The Republic of Somaliland, often referred to as the “only democracy in the Horn of Africa,” has a fascinating and untold story. Despite facing challenges and being unrecognized internationally, this country has managed to maintain peace and stability, and hold multiple democratic elections. With a rich history of statehood dating back to British colonial times, Somaliland’s resilience and dedication to independence make it a unique and inspiring case in the region.

In this article, the author will explore the history and current developments of Somaliland, shedding light on its strategic location and significant trade hub status. It is time to re-recognize Somaliland based on its achievements and agreements within the African Union.

The piece below was written by Ismail Ali Asad

On February 18, 2024, the Somaliland parliament approved electoral laws, paving the way for presidential and political association elections. Somaliland’s democracy is a remarkable accomplishment in an unstable and undemocratic region. Somaliland has a vast history, and in this piece, I will look at some facts you should know about Somaliland.

Somaliland: A Modern History of Statehood

British Somaliland

Between 1884 and 1886, Somaliland leaders signed treaties with the British, which established Somaliland as a British protectorate; nevertheless, this was not the first time Somalilanders and the British had signed an agreement. According to a report submitted to the British parliament in 1960, Somalilanders and the British signed a couple of treaties in 1827, 1840, and 1884–1886, totaling six treaties and three extra treaties under the protection of the kingdom.


The British period in Somaliland began in 1887, 1888, and 1894, when the British drew the borders of the territory; these treaties established modern-day Somaliland. The British also formed military and police authorities at the period, known as the Somaliland Camel Corps and the Somaliland Scouts, respectively. In British times, Somaliland became a voice for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and Somaliland was an inspiration for the Horn of Africa region. In 1954, the British ceded Ethiopia the Hawd and Reserve areas, marking the beginning of Somaliland’s independence movement.

The Untold Story Of Somaliland, The Only Democracy In The Horn Of AfricaIn Somaliland, there were three parties. The SNL was founded in 1935, although Somaliland had parties before SNL, they were not as successful as SNL. While NUF and USC were established in 1954 in response to the Hawd and Reserve area issues. Somaliland attempted independence as a result of the treaty they signed with the British. Somaliland’s path to independence was relatively simple in comparison to other African countries. In 1960, the British authorities held elections in Somaliland, in which SNL won 20 seats, USC won 12, and NUF won one, and the new government, elected by the Somaliland people, made Somaliland independent of Britain.

After 73 years under British administration, on June 26, 1960, Somaliland gained full independence from the British. Somaliland received letters of recognition and congratulations from a number of countries, including five permanent members of the Security Council.

Somaliland and Somalia: Unification or Occupation? Debunking the Myth

There is widespread speculation surrounding the failed attempt of unification between Somaliland and Somalia. Some assert that they were a single entity even before colonialism in Africa, although there is no concrete evidence to support this claim. Despite lacking evidence, proponents continue to insist on these assertions.

On July 1st, 1960, the UN trusteeship over Somalia came to an end. Attempts were made to make the Somali Republic. The Somaliland parliament, elected prior to independence, drafted the Act of Union, comprising 23 articles, as President Egal stated. However, the Somali parliament did not immediately discuss this act. Instead, they postponed the discussion. When they eventually addressed the issue, they only adopted two out of the 23 articles proposed by the Somaliland parliament.

The Untold Story Of Somaliland, The Only Democracy In The Horn Of AfricaA vote on the temporary constitution was held in Somaliland and Somalia on June 20, 1961. Somalilanders, however, opted to abstain from voting. Although more than 70,000 Somalilanders cast ballots, 60% of them did not support the constitution. Their boycott was motivated by their conviction that the constitution, which was written before 1960, did not fairly represent the requirements of Somaliland.

In an attempt to reestablish Somaliland’s independence within its borders on June 26, 1960, the Somaliland Scouts attempted a coup in December 1961. Officers’ realization that Somaliland was an occupied territory rather than a consensual union served as the primary driving force behind this coup.

The Act of Union passed by the Somaliland parliament was never ratified, and the people of Somaliland did not take their rejection of the constitution seriously. As a result, they made an effort to reinstate Somaliland’s independence. The coup resulted in the disbandment of the Somaliland Scouts and Camel Corps, although the coup failed,

The commanders were found not guilty in 1963 by a military court on the grounds that Somaliland and Somalia were never formally unified. The fundamental query still stands: Was Somaliland occupied, or did Somalia and Somaliland ever genuinely unite? It seems more likely to me that it was an occupation than a union! What truly requires emphasis, is whether the Somali Republic ever truly existed, if the act of union was never ratified. In 2005, the African Union fact-finding mission highlighted that the act of union was never ratified.

The unlawful seizure of Somaliland led to numerous massacres and genocide targeting the Isaaq Clan. Estimates suggest that during the 1980s, around 200,000–500,000 Isaaq individuals were killed by Somalia’s government.

Somaliland Case: Justification and Re-recognition

In 1981, the SNM initiated a campaign to advocate for the independence of Somaliland. This movement garnered support from a majority of Somaliland elites and major urban centers within the nation. As a response, Somalia’s regime sought to suppress the Somalilanders during the 1980s, which only fueled increased support for the SNM. Following the formation of the SNM, Somalia’s regime intensified its oppressive measures against the people, leading to estimates by certain organizations suggesting that as many as 200,000–500,000 Somalilanders lost their lives as a result of genocide.

The Untold Story Of Somaliland, The Only Democracy In The Horn Of AfricaAfter a decade-long conflict, the SNM successfully liberated Somaliland. At a convention held in Burao in 1991, the elites of Somaliland decided to restore their independence and return to the boundaries of June 26, 1960. Even after Somaliland’s independence was proclaimed, there has been a lot of conjecture and criticism about its choice to stay independent. Some people assert that Somaliland was under union with Somalia, despite the fact that Somaliland was under occupation and never joined a union! Still, for the past sixty-four years, the world has insisted on a fake union, even though Somaliland has been occupied for thirty-one of those years. The government of Somalia has deliberately worked to hide the fact that there was no union!

Over the past three decades of independence, Somaliland has undertaken extensive efforts to rebuild cities devastated during the liberation war waged by Somalia’s government. Throughout this period, Somaliland has democratically elected five different presidents and maintains three active political parties formed by its people. Remarkably, despite enduring 31 years of occupation, Somaliland has refrained from annexing any other nation.

Despite not having official recognition, Somalilanders have shown a remarkable dedication to peace, acting as an inspiration and ray of hope for the entire region. Despite the fact that 35 nations recognized Somaliland when it gained independence from Britain on June 26, 1960. The time has come to resume the process of re-recognizing Somaliland. As the African Union stated in 2005, Somaliland will not open new conflicts in Africa; rather, its case is based on agreements made within the African Union. This is a crucial point to make it clear.

The Untold Story Of Somaliland, The Only Democracy In The Horn Of AfricaModern and Ancient Trade With Somaliland

Somaliland’s strategic geographical location has made it a vital trade hub for centuries, facilitating commerce with various regions around the world. Dating back to ancient times, Somaliland had a significant trading relationship with the Egyptians, who referred to it as the land of Punt, signifying its importance as a divine land. Somaliland traded luxurious goods such as gold, ivory, and gums with the Egyptians.

According to Pankhurst (1965), by the late nineteenth century, Somaliland served as the primary commercial center for eastern and southern Ethiopia, with Zeila and Berbera being the two main ports. Zeila was particularly crucial, acting as the primary city for trade with central Ethiopia. Ethiopian exports, including coffee and ivory, were transported through these ports. Additionally, Berbera played a vital role in trade, connecting with cities like Harar, as well as facilitating commerce with destinations such as Jeddah, Mocha, Aden, other Arabian ports, and even regions to the east.

In contemporary times, Somaliland holds significance as both a commercial and security center within the region. Berbera has served as a pivotal base for various empires, including the Ottoman, British, American, and Soviet, over the past two centuries. Notably, in 2016, Somaliland leased a military facility to the UAE air forces. Subsequently, the military airport underwent development and transformation into an international airport.

On January 1, 2024, a significant Memorandum of Understanding was signed with Ethiopia, where Somaliland agreed to lease the Ethiopian naval facility in the Gulf of Berbera for 50 years. Despite causing considerable controversy, both Somaliland and Ethiopia ensured the implementation of the MOU. Furthermore, Somaliland entered into a trade agreement with the UAE to construct and manage the Berbera Port jointly. The UAE-owned DP World firm invested $443 million in Somaliland, marking a notable shift in foreign investment since 2016.

Moreover, the UAE constructed a road linking Berbera with Ethiopia, signaling efforts to revitalize Berbera as a trade hub. Although Ethiopia held shares in Berbera in 2019, initially suspended, recent revisions to the agreement now open the possibility for Ethiopia to acquire a share in the Berbera Port after the MOU signed on January 1, 2024.

The Untold Story Of Somaliland, The Only Democracy In The Horn Of AfricaConclusion

Somaliland’s past and present proclaim it as the pinnacle of the region. Despite the multitude of lies propagated by Somalia’s government, it’s been challenging to discern the truth. However, for the past 64 years, including 31 years under occupation, Somaliland has endured. The African Union and the international community have fallen victim to the intricately woven fabric of deception.

Over the last 33 years, Somaliland has exemplified nation-building on all fronts. Despite a lack of recognition and without international assistance, Somalilanders have established their government and liberated their country twice.

Ismail Ali AsadIsmail Ali Asad,

A young Somalilander who currently studying Media and Communication. You can follow him on X, @ism9ilali