Legal arguments in support of independence are based on the following two factors: first, that Somaliland existed as a geopolitical-colonial entity from 1897 to 1960, as part of the British Empire; second, that an independent sovereign Somaliland state had been in existence between the June 26th and the July 1st 1960, whence it decided to join southern Somalia and form the Republic of Somalia.
The classical criteria for statehood were laid down in article 1 of the 1933 Montevideo Convention, which read as follows: “The State as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with other States.”
In relation to the first qualification, Somaliland has a population of around three and a half million. The precise number is unknown since there has never been a census. More difficult is the question of whether this population - which is over 50% nomadic - falls within the definition of ‘permanent population’.
Secondly, Somaliland does not control a defined territory. There is currently a dispute between Somaliland and the Puntland administration (which auto-proclaimed itself an autonomous region of Somalia in 1998) regarding the Sool and Eastern Sanaag regions. Ignoring the fact that both regions are included within the legally recognised boundaries of the former British Protectorate of Somaliland, Puntland has recently claimed them on the basis that they were mainly inhabited by members of the Darod - Harti clan (Dhulbahante and Warsangeli) which are minority clans in Somaliland, but a majority clan in Puntland.
Thirdly, it is undeniable that Somaliland has established a government which effectively controls some of its territory and that some of its population regards it as legitimate. A point which could be raised, however, is the extent to which the government controls the Sool and Eastern Sanaag regions. None of the two regions participate in Somaliland’s elections.
Fourthly, Somaliland has the capacity to enter into informal diplomatic relations with other states, with the only difficulty residing in finding states who are actually willing to have formal relations with it.
The United Nations General Assembly on December 14th, 1960 [hereafter resolution 1514], explicitly stated that “[a]ll peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development” . This process however, encountered some important limitation when it came to colonized people who were not free to determine the boundaries of the territory of their newly independent state. This is because of the well-established fear that if one tries to alter the colonial borders, a vicious cycle of violence will start among ethnic groups in order to define what was ‘theirs’. The distribution of ethnic groups in Africa is not clear and in a small area one may find two different ethnic groups living close to each other who both may claim that the land ‘historically’ belongs to them.
Resolution 1514 granted on the one hand the right of self-determination to peoples but on the other hand stipulated that “any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations. ” This was put into practice in the early 19th century in the newly independent states of Latin America, who could not change their inherited colonial boundaries, and later on in the mid 20th century in Africa. Colonialism created multi-ethnic colonies and divided homogeneous nations into different countries. We observe that there is a conflict in international law between the right for self-determination and the rule of territorial integrity, at least in ex-colonial regions.
All international instruments clearly state that the holders of the right for self-determination are “peoples”. The notion of ‘people’, from a sociological and anthropological point of view primarily refers to a distinct ethnic group. Somalilanders are ethnically, linguistically and culturally Somalis. In reality, the term ‘Somalilander’ is a very modern invention, predominantly used by the Isaaq elite in Hargeisa. Somali society traditionally runs along clan lines, and what the current government tries to achieve is a state for its own clan. Instead of speaking of a nation state, here we could start speaking about the clan state. And though there is nothing wrong with that, we can imagine what will happen if every clan or ethnic group (also known as a ‘tribe’ in the African context), starts demanding its own state. When I reject the idea of recognizing Somaliland’s independence in my classes, my students always ask “why then did the international community recognize Eritrea? They do not recognize us because we are Muslims!” If Somaliland is to be recognized as an independent state, young students who are part of another clan elite in another area may also ask ‘why do they not recognize us? They recognized Somaliland and Eritrea’.
Several Human Rights freelance defenders support the recognition because, as they rightfully claim, the north has suffered brutal violence by the Siyad Barre regime. On the other hand it is arguable that the violation of Human Rights under Syiad Barre was widespread and oppression was present everywhere throughout the country. It was not an ethnic group against the other, but a predatory government dividing its populace in order to steal from it in order to maintain its power. Other clans may also claim that they suffered huge injustices from the government.
Furthermore, the most accurate estimate of the number of people killed is 50,000 to 60,000, while nearly half a million have fled the country; the majority to the inhospitable refuge of the desert in neighboring Ethiopia . These numbers are important, but if we compare them with similar situations in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo or the Central African Republic, they are extremely low. The perpetrators of these war crimes should definitely be punished, but I do not believe that breaking up countries is the solution. The tribe/clan – state is not a realistic solution because the central governments in the capital cities of Africa will never allow it. One of these governments is the one in Mogadishu which will never allow its northern part to secede.
It is a reality that over the past decade Somaliland has made significant progress towards a pluralistic political system, rule of law, and respects the human rights of its citizens more than its neighbor. On the other hand, corruption, nepotism, a neglected and under-funded judiciary, malnutrition and conflict over its eastern provinces continue to thrive in the country.
Looking behind the façade
It took me about a month to realize the ugly face of poverty behind the façade of the booming and prospering town. Many are jobless. Many of the young people have no education. The average wages are not sufficient to feed a family. Huge amounts of money are spent every day on qat . I would guess that two thirds of all males in Hargeisa chew qat almost every afternoon. The impacts on the economy, the family and the individual health are, at least in the long term, disastrous. One sees quite a lot mentally disordered people chewing qat from morning until midnight. The public healthcare system is very basic. But the dominant and publicized (e.g. in the newspapers) view is that Somaliland is a successful independent country.
The maternal mortality rate of 1,600 per 100,000 expectant mothers is one of the highest in the world. Malnutrition remains a chronic problem. A census in 2001 found one out of six of the whole population to be acutely malnourished . The wealth gap is increasing, and the poor are becoming poorer. Moreover, there are huge inequalities in the education sector. The cost of education is too high for some students, female enrolment is disproportionately low, there is an urban bias in education provision and more children go to school in the Hargeisa region (Wogooyi-Galbeed) rather than in all other regions of the country combined. Healthcare is not a free public service – thus it excludes poor people from accessing it - and 60% of households in Somaliland do not have access to clean water.
There are indications that the social influence of Islamism is growing in Somaliland, and as locals say the wearing of the hijab is much more common now. The murder of four expatriated aid workers in 2003-2004, allegedly perpetrated by Islamists, is an indication of the country’s vulnerability to religious extremism. Even more worrying is the suicide bombings in 2008, which targeted the Presidential Palace, the Ethiopian consulate, and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) offices. The attacks cost the lives of 25 people.
If we compare the brutal, systematic repression that characterizes governance in Ethiopia and Eritrea, then yes, Somaliland’s government respects the human rights of its citizens. But, if we assess the situation objectively, Somaliland’s human rights’ gains are both limited and fragile. Numerous journalists and opposition activists have been detained for criticism against the government. Somaliland’s government breaks international law with its forced refoulement of Ethiopian asylum seekers, in order not to risk its relationship with the government of Ethiopia . The government has refused to permit the emergence of any independent radio broadcasters, the one media outlet capable of reaching most of Somaliland’s population. The president’s consistent refusal to abide by the rule can be seen in the delay of the elections for two years. The presidential election that was originally scheduled for August 2008 took place on 26 June 2010 and placed the political stability in Somaliland in great danger.
The state continues to use the illegal ‘security committees’ (RSC) to prosecute people. These committees consist of government officials and security officers. This completely ignores Somaliland’s constitution, which clearly states that persons should be judged only in legal courts. ‘The committees regularly sentence defendants en masse without even allowing the accused an opportunity to speak’ . Over half of the prisoners in Somaliland’s main Mandhera prison, primarily alleged petty criminals and juveniles, had been sentenced by the security committees and not by the legal courts provided by the country’s constitution. Activists who tried to challenge the committees’ authority were jailed.
The authorities also use the RSCs to impose penalties on individuals without individual criminal responsibility. When a criminal suspect cannot be found, the RSC will issue an order for the police to arrest a relative in order to force the suspect to surrender to the police. As the governor of Togdheer region put it to Human Rights Watch, “We are not equipped with technology. If someone kills someone we cannot find him. So we will just arrest his cousin and he will be our GPS—and that person will suddenly appear .” Believing it to be an effective mechanism of discipline, parents ask the RSCs to jail their children even if they are not accused of any criminal offense under Somaliland’s laws.
Human Rights Watch in a ‘Hostages of Peace’ report claims that the government is exploiting the public’s will for recognition. The government knows that even if it surpasses its legal authority, the people will not revolt because that will threaten to damage the image of the country. There is no transparency around government expenditures in Somaliland. The Constitution requires the administration to submit an expenditure report to the House of Representatives but this never happens.
Moreover, Mahmoud Adan, the elders’ Upper House chairman, stated in an interview with Human Rights Watch: ‘We are too old in age as well as in holding a term of office—we were neither re-elected nor re-selected by the clans. We have become too arrogant and too corrupt by overstaying in power—like parties that stay long in power anywhere in the world. I hope there will be elections in 2010 for the Guurti as well as the House of Representatives’ .
Furthermore the government has done little to invest in the judiciary. In 2009, the overall budget for the courts and justice ministry was roughly $950,000. By way of comparison, the budget allocates $400,000 to maintain the residence of President Riyale . Even more worrying is the fact that Somaliland’s minister of justice told Human Rights Watch that his ministry spent one third of its budget in 2008 on the purchase of six secondhand cars. Some judges do not have access to printed copies of the laws and 95% of them have no formal legal qualifications.
Criticism against the government is not allowed. In January 2007, three journalists were arrested after they published articles accusing President Riyale and his wife of corruption. The articles reported that the first family had sold government vehicles for their own profit. A second case followed when a former driver to Riyale’s wife in January 2007 held a press conference where he also alleged that he had witnessed gross acts of corruption by the presidential couple. He was arrested and taken to Mandhera prison .
I would like to close this section by offering my own experience with the legal system of Somaliland. A few years ago I visited Berbera, the large port of Somaliland. While I was admiring the Red Sea from the coast, just outside Berbera, an armed man without a uniform approached me. After greeted me with the usual ‘Salam Malekum’ he started shooting in the air. More armed men approached, and forced me to kneel while pointing their guns on my head. Then, from what I understood, they were yelling at me and asking me if I am an Arab, an Iranian, or a Pakistani. After they searched everything, and were assured that I did not have a hidden bomb or a gun, they openly stole from me US $30, and arrested me. I was transferred to Berbera Prison where I stayed for more than 10 hours. The other prisoners where all telling me that they had not eaten for 3 days. No one explained my crime to me. In the three different interrogations that I underwent, I did not even understand the questions that I was asked because no one spoke English, there was no lawyer or translator, and when I refused to sign a piece of paper in Somali, the officers became upset with my attitude.
Sanaag and Sool regions
Sanaag and Sool are in the eastern part of Somaliland. These regions are currently disputed over by both Somaliland and the semi-autonomous region of neighboring Puntland. Although the Government of Somaliland claims that these two regions are part of Somaliland, many people inhabiting these regions challenge this. Arguably, Puntland has more presence in Buuhoodle, Sool and Sanaag regions than does Somaliland. East of Buraco in the centre of Somaliland, it is not the Somaliland shilling that is used as currency, but the “old” Somali Shilling, like in the rest of Somalia. No Somaliland flag can be found, especially in Sool. Most of the imported goods come from Bosasso, the – bigger - Puntland port. Thus, one can say that economically, if not also partly genealogically, these eastern regions are linked to Puntland.
The Sool region and its capital Lasaanod are almost exclusively inhabited by Dulbahante. Genealogically, the Dulbahante are a part of the Darod clan family, which is spread over the whole area of Somalia and which strongly supported the Barre regime. Most Dulbahante do not like Somaliland. They had fought at the side of the Barre regime against the SNM from 1988 to 1990. In Lasanod, many men carry guns in public, and there is no rule of law when it comes to ‘delivering justice’. With the execution of the killers, the case would have been finished. This is a drastic preventive measure in an environment where everybody has an automatic gun and where no strong central force keeps law and order. The open secret that most families in the whole country of Somaliland have small weapons is a ticking time bomb.
The “ordinary” people among the Dulbahante want a peaceful Somalia to be re-established and will not accept being part of an Isaak-dominated independent Somaliland. Contrary to what they say in Hargeisa, no constitutional referendum had taken place in Sool in May 2001. Sool and even some parts of Sanaag had not voted . The argument, used in Hargeisa that Sool belongs to Somaliland according to the colonial borders is ridiculous in the eyes of the most Dulbahante. The dominant opinion in Sool is that the region had never fully been part of Somaliland. To this end the people refer to the rebellion lead by Saeed Mohamed Abdille Hassan. The “Mad Mullah”, as the British called him, and his “Dervishes” fought between 1899 and 1920 against the British and the Isaak, who mostly supported the colonial power. The Dulbahante gain strength from this glorious history and continue to call themselves ‘Dervishes’. Dulbahante claim that the Isaak are in search of their identity only now whereas they are preserving their identity.
More worrying for Somaliland’s stability is the fact that a new armed group is threatening to launch a violent campaign for the reunification of Somalia. The group is known as SSC, the initials of the regions they say that they want to liberate from Somaliland - Sool, Sanaag and Cayn. "Our ultimate goal is to make this area peaceful and prosperous and also seek a united Somalia” . By analysing these facts we understand that Somaliland as a political and genealogical entity is not as homogeneous as some claim and that peace and stability in the country are not as secure as is often presented in Hargeisa. There is not a single convincing “Somaliland” identity.
The danger of the contagious ‘Isaaq Project’ and its regional implications
Successive governments of Somaliland have set as their primary target the recognition of their country, and the issue of recognition is also present in daily conversations. In the unlike case of international recognition of Somaliland, however, different autonomous regions of Somalia such as Puntland and South-Western Somalia will have more incentive to try and break up from Somalia. The establishment of Somaliland, therefore, represents a victory of ‘clan interests’. Currently, the international community is lacking the power to recognize Somaliland’s sovereignty since the unity and territorial integrity of the Somali Democratic Republic is protected by the Geneva Convention, which calls for the self-determination and territorial integrity of all nations. In order for Somaliland, which is not a nation, to be recognized as independent, new international laws and instruments are needed. But apart from the legal constraints, no country has an interest in recognizing Somaliland. Recognition of one’s country’s sovereignty is a central part of international relations which are determined by interests. No country will ever recognize Somaliland as long as it does not have something to gain from this action.
The most important ally of Somaliland, in political and economic terms, is Ethiopia. And, whereas Ethiopia gains from the status quo (a divided Somalia), it does not have anything to win if it gives an official recognition to its small neighbor. In fact, if the Government of Ethiopia recognizes Somaliland as an independent state it risks a lot. First, how can Ethiopia recognize the independence of Somaliland, when it struggles to quiet down several separatist movements in its own territories? In the words of Faisal A Roble, “how could Ethiopia, on the one hand, preach to Oromos, Sidamos, Afars, Somalis and many others the gospel of unity, and on the other hand, curse Somalia to disunity by taking advantage of the present day quagmire?” . Second, if Somaliland gets recognition, it will have more power to bargain over economic issues with its partner. With the current situation, Ethiopia gains from having a poorer, unrecognized neighbor, Somaliland, whose port is open for use. It gains from keeping Somalia divided and weak.
Ethiopians fear that a stable Somalia might attack or spread its Islamic values all over the Horn, and this fear is still present in the Ethiopian political circles. A manifestation of this fear can be seen in the 2006 attack and military occupation of southern Somalia by Ethiopian forces. In 2006, after some 15 years of violence and continuous instability in Somalia, we saw the rise of the Islamic Courts. For the first time in Somalia, since 1991, there was a stable government which controlled the country. Ethiopia could not accept this, and attacked Somalia, thus bringing it back down on its knees. Most Somalis in southern Somalia perceive Somaliland as an Ethiopian creation. They claim that Ethiopia manipulated clan politics in Somalia in order to be able to divide and rule the country. An Ethiopian recognition will lead Somalia to support different separatist-ethnic movements inside Ethiopia, returning the two countries in a state of proxy war. An Ethiopian formal recognition of Somaliland will also escalate violence inside Ethiopia in several fronts. The Ogadeni-Somalis will escalate their struggle against Ethiopia because they also want independence, different ethnic groups will do the same and finally Somali – Islamists will have more motivation to carry deadly attacks inside Ethiopia as a response to Ethiopian official recognition of a divided Somalia. Ethiopia has no interests in altering the status quo. Ethiopia gains from both a divided Somalia, and from the unrecognized state of Somaliland.
Kenya is in a similar position with Ethiopia, and it will not gain much by recognizing Somaliland. It is highly likely that the effects of a Kenyan Recognition would be negative. In the northern district of Kenya, where Somalis live, some of the population will either ask for their breakaway along the same lines that Somaliland broke away from Somalia, whereas others will be furious against their host country (Kenya) for its official recognition of the division of their mother country (Somalia). Kenya, like Ethiopia, will make itself a target for Islamic extremists who operate in the area. The bomb explosions in Uganda on July 2010, which killed more than 70 people, was a response to Uganda’s military presence, as part of African Union’s Mission, in Somalia. Somali Islamists have clearly demonstrated what they are capable of doing.
Moving northwards, Djibouti - a country of 500,000 people - depends for its economic survival on its port and airport. Djibouti, despite the fact that more than half of its population is Somali, is not recognizing Somaliland, because it is aware that if Somaliland becomes a recognized entity, it will attract vast investment for its port in Berbera and its international Airport in Hargeisa. Somaliland will be able to challenge Djibouti as the region’s hub, and its port will be able to serve as the major export-import port for Ethiopia. Djibouti will also jeopardize its security, which it cannot afford to lose if it wants to continue to portray itself as the ‘African Dubai’.
The Arab states support the Transitional Federal government in Mogadishu and have committed themselves to a United Somalia. Arabs want a united Somalia, able to protect Islam from what they perceive as the vast, imperialist Ethiopia. The Arab Leaque, which Somalia is part of, will never recognize Somaliland. Since most of them see Somaliland as an Ethiopia-inspired project, they are not keen to supporting it. Egypt in particular is the most determined to keep Somalia united and strong so that it is able to counterbalance Ethiopia’s power in the region. Relations between Ethiopia and Egypt have deteriorated in the past few years, especially since the late Ethiopian president, Meles Zenawi, desired to use Nile water for his own country. Old treaties in relation to the Nile give Egypt and Sudan more rights over the Nile’s water than it gives to other Sub-Saharan countries.
The African Union (AU) specifically claims in its charter that it does not support the alteration of colonial borders based on its well-founded fear that these processes could trigger a violent course of Balkanization in its 53 member states . If Somaliland is recognized, it would be easy for another clan elite with its own military to also struggle for their secession and independence. The disintegration of the Somali Republic will not necessarily bring peace and progress but, on the contrary, will probably create a momentum for the break-up of other states in the Horn and in another parts of Africa. Furthermore, the UN will not recognize Somaliland’s independence. A vote within the Security Council on Somaliland’s claim would certainly be vetoed by Russia and China, who would not want to encourage any sort of secession, as this could create a desire for succession in parts of their own territories, such as Chechnya and Tibet. Another difficulty resides in the fact that both the UN and the European Union are currently backing the so-called “Somali peace-process”, and the current attitude is that Somaliland has to, first and foremost, secure the agreement of the southerners via any government which might result from the aforementioned peace process. The peace process in the South is fully backed by all major international bodies such as the EU, UN, AU, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the main regional body.
More ambiguous is the position of the US on the issue of Somaliland. For years the official line is that Somaliland’s existence is a Somali problem which has to be solved by Somalis. If Somalis cannot solve their own problems then it is the African Union’s problem. The USA officially cares only to stop the spread of the so-called ‘terrorism’ in the region. Although there is speculation that undiscovered oil fields exist in Somaliland, currently the country has no major resources to offer to the USA. On the other hand, its strategic location opposite Yemen, very close to the Middle East and next-door to Somalia, makes it a very attractive place for the deployment of the U.S. military command devoted to Africa called AFRICOM. Although the Pentagon has examined Berbera as a potential base for AFRICOM, the State Department maintains its line, that Somaliland is a Somali issue.
I have already illustrated that under current conditions it is very difficult for a state or an international organization to recognize Somaliland’s independence. Countries do not have an interest, and international organizations fear that a formal recognition will lead to a Balkanization of the region which will lead to long-term conflicts between separatist groups, their central governments, and conflict between different ethnic groups which would claim the same territory. But attention should also be paid to Somaliland’s gains if it is recognized. The most practical and immediate gain that Somaliland will have if it is recognized as an independent country is that it will have access to global ‘development’ loans from the IMF. It is arguable that the consequences of IMF and World Bank experiments, especially in poor countries, have often proved disastrous. Since the government is able to sign contracts with foreign companies and do business in the global economy, recognition would probably not bring any huge extra financial benefit. Recognition of sovereignty would bring additional costs that Somaliland would have difficulty meeting, such as the costs of supporting foreign embassies and servicing at least part of Somalia’s US $2.5 billion foreign debt. Moreover, the country will attract the anger of furious Islamists from the South. Another thought is that if Somaliland becomes recognized as an independent state, its government will not have the incentive be as democratic as it is today.
Conclusion: Looking At The Past For A Promising Future
The fact that Somaliland has “laid the foundations of constitutional democracy” is a very positive achievement, and could mean that the people of southern Somalia are able of achieving the same. The southern Somali people are hostages to armed groups, and the only way to get rid of them once and for all is to follow the example of Somaliland. I strongly believe that Somaliland has a crucial role to play in the peace process for southern Somalia. Currently it does not participate because the government in Mogadishu does not recognize its existence. Somalia should recognize that Somaliland has managed to establish stability in a war-torn country, using inexpensive successful local strategies for conflict resolution. Since this success is a Somali success, it can also be used a few kilometers to the south inside Somalia.
When peace is established in the South, the two entities can join together, and form a federal democratic government. Between 1960-1969 they had achieved unity and Somaliland’s claim that northerners were excluded from the government contradicts with the facts. In the short democratic period of Somalia (1960-1969), northerners occupied four of the thirteen ministerial posts. The major ones included the seats of Deputy Prime Minister, Defense, Education, and Agriculture. Furthermore, the speaker of Parliament was also from the North. Northerners held five important ministerial positions: Foreign Affairs, Defense, Finance, Agriculture, and Information. Moreover, Northerners took up nine of the top civil service posts in the country (out of 16) and all northern communities had representatives in the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) and the Council of Secretaries. The Somali Republic managed to achieve Africa's first democratic change of regime, in 1967. The next democratic transfer of postcolonial power in the continent will wait for 25 years, and will happen in 1992, in Zambia.
Somaliland should not, by any chance, be forced to join with the South, since this would lead to war. The status quo serves it well for the time being. All efforts should be placed in creating a lasting peace in the South based on the successful example of the North, and not on the UN and other Western neocolonial fantasies. Somaliland’s success is already being recognized by its own people who live in a stable democratic country. What difference would it make to them if Somaliland occupies a seat in the UN assembly? The only government that has an interest in recognizing Somaliland’s success is the government in Mogadishu. The South should be inspired by the North, and base its conflict resolution strategy in local institutions in the same way the North did. Otherwise if war continues, Somaliland will continue to operate with success as an unrecognized country, whereas the South - although recognized - will continue to sink in despair, war and poverty.
In this context, I want to recall one of the greatest poets in modern Somali history, Abdillahi Sultan: “Dugsi male qabyaalade waxeey dumiso mooyaane” (roughly translated: “Clanism’ provides no succor; it only destroys”!)
* Political Analyst. He was the Head of Geography and Economics Department in the International Division of the Greek Community School in Addis Ababa
All Links Accessed 10/06/2016
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 Qat, also spelled ‘khat’, is a stimulant and refers to the leaves of the homonymous plant. When fresh qat leaves are chewed, they bring about a mild state of euphoria.
 Bradbury, Mark, Becoming Somaliland, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008. p. 162
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