The international recognition of Somaliland would definitely enhance the progress, development, and stability in Somalia and the region.

By Dr. Hussein Mohamed Nur


The Horn of Africa region has always been a major cockpit for world politics and a playground for the world powers and the geopolitical strategy of Somaliland is important for the security of the region. Since Somaliland’s withdrawal from the union with Somalia in 1991, it has achieved relative peace, security, and stability and embarked on the development of successful democratization and pluralism.

The remarkable achievements Somaliland has made since then link it to the international agenda, i.e., in the prevention of international terrorism, sea piracy, and extremists, and the security of the region.


Somaliland after having emerged from the ruins, the destruction of the civil conflict and liberation struggle by the SNM, and a decade of oppression before that by the Barre regime, Somaliland has eventually produced a functional government complete with all the accouterments of modern statehood and most of the international community show commitment to strengthen to support democracy, pluralism, and good governance.

The peace and stability that Somaliland relished reinforce its role of acting as a bulwark against extremist ideologies and terrorist violence in the region. It was exactly because of that that some American scholars even made the argument that it is important to encourage Somaliland through appropriate economic, political, and security cooperation to anchor it within America’s orbit as an international society.

In the international political arena, Somaliland is considered as an African success story and has become a model for the rest of the conflict-ridden parts of the world particularly Africa including Somalia which has so far not produced tangible results in terms of peace, stability, and not to mention democratization and pluralism.

But Somaliland’s success lies within its expertise in peace, reconciliations, and nation-building and to overlook that is to undermine the international goals of poverty alleviation, achieving peace, stability, and good governance in the region. In consensus, Somaliland’s outstanding features are attributes by the grassroots involvement of the people; a positive role of traditional authorities; an asset of a culture of negotiation and conflict resolution, as well as temperance of ethnicity and deployment of constructive purposes.

Somaliland merits international recognition

The international recognition of Somaliland would surely boost prosperity in the Horn region and would be a credit to human rights and democracy in the region in general and in its neighbor, Somalia in particular. The last presidential election (2017) has further consolidated a successful pluralistic democracy in action. I retain that if the West is truly serious about democracy promotion, peace, stability, security, counter-terrorism, and curtailment of the spread of religious fundamentalism (a comprehensive package that Somaliland possesses and committed to sustaining), they should officially recognize it.

The Europeans pushed the issue of recognition to the Africans. But the African Union (AU) chose to be silent about the issue. Ironically, the AU’s overall mandate is to safeguard the wish of the African people and that, of course, includes the wish, motivation, and enthusiasm of the people of Somaliland who chose their destiny and self-determination and motivation.

Within the social context, self-determination is understood to be a natural phenomenon of human motivation concerned with the development and functioning of personality. The definitive goal of Somaliland is to stay out of a botched union to preserve its peoples’ interest who, by a wide majority (97%), voted to their fate in the 2001 constitutional referendum to revoke its union with Somalia and regain its sovereignty and independent status before unity with the south. It is, therefore, the peoples’ consecrated principle that needs to be respected by the African Union and the international community as that is concomitant with legality and human rights.

Comparatively, in Somalia, both earlier transitional governments (the TNG and TFG) failed and provided no beneficial impetus for the Somali society in the realization of peace, security, and stability. Both transitional administrations were classed as pretenders and predators. The present Federal government of Somalia, though a product of well-intentioned efforts of the international community to set up a proper democratic government, is technically and practically still indicates a failed state. It is merely ineffective and toothless and has no capacity or endurance to shed off the malaise of the tribal divisions it vows in theory.

The government is dominated by the popular 4.5 clans coded system topped up with an utter lack of security and peace. Despite being an undemocratic entity, the federal government of Somalia has been recognized by the international community. In addition, it is being kept floating above the water by injection of huge external finances and assistance from the international community. The security of Somalia is in the hands of foreign troops (AMISOM) consisting of six African nations with a huge budget that runs more than US$1.3 million a year (The Economist, 2016).

Somaliland merits International recognition. The case of Somaliland for international recognition is strong. The argument for the recognition of Somaliland is firmly grounded on legality. A robust legal ground clearly puts it forward to achieve its independent statehood that it has lost to Somalia in 1960 as some British lawyers (members of the European Parliament in Brussels stress. Somaliland has the essential paraphernalia for recognition as an independent state.

It is relatively peaceful and stable and developed visible engagement with the rest of the world with excellent relationships with independent states, governments and excellent relationships with the rest of the world (the international community, UN agencies, the Arab League, the EU, and the AU). The cooperation of Somaliland with the principal nations in the developed world (America, Europeans, and others) is irrefutable.

“Somaliland has undoubtedly the most democratic political system in the entire Horn of Africa”.  During the 2017 presidential elections, political pundits described Somaliland as the strongest democracy in East Africa. But International recognition is more to do with politics and is more dependent upon the prevailing world political game in play. In 2005 the African Union itself admitted that Somaliland’s claim for international recognition is not much about legality but that it remains in political limbo despite that it ticks all the statehood boxes.

Five years ago, in 2013, the international community set Somaliland and Somalia apart by setting mutually exclusive claims of both authorities in Mogadishu and Hargeisa. Hence, by endorsing a system named ‘the Somali Compact’ (SC). In fact, the SC indirectly settles Somaliland’s political destination.

An entire section of the compact ‘Somaliland Special Arrangements (SSA)’ acknowledges Somaliland’s development efforts and circles the institutionalization of its ongoing process and initiation with an overarching and equal partnership between the Somaliland government, its people, and the international community. The argument here is that Somaliland clearly moved from a non-existent object to an object of recognition in the international discourse.

Arguments against Somaliland’s international recognition mainly focus on false presumptions – that the recognition of Somaliland will open a ‘Pandora’s Box’ in Africa and that would, therefore, encourage other African entities to follow suit which would lead to claims of secessionists and that would, in turn, lead to instabilities in the continent. This is purely a hypothetical and delusive theory.

Somaliland’s case would not lead to redrawing of boundaries. In 1991 the Somaliland Protectorate borders during the colonial times were restored exactly as they were when it was granted independence on 26 June 1960, i.e., its same borders when it was granted independence by Britain and when at the same time it joined with Italian Somalia on its independence day (1 July 1960).

For more than thirty years Somaliland and Somalia were in a loose and illegal union. The union process took place in haste with no ratified or agreed Act of Union by the two states uniting. There were two distinctly different versions of the Acts of Union which made the union legally impossible and impractical. Nevertheless, that was overshadowed by the extreme public pressure and the highly charged emotion of the people who expected that would lead to Greater Somalia.

There was no interest and no time in the consideration of the fine details of the Union Act and any legal flaws or mistakes of technicalities. Therefore, the Act of the Union was an unequivocally illegal and invalid tool according to international law. Thus, there was no legal binding contract that could hold the two together. The illegality of the union was clearly proven by the case of the aborted junior military officers (discussed in an earlier part of this series and in details in the author’s forthcoming book ‘The Rebirth of Somaliland’).

Somaliland is wrongly described as ‘secessionist’ by those against international recognition of Somaliland or the unionists. However, Somaliland is not (and has never been) a region or a territory seceding from a country called ‘Somalia’. Somaliland is neither carving a region out of a country (Somalia) nor dismembering a sovereign state (Somalia). Somaliland is neither a territory incorporated into a sovereign state nor a territory seceding from a country called Somalia.

After more than three decades, the union did not work and the withdrawal of one (Somaliland) from the union is in full in accord with international law. Rather Somaliland only restored its own sovereignty and territorial integrity. Somaliland is NOT a secessionist. The case of Somaliland is a case of ‘dissolution’ of a failed union between two distinct separate independent states and there are precedent cases. There are precedents for Somaliland’s dissolution of the union.

A number of independent African independent states dissolved their unions before. For example, the union of the United Arab Republic between Egypt and Syria was dissolved in 1961; the union between French Sudan and Senegal (the Malian Federation) was dissolved in 1960; Senegambia (Gambia and Senegal) was dissolved in 1989. In other parts of the world, the chain of the breakdown of federations of the former USSR and Yugoslavia, East Timor among others are relevant examples.

The concept of a greater Somalia State which was a sacrosanct issue among all Somalis during the pre-independence period is nowadays twisted and equated the union of two Somali-inhabited territories (Somalia and Somaliland) as irreversible disguising the term ‘Somali Unity’.

The Somali unity which is staunchly and persistently expressed by Somalia is actually a kind of a daydream though technically, practically, and politically a dead and an obsolete term. Claims of Somali unity of two territories, instead of the five Somalis parts, has no bearings in modern politics. What Somaliland should do compromise, and is fond of, is the Somali identity, the socio-cultural and societal ties, the relationships, cooperation and mutual support between Somaliland and Somalia as two separate independent states.

This concept of Greater Somalia had faltered apart a long time ago. It is a surreal ambition and practically proven unachievable expectation. Each one of the five Somali-inhabited territories went on its own way one after the other. For instance, when Kenya achieved its independence from Britain in 1963, the Northeast Province (NFD) Somali-speaking province officially became part of the independent country of Kenya.

In 1977, Djibouti, another Somali-speaking territory with a large section of population Somali which was under French control was declared independent as the Republic of Djibouti. A third Somali inhabited territory (aka the ‘Ogaden’) together with the grazing lands of ‘Haud and Reserved Area’) of Somaliland, annexed to Ethiopia in 1954, presently forms part of the Ethiopian Democratic Federal State ‘the fifth region’.

In 1991 Somaliland (a fourth Somali-speaking territory) withdrew from the union with the South (Somalia). That was the end of the Somali unity (Greater Somalia notion or perception or dream. That literally put the nail in the coffin of the unity notion though still being voiced by unionists of Somalia and their cohorts. Those successive historic events rendered the Pan Somalia notion obsolete and utopian. The union of the two does not mean the unity of Somalis. The unity of all Somalis does not mean the union of only two Somali entities (Somaliland and Somalia).

The Montevideo Convention

Somaliland perfectly complies with the international Montevideo Convention Test. It fulfills all of the Convention’s Rights and Duties of States. The Convention holds the conditions of statehood against specific criteria: a permanent population, a defined territory, a functioning government, and the capacity to enter relations with other states.

The requirements of Article 1 of the Montevideo Convention on rights, duties, and requirements of a State are fulfilled. Somaliland has a permanent population (about 3.5 million) with a distinct colonial experience; a defined territory (area of 246,000???m2; a fully functioning government with essential fundamental institutions and structures; and has the capacity to enter into relationships with other states. Somaliland has undoubtedly established the most democratic political system in the entire Horn of Africa.

Somaliland withdrew from the union for a number of reasons:

a) Somaliland people expectations of the union ended with failure and Somaliland experienced injustices in power-sharing with South Somalia and

b) Somaliland people were oppressed, alienated, and subjugated followed by systematic destruction by its government and

c) the North did not have its share in development. Somaliland’s declared independence as a result of all Somaliland people’s wish and choice and its withdrawal does not contravene the principle of utti possidetis juris which should not be annulled or disregarded.

Utti possidetis juris is a principle of customary international law that provides emerging independent states to retain the same borders that their preceding dependent areas had before independence. What makes Somaliland an exception to the rule is the pertinent question that needs to ask. Utti possidetis has been already applied to some South American countries, Africa, Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, and others where centralized governments were broken up or where imperial rulers were replaced.

The principle of inviolability of boundaries is rightly applicable in Somaliland. Somaliland does not claim any land beyond its legitimate borders boundaries. By reclaiming its territorial integrity and its sovereignty, Somaliland’s borders or boundaries are coterminous with the borders of the British Somaliland protectorate during the colonial period. The Organization of African Union (OAU) Charter mentions the inviolability of colonial borders. This clause should be enforced and respected.

In the 1970s the late president of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere strongly made this argument for African countries not to violate the colonial borders they inherited during independence. The same argument was used against the union of all Somali-inhabited territories that the Somali Republic in search for the unity under the popular notion of Greater Somalia.

The colonial borders of Somaliland have been confirmed by an AU Fact-Finding mission to Somaliland in 2005 and concluded that Somaliland’s case is unique and self-justified in African political history and, therefore, that should not be linked to the notion of ‘opening Pandora box’. Somaliland is not breaching the clause. It is not causing disintegration of the colonial borders of Somalia as expressed by the official report of the AU fact-finding mission to Somaliland in 2005 led by the Deputy Chairperson of the AU, Patrick Mazimbaka. Whilst the African Union acknowledges Somaliland’s unique circumstances in principle, yet it chose not to take Somaliland seriously.

The mandate of the OAU (AU’s predecessor) is to support respect for the colonial borders. The borders of Somaliland are the colonial borders. The 1963 AU Charter recognizes the independent states of colonial territories and the borders they inherited from colonial regimes.

In accordance with an OAU decision in 1964 that became operational in July of that year, article 16(1) of the OAU constitution clearly clarifies the colonial borders. Similarly, the AU Charter has its predecessor’s (OAU Charters II and III) in its original form and not even amended, setting the responsibility of the organization to respect borders left behind by colonial governments and the integrity of the independent states formed therewith after.

The borders of Somaliland have been clearly demarcated according to international law through international agreements made by Britain with France (The Anglo-French Treaty of 1888); Italy (The Anglo-Italian Treaty of 1894) and the Ethiopian Emperor (The Ethiopian Treaty of 1897). Without exception to other African independent states, Somaliland’s borders are also internationally established and supported by the principles of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) (AU’s parent organization).

The borders drawn by the colonial powers are not based on lineage but on land like many other African countries. The division of people of Somali ethnic origin and their spread in different parts of the region was therefore not based on ethnicity. Like Somalis, many Africans such as the Fulani (in Nigeria, Niger, Chad, etc.) inhabit in lands within different neighboring countries. Somali people live in different territories in East Africa (Kenya, Djibouti, and Ethiopia).

In fact, the people of Somaliland have a distinct identity. The North is inhabited by a diverse number of Somali clans or tribes sharing the same culture and tradition who were living together since time immemorial. As a result of that, they have developed a sense of deep political identity.

The lack of international recognition of Somaliland is often used as a smokescreen to overshadow Somaliland’s achievements. One of the most common, but rather weak, arguments against the independence of Somaliland is that it cannot secede from Somalia because of the nativity of Somalis and that Somalis speak the same language, share a common culture and have the same religion (Islam) as the people of Somalia.

A glimpse on the currently existing more than 50 separate Arab countries that are internationally recognized as independent states with different borders despite them having a common language (Arabic), the same religion (Islam), and sharing common culture and traditions. After all, it was the Somaliland people who chose, in the first place, to unite with their brothers in Somalia with no strings attached to. It is equally the Somaliland peoples’ who wished to exercise their right to reclaim their independence back.

Since its withdrawal, Somaliland proved to be a shining beacon of hope, peace and a model of democracy in the African continent. This was achieved through a carefully planned comprehensive process of reconciliations between rival clans. Somaliland is internationally ‘recognized’ as an oasis of peace in an otherwise turbulent region. Somaliland has taken full advantage of democratic principles for the formation of a pluralistic society in which four free and fair democratic elections (two presidential elections, a parliamentary and a municipality election) witnessed by international observers and covered by the world media took place. Four presidents, elected through the ballot have changed presidencies.

The third presidential and Parliamentary elections are planned in 2017. In Somalia, the 2016 elections took place in a bidding war financially both for candidates amidst corruption and foreigners who have diverse interests. Somaliland has established a successful democratic process and pluralism. It has a series of direct successful elections (six of them). The fact that a presidential candidate lost the vote by a mere 80 votes in public polls (2003) and conceded defeat is extraordinarily a miracle in African politics. That shows how serious Somaliland is about the principles of democracy.

Contrarily, Somalia’s feet are still stuck in the mud of the 4.5 clan code system that demeans and marginalizes minority clans. It has not yet stepped on the democracy ladder. 2016 despite the corruption and sale of votes of its indirect elections, Somalia is as yet undemocratic even though it is being supported by the international community for political reasons.

In conclusion, Somaliland asserts independence as a separate independent and holds a strong card, even stronger than the ones Bosnia-Herzegovina had, to qualify for independent status. Since Somaliland complies with the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States that holds the conditions of statehood. This constitutes a compelling legal basis for international recognition, under international law. Somaliland has a proven right to abrogate from the union because its people are not satisfied with the union.

Somaliland is a model for other conflict-ridden states of Africa by virtue of its peculiar successful peace-building process and democratization. It is indisputably one of the most democratic political systems in the entire Horn of Africa. It is known to be a unique experiment and a miraculous example to the rest of the African continent in achieving a lasting peace and security by virtue of unsupported efforts and hard work.

Without foreign aid money, Somaliland did not a debacle for nearly 26 years and did not disintegrate as many advocated and probably wished. The resilience and progress are mainly due to Somaliland’s entrepreneurial streak and bare bones of efficiency.

A two-state approach is the only way forward to the solution of the political stalemate between Somaliland and Somalia as two independent Somali states will be working together in collaboration with each other and maintaining cooperation in the economic, socio-cultural, and traditional aspects.

Somalia’s newly-elected government led by the new president, Farmajo and his Prime Minister (Khayre) stand tough challenges in future negotiations with Somaliland. They have a mammoth task to bring Somalia out of the impasse. The government is not a product of directly conducted democratic elections. It came in the most corruptive manner where votes were marketed and sold openly with huge finances. The government is also a product of the corrupt duopoly system (between two major clans, Hawiye and Darod) as Professor Samatar stresses.

The international recognition of Somaliland would definitely enhance the progress, development, and stability in Somalia and the region. Recognition of Somaliland would be the most cost-effective means to ensure security in an otherwise troubled and problematic region.

In pursuit of international recognition, Somaliland should develop a stratagem for convincing the rest of the world. There is a need for strategic thinking spearheaded by competent multi-disciplined with professionals including technocrats and politicians. The road to achieving international recognition is still long, tortuous, and winding. Comprehensive thinking, approach, and the development of a strategic plan are imperative.

Next: The Rebirth Of Somaliland (19): Somaliland-Somalia Talks


The Rebirth Of Somaliland (17): An Inspiration Of Democracy And Pluralism In Africa

The Rebirth Of Somaliland (16): The Peace Building And Reconciliation – Somaliland Style

The Rebirth Of Somaliland (15): Crimes Against Humanity In Somaliland

The Rebirth Of Somaliland (14): The Somali Government’s Responses To The SNM Invasion

The Rebirth Of Somaliland (13): How The SNM Invaded The North

The Rebirth Of Somaliland (12): The Peace Accord Between Barre And Mengistu – The Deal And Its Implications

The Rebirth Of Somaliland (11): Scorched Earth Policy In The North And The Letter Of Death

The Rebirth Of Somaliland (10): The Gezira Beach Atrocity (The Massacre Of The Northern Youth)

The Rebirth of Somaliland (9): Hargeisa Group Hospital (The UFO Group)

The Rebirth of Somaliland (8): The Epoch Of Military Dictatorship And The Repression Of The North

The Rebirth of Somaliland (7): Operation Birjeex (SNM Rescue Unit)

The Rebirth of Somaliland (6): The SNM Liberation Struggle And Tactical Operations

The Rebirth Of Somaliland (5): The Formation Of The SNM And Liberation Struggle

The Rebirth Of Somaliland (4): The 1961 Aborted Military Coup

The Rebirth Of Somaliland (3) – Northern Mistrusts And Discontents: Origins And Emergence Of Early Signs

The Rebirth Of Somaliland (2): The Process Of The Union And The Act Of Union

The Rebirth Of Somaliland (1): History of Somaliland


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