Somaliland: Shackled to a Failed State

Article excerpt


Somalia lacks the basic characteristics that define a state in the international community. The rule of law has been obliterated by years of civil war and internal strife, leaving Somalia a "failed state." For the last decade and a half rival warlords have controlled Somaliland. The central government, elected by warlords at a conference in Kenya, does not have the capacity to exercise authority over its population. Somalia's beautiful beaches and historical city streets are largely inaccessible to the outside world, and the outside world is just as inaccessible to Somalis. In fact, while the national passport is sold at the public market in Mogadishu, it is no longer valid for international travel. The same public markets flood the country with machine guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers.

From the rubble of the civil war, however, the de facto state (1) of Somaliland has emerged. Somaliland has its own democratic government, police force, army, financial system, and currency. It was even briefly recognized as an independent country in 1960. Somaliland's calls for international political recognition as an autonomous nation State, however, are being ignored. In the words of British Parliamentarian Tony Worthington, the international community has consistently placed "the interests of the wrongdoers in the south ahead of those peace-builders in the north [i.e., Somaliland]." (2)

Unfortunately, stability is unlikely to be maintained in the face of the many obstacles that Somaliland faces. Some of these obstacles reflect Somaliland's status as one of the most impoverished countries in the world, while others are symptomatic of its lack of political recognition. As Scott Pegg laments, "barring the legal gates and denying the de facto state even an extremely limited legal competence does not seem to be the way to encourage compliance with the fundamental norms, let alone the desiderata of international law." (3) Worthington has asserted that "[t]he longer Somaliland is left to fend for itself without resources for schools, for example, the more willing will radical elements be to step in." (4)

Somaliland is a black hole for international law and at this stage is only accountable for violations of "peremptory norms from which no derogation can be allowed by agreement or otherwise." (5) There are already erosions of freedom of the press, and a report by the International Crisis Group found that the Somaliland Press Law may violate Article 32 of the Somaliland Constitution. That article "declares the press and other media to be 'part of the fundamental freedoms of expression' and states that 'all acts to subjugate them are prohibited."' (6) These continuing derogations of international law are actively hindering Somaliland's acceptance as a state in the international community.

By conditioning statehood upon the satisfaction of normative criteria, such as the protection of basic human rights and democratic governance, the international community can provide powerful incentives for improving the behavior of states and aspiring states. (7) In Somalia there are no such incentives; there is no rule of law and little infrastructure. Hostilities have persisted for sixteen years and assertion of authority will only come through force. Validating Somaliland's status and extending recognition can potentially preempt the conflict that would arise if a stable government does emerge in Somalia. In fact, "failing a negotiated settlement, any attempt to coerce Somaliland back to the Somali fold would entail a bitter and probably futile conflict." (8)

Even a hypothetically peaceful "reunification of two largely incompatible systems--Somaliland's embryonic democracy on the one hand, and Somalia's fragile transitional structure on the other--would run the risk of destabilizing both." (9) Integration through unification, for example, would jeopardize any fragile power balances that would have been struck to achieve stability in the south. …