Failing the State: Recognizing Somaliland

By Caplin, Jessica | Harvard International Review, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Failing the State: Recognizing Somaliland


Caplin, Jessica, Harvard International Review


As nations across Africa struggle to maintain law and order, the international community has forsaken one of Africa's most promising states. Somaliland announced its independence from Somalia in 1991, seizing its opportunity during a power vacuum in Mogadishu. A stable democracy, it contrasts dramatically with Somalia, its war-torn neighbor, which perpetually teeters on the brink of stats failure. Nevertheless, a full 18 years since its secession, no nation or international organization recognizes Somaliland. To reward Somaliland for its efforts and to set an example for other African states, the international community should fully recognize Somaliland.

Somaliland achieved self-rule after a long saga of political and military realignments. In 1960, with the end of British colonial rule, Somaliland was recognized as an independent state but subsequently united with its neighbor to form Somalia. However, after decades of political and military conflict, the Somali government left present-day Somaliland in the hands of nationalists in the late 1980s.

Somaliland has managed to escape the turmoil of its parent nation through rapid efforts to create an independent state. As Somalia collapsed into civil war, Somaliland officially declared independence in May 1991, thereafter building a stable nation of 3.5 million people with minimal foreign support. Ten years after its independence, Somaliland introduced a new constitution by national referendum. In 2003, the nation held its first open presidential election, and regular parliamentary elections started in 2005. In a promising trend, the number of cross-clan votes has increased steadily, suggesting that policy, not ethnicity, will determine elections and increasing the likelihood of a competent and durable government. Somalia, meanwhile, has suffered rapid-fire conflicts, including the 2006 civil war and Ethiopian invasion and the resignation of President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed on December 29, 2008.

Despite Somaliland's marked success, the international community refuses to recognize it as an independent nation. Currently, Somaliland is one of only two states "unrecognized by the UN": the other is the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. States have refused recognition for a variety of reasons. Several countries eager to promote stability in the Horn of Africa have joined together to create the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which seeks Somalia's unity, lest a successful secession of Somaliland serve as a precedent for other secessionist movements in East Africa. Neighboring Arab countries and East African nations such as Eritrea also hope for a unified Somalia because it might be the only power in the Horn of Africa strong enough to offset the dominant Ethiopia.

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