Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

To Be or Not to Be: Rethinking the Possible Repercussions of Somaliland's International Statehood Recognition

Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

To Be or Not to Be: Rethinking the Possible Repercussions of Somaliland's International Statehood Recognition

Article excerpt


Shortly after the fall of the country's dictator president Siyad Barre in 1991, the northern region of what used to constitute Somalia declared independence from the rest of the country as the Republic of Somaliland. (1) Although Somaliland is not internationally recognized as a sovereign state, it has now survived for over two decades, and it currently constitutes arguably the most peaceful and secure area of Somalia. In fact, the government of Somaliland has in the past two decades managed to accomplish much in terms of building governance and providing security for its population, and its achievements in locally engineered state-building stand in start contrast to Somalia's internationally funded governance structures. Not withstanding Somaliland's achievements in state building, however, the international community has been highly reluctant to recognize the territory's claims to independence.

To put it another way, the inability or lack of interest of the international community in dealing with the complex political situation in Somalia is very clearly reflected in the status of Somaliland. African governments and the African Union (AU), coupled with the United Kingdom, the United States, and other Western donors have for years supported and provided international recognition to the Transitional Federal Institutions of Somalia, notwithstanding their abysmal record of inaptitude, corruption, and lack of popular legitimacy in the country. Yet, the same countries and international organizations still do not extend recognition to the only part of Somalia that actually boasts a legitimate and democratically elected government and has managed to remain largely peaceful since 1991.

It is almost impossible to find any discussion of Somaliland's independence that does not at least touch upon the questions of whether it would be good or bad to formally recognize Somaliland as an independent state, and what consequences this may have for other secessionist movements around Africa and the world. In fact, one could argue that the potential consequences of Somaliland's formal recognition, more so than the legal merits of its right to statehood, are at the core of Somaliland's recognition debate. Questions of setting a bad example or precedent for the rest of Africa, contributing to the balkanization of Somalia and adverse repercussions for the security and political stability of the region, and the economic viability of such a small state are amongst the key issues debated by diplomats, politicians, and scholars in discussing Somaliland's formal recognition. With this in mind, it is the purpose of this article to analyze such debates and questions in order to illuminate on the complexities that govern Somaliland's lacking international recognition. This article will first outline a brief background on events in Somalia since 1991 and then turn to a discussion of the arguments in favor of and against extending Somaliland formal recognition.

Somalia since 1991

As Major General Mohamed Siyad Barre's regime was overthrown in January 1991, armed conflict raged across the whole of southern Somalia. Clan-based militias fought each other for control of territory and resources and the post-Barre war, which may have begun as a struggle for control of the government, quickly turned into predatory looting and banditry by various militias. In 1992, a massive famine occurred in Somalia, and in March 1993 the US and the UN intervened to alleviate the famine and also assist the war-ravaged country. However, after the infamous and highly publicized 1993 "Black Hawk Down" incident in which Somali militias downed two US helicopters and killed eighteen soldiers, the US had had enough of Somalia and withdrew its troops from the country in March 1994. The UN followed suit soon after and the country was left at the mercy of its own warring parties and clan supported militias. (2) Since 1995, armed conflict has continued to plague south and central Somalia, but the nature of the conflict has changed. …

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