Somaliland - "the Little Country that Could"
by Shannon Field in Global Dialogue, October 2003


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 One of the strategic objectives of the African Union and Nepad has been to enhance stability on the African continent, and reward countries that have demonstrated good governance. One of the greatest challenges facing the proponents of a renaissance in Africa has been the embarrassing reality of failed states on the continent. Somalia has epitomised what many analysts have called a failed state since the overthrow of Siad Barre in 1991.

 Following almost of decade of anarchy, a Transitional National Government (TNG) was established in 2000, but continues to have a tenuous grip on power in that it fails to control its territory, has failed to provide for the needs of its people, and is considered largely unrepresentative. The participants in the conference that established the TNG did not have mandates from their clan constituencies, many were from exile - not having re-visited Somalia, and there was poor representation from the clans in the North. There has also been widespread criticism that the President of the TNG is a former Minister of Siad Barre’s regime, and his cabinet is comprised of several recycled members of the former regime. The President of Djibouti who convened the conference assumed the prerogative of appointing 20 delegates to the parliament of Somalia. It is unprecedented that a President would appoint parliamentarians in a neighbouring country.

The international recognition of Somalia as a state came about through a negative admission procedure in 2000, in that no UN member expressed opposition to the President of the TNG taking Somalia’s seat at the UN general assembly during the Millennium Summit. Currently the TNG appears to be more a government in name only, hardly controlling the capital city Mogadishu, let alone the rest of the country.

This is in stark contrast to what has transpired in Somaliland lying to the North, which has sought international recognition as a sovereign state since 1991. Somaliland has established a constitution, functions as a state, and recently successfully organised local and presidential elections. Not only were the elections conducted in a transparent and professional manner, but they were peaceful, and by all indications an expression of the will of the people. Unlike the TNG, the government in the North controls its territory, delivers the necessary services to its people, has a functioning bureaucracy, and continues to rebuild its infrastructure. These accomplishments have been made in the absence of loans from the international financial institutions, aid from the donor community, and political recognition with foreign direct investment that flows therefrom.

 Many African states have been reticent to formerly recognise Somaliland out of fear that such recognition would open up a pandora’s box of conflicting claims affecting many states on the continent. The OAU’s declaration of the inviolability of borders made it difficult for Somaliland to receive recognition, despite the fact that it has a legal basis on which it claims the right to territorial integrity. Following independence from the British in 1960, Somaliland was in fact a sovereign state for a few days from 26 – 30 June, before deciding to unite with the South, which became independent from Italy on July 1, 1960. The 1991 Somaliland Declaration of Independence is thus couched as a reinstatement of the independence that it previously enjoyed. Despite the exceptional nature of the Somaliland case, African states have been reluctant to recognise its status as independent. Challenges to territorial integrity have produced bitter memories. The Katanga secession in the Congo plunged the country into five years of civil war, and the Biafra secession of 1967 led to two and a half years of civil war and a devastating famine.  The linkage between these secessionist movements and developments in Somaliland has been damaging to the case for international recognition. Many outside observers argue that the government in Somaliland cannot be viewed as a secessionist movement, but rather a government that has re-established its independence along the previously recognised colonial borders.

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