliland has been an independent country since 1991. They have their own functioning government, a flag, a currency, a police force, and a population that almost universally considers themselves a country. In 2001, 97% of Somaliland voters stated support for their independence, and it does not seem like this number has gone down.
But according to international recognition, Somaliland is simply part of Somalia. Not a single country recognizes Somaliland as a country. Neither does the United Nations. Nor does the African Union. This makes Somaliland, officially the Republic of Somaliland, one of the most unique cases of statehood around the globe.
Officially, Somaliland and Somalia have been united since 1960. Before this, both Somaliland and Somalia were territories under European rule from Great Britain and Italy, respectively. In 1960, they both gained independence and united as one Somalia. The shared cultural heritage theoretically made this a natural fit, but many in Somaliland considered themselves more strongly tied to Somaliland rather than the new country.
This intensified when Somalia came under the rule of Siad Barre in 1969 following a military coup. Barre’s rule was oppressive and was especially unpopular in the northern parts of Somalia that are today Somaliland. During the 1980s, the Somali National Movement based in present-day Somaliland rebelled against Barre’s regime, and after a civil war, declared itself an independent country.
Since then, Somaliland has functioned as its own country with no major opposition from Somalia. Whereas Somalia has been considered unsafe and unstable due to terrorists and pirates, Somaliland is regarded as being one of the most stable parts of the region.
Despite its stability, Somaliland is also one of the poorest countries in the world. The largest industry in Somaliland revolves around livestock, and this does not support the population. Many young people in Somaliland intend to move away from the country to make a living, and some in Somaliland rely on family members to send money from abroad. Activists within Somaliland argue that international recognition could lead to economic growth.
So, why does no one recognize Somaliland as a country?
What sets Somaliland apart from any other unrecognized country is that there really is no reason for anyone not to recognize them, but this is also, in a way, the country’s downfall. There are no real political stakes to recognizing Somaliland like there are other states. For example, take Taiwan; whether a country recognizes Taiwan as an independent state or as a territory under Chinese control demonstrates a country’s official stance toward power structures in that region. The same is true for Palestine with Israel. But there really is no grander political movement at play with Somaliland and Somalia. For most countries, there is no real reason to support or protest Somaliland, so the status quo remains.
Also, it would take a lot of work to print new maps that show Somaliland. That is a joke, but it is sort of true. Some of the most recently recognized independent countries in Africa, South Sudan and Eritrea, have not become safer or more stable since gaining independence. Because of this, the international community has become apathetic toward independence movements like Somaliland’s. Even though Somaliland has functionally been independent for three decades, if other countries recognized this, it could require extra effort from organizations like the UN or African Union to fully accept them. It could also lead to other territories trying to gain recognition, which could disrupt international relations.
And so that’s the unique limbo that Somaliland sits in. It’s a country that isn’t a country, and the world looks at it with overall apathy.
Top Image: Anoop Santhakumar
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