The flag of Somaliland


Did you know that there is a country called Somaliland, complete with a government, a currency and territorial boundaries? Well, if you didn’t, now you do.

Somaliland is a de facto sovereign state at the horn of Africa but de jure part of the Federal Republic of Somalia. This generally means that by fact and by all definitions of a state, Somaliland is. Still, when it now comes to the law and international recognition, such a country is non-existent and is a territory within the Federal State of Somalia. That is kinda complicated, I know. So let us go back to history and see how we got here. During the scramble and partition of Africa, the region where the Somali people live around the horn of Africa was divided into three and taken by three colonial powers; the British who took up British Somaliland, which is currently the contested Somaliland that is point of discussion today, then the France took up French Somaliland which is currently Djibouti and finally Italy took the Southern stretch called Italian Somaliland.

On June 26, 1960, British Somaliland (current day Somaliland) got its independence from the British, staying as an independent sovereign state for four days before joining the former Italian Somaliland to form the Union of Somali Republic, which is the current internationally recognized Somalia on July 1, 1960. This union was inspired by Somali nationalism, and such unions were not strange at that time because countries were divided by the colonialists but had extensive cultural similarities united upon independence, a good example being Zanzibar and Tanganyika, that united to form the United Republic of Tanzania. Senegal and Gambia also tried to form a union and even created seven years of Senegambia Confederation, but this plan did not see the light of day. Back in Somalia, French Somaliland, now Djibouti remained under the French dominance, having the name Cote Francaise des Somalis. It got its independence in 1977 as the Djibouti Republic.

After July 1, 1960, the fragile Union between the former Italian and British Somalilands took shape and continued to be administered as a sovereign territorial state with Mogadishu in the former Italian Somaliland as the capital. This unity did not last long. A year later, disagreements started when a constitutional draft that seemed to favour the Somalis in the former Italian Somaliland was subjected to a referendum that the Somalis in the former British Somaliland opposed. The Constitution passed, and the southerners entrenched their dominance in the government. This led to resentment from the northerners. In the same year, soldiers from the former British Somaliland tried to stage a revolt but it was quickly quashed. This attempted revolt gave the Mogadishu Southern Somalia-dominated government a reason to increase their dominance over the northerners further and rule over them with impunity, marginalizing them at everything for almost a decade.

In 1969, President Ali Shermarke was murdered and the army led by Major General Said Bare staged a coup that overthrew the government. Said Barre then installed himself as the President and ruled for 22 years. Because of him, the former British Somaliland, or the northern region of Somali Republic, decided to secede and form their own country. The reign of Said Barre was autocratic, dictatorial, despotic and extremely violent. He banned all political parties and suppressed at will. It was at this period that the former Somaliland people started campaigns to withdraw from the union of Somalia and get back their sovereignty that they surrendered on July 1, 1960. They started uprisings in different towns, especially Hargeisa led by Derg, a military junta in Ethiopia. The resistance met harsh and brutal counters from Said Barre led government. When the insurgencies from the north increased, the government started genocidal attacks on the people of Isaaq and Hawiye clans, especially in the twilight years of Said Barre’s administration. During this time, the situation was similar even in the southern part, where people were dissatisfied with the autocratic government of Barre. Barre grew lonely in his government as rebels started building in. His government was being attacked from all fronts. On January 26, 1991, Said Barre was forced to flee Mogadishu and relinquish power. This was the beginning of Somaliland.

After the ouster of Said Barre, the groups north of Somalia (former British Somaliland) started campaigns of seceding from Somalia and even appointed a president however, after the new government came up in Mogadishu, the Northerners decided to reconcile with the southerners and remain as one country but with semi autonomous authority. This worked for almost a decade as the post Barre government tried to stamp its authority with the growing number of rebels. In 2001, Northern Somalia, or the former British Somaliland held a referendum where the majority wished to secede from Somalia and form their own their own territory called Somaliland. This was the birth of Somaliland as a sovereign state.

Map of Somaliland

For a territory to be recognized as a state, it must meet four characteristics which are: population to be governed, a territory to govern, a government to govern and sovereign power to govern itself. Somaliland meets this criteria. Somaliland has a government divided into the executive, the parliament and the judiciary. The President of Somaliland is Muse Abdi, and the country identifies as a multiparty democracy with elections every five years. Pundits argue that Somaliland is one of the most democratic countries in Africa. The country uses Somaliland Shillings regulated by the Central bank of Somaliland. The capital city is Hargeisa which has an airport which is the gateway to the country.

The country, however, faces an obstacle of international recognition. The United Nations, African Union and the United States have blatantly refused to recognize Somaliland, citing that it is still part of the war-torn Somalia and administratively falls under Mogadishu. The government of Somaliland has tried so hard to prove their legitimacy as a state, including applying to the Commonwealth as Observer State. In spite of that, some countries have openly recognized this horn of Africa country and co-operate with it in business and foreign affairs. Ethiopia, Djibouti, Seychelles and Taiwan are some of them. South Africa and Britain have hastened their cooperation as well, but have remained non-committal in recognizing Somaliland.

On the other end, the Federal Republic of Somalia still insists that Somaliland is part of it and will fight tooth and nail to have it within their borders. The country ravaged by decades of civil war and Islam extremists such as Al Shabaab is volatile and considered a failed state, a sharp contrast with Somaliland, which is flourishing in peace and stability.

It is interesting to note that the area central of Somalia called Puntland also declared itself autonomous from Somalia in 1998, though it is now a Federal member of the Federal State of Somalia.


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By Lincoln Oyugi

Just as Isaac Newton died a virgin, I'll die a writer!

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