Somaliland, an unrecognised, de facto country in the Horn of Africa is to many simply an autonomous region of Somalia, however, it recently celebrated its 22nd independence day commemorating May 18th 1991 when it decided to discontinue the union with Somalia. Somaliland was a former British protectorate which secured its independence on 26th June 1960 and 5 days later Somaliland sacrificed independence in order to unite with the Italian protectorate of Somalia which received independence on 1st July 1960 and both united to form the Somali Republic. The Somali Republic from the offset experienced growing pains, in particular the North (modern day Somaliland), which felt it had been marginalised. For example, although 2 entities united to form the union, the president, prime minister and the capital city (Mogadishu) as well as most of the parliament seats and funds, all went down South. The North felt that it had been marginalised economically, socially and politically and that it was treated as a province rather than as an equal partner in the union.
Yet, it was only with the emergence of the late dictator Siad Barre in 1969 that dissatisfaction reached a zenith amongst the Northern Somalis. Siad Barre, although positive in the beginning, began to severely discriminate and marginalise the Isaaq clan who make up the majority of the populace in Somaliland. His military regime was able to do this through emergency rule in the North and draconian measures that led to mass imprisonments, exile and murders committed by his forces. Indeed, a peculiar scenario occurred in Somaliland whereby it only received one fifth of the national budget allocation despite two thirds of the army being located in the North. In the North this created the feeling that this was occupation instead of state building, and the masses were already dissatisfied with Barre’s corrupt rule wherein he favoured his own clans in the South. This discontent led to the formation of the Somali National Movement (SNM) in the mid-80s in Jeddah and London amongst the mainly Somaliland diaspora and exiles abroad, their aim at the time was simply to eject Siad Barre’s well-equipped and large army from the North.
The war in the North preceded any warfare in the rest of Somalia, and by 1988 it had intensified and the SNM emerged victorious through the use of guerrilla warfare with assistance from the Derg regime in Ethiopia, which was fighting its own war with Siad Barre’s regime. The SNM enjoyed popular support in the North and as a result made inroads into the main cities of the North, which led to Siad Barre sanctioning the bombing of his own country and second city at the time, Hargeisa. Hargeisa, the capital city of Somaliland, was bombed to the ground and 50,000-70,000 innocents died, according to Human Rights Watch. The harsh military measures led to around 2 million people being displaced to Ethiopian refugee camps. In 1991 the SNM finally succeeded in its principal aim of ejecting Siad Barre and his military forces from the North; this was only possible because Siad Barre faced tangible threats from other factions within Mogadishu and they ejected him and his army from Mogadishu in 1991 which led to the eventual collapse and descent into violent war in of Southern Somalia, which would continue unabated for 22 years.Initially, the SNM favoured a united Somalia with a federal structure, however, the bloody zero-sum game for power that was played out in Mogadishu in 1991 and the peoples’ calls for independence led to the SNM realigning their philosophy towards outright secession. Then, in a major gathering in the North in 18th May 1991 the Northern populace, the SNM and its leader’s aswell as tribal elders all decided unanimously to repel the Act of Union made with Somalia in 1960 and establish the Republic of Somaliland, which they considered the successor state to the former British Somaliland protectorate that gained independence on June 26th 1960.
Since 1991, Somaliland adopted a hybrid form of democracy whereby Western parliamentary democracy was fused with traditional Islamic/Somali laws and customs to provide a unique form of government. This democracy was strengthened by bicameral legislatures wherein one house contained the chamber of elected representatives and the other “the house of elders”, where clan elders were used to diffuse tensions. This distinct form of democracy has survived up until today due to the grassroots, bottom up approach utilized by Somaliland. In contrast Somalia experienced 14 transitional governments since 1991 with immense assistance from the international community, however, analysts have argued that that failed due to a lack of ownership in the political peace process that Somaliland achieved without any external assistance.
Somaliland has experienced 5 parliamentary elections, 3 presidential elections, and local council elections in its transition to full democracy. It has its own currency, army, navy, licence plates, ministries, airports, universities, and it is in control of its borders based on the 1960 Somaliland borders. However, Somaliland has achieved no recognition whatsoever (apart from de facto recognition from Ethiopia and Djibouti) and the main reason is because the Somalia central government in Mogadishu lays claim to Somaliland and is opposed to its de jure independence, although it exercises no influence or control over Somaliland due to its weak nature. This scenario has made it difficult for Somaliland to achieve the same kind of political arrangement that has benefited Eritrea and South Sudan in their split from their “Mother Country”. However, in the past year dialogue has been initiated with the new government in Mogadishu as it slowly begins to rebuild, and yet both governments’ objectives are at odds. For example, Somaliland led by its elected President; a British educated economist Ahmed Silanyo want nothing short of recognition, whilst Somalia’s new President Hassan Sheikh expects Somaliland to renounce its independence bid and re-join Somalia in a federal arrangement.
Somaliland is a country built on people power and dialogue; it is this that has enabled it to succeed. Although the international community has often ignored the case of Somaliland, it has proven to be a unique and commendable case, a democratic nation and an oasis of stability in a troubled region of Africa.
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