> Somalia: Somaliland's Place in the World
31 December 2011
In July 2011, Chatham House held a small roundtable meeting with Somaliland
politicians, civil society, diaspora and thinkers along with experts and
observers from key international partners. The roundtable aimed to discuss
Somaliland's place in the world twenty years after it's self-declared, and
still unrecognised, independence.
The meeting sought to encourage new thinking about Somaliland in a neutral
and private environment, and was held under the Chatham House Rule. This
short meeting note presents some of the issues raised in the discussion.
It is not intended to comprehensively cover the debates held, but simply
aims to raise some important questions for Somaliland and its partners.
What is Somaliland's status?
A core element of the problem for Somaliland and its partners is the
question of status. While the Somaliland government is able to exercise
control over much of the territory it claims, can collect taxes, provide
some services, and has held a number of successful democratic elections,
Somaliland does not benefit from formal international status. Somaliland
claims recognition but has no constitutionally or internationally recognised
route to achieve it.
New initiatives seek to find practical ways for Somaliland to function in
the international sphere despite its lack of recognition. Ideas include
enabling international donors to contribute to a fund which could be
administered jointly by donors and the Somaliland government - which as an
unrecognised entity is not eligible for direct budgetary support. Innovative
relational mechanisms, be they financial or diplomatic, give an impression
of progress yet their innovation can be seen as recognition of Somaliland's
unique status rather than implying de facto or future political recognition
in any formal sense.
Somaliland's primary foreign policy aim is to seek international recognition
as a sovereign state. Its partners are happy to encourage stability but are
concerned about the potential negative impact formal recognition might have
on the wider Somalia issue. African partners in particular are sensitive to
the creation of new countries on the continent, as respect for borders
inherited from colonial rule is a key principle underpinning the African
Internationally, there is a hierarchy of status.
* Recognised state: the recognised state is at the pinnacle, and
enjoys uncontested recognition of its status as a legal entity.
* Partially-recognised state: the state is recognised by some, but
because its legality and/or independence is contested, it does not have
access to all international bodies. Kosovo is an example.
* Unrecognised entities: such an entity may have the objective
characteristics of a state, but is unable to actualise this statehood.
Somaliland falls into this category.
Somaliland argues for its right to recognition on the basis that it
voluntarily entered a federation with Somalia in 1960, and so independence
would be the result of Somaliland's secession, and would not equate to the
creation of a new state. This argument has strength but without political
support from other nations it is not sufficient.
Somaliland has a choice in picking the focus of its lobbying. It could aim
to obtain recognition from an influential external state, such as the US or
Ethiopia, which may help it achieve a status similar to Kosovo's.
Alternatively, it could try to get consent from Mogadishu for its
independence, which would lead to wide international acceptance. Neither
route is simple or, at present, likely.
Existing links across Somalia and Somaliland
Somaliland is not insulated from the course of events within Somalia. 2008's
terrorist attacks in Hargeisa and the border dispute with Puntland are but
two examples of Somaliland's continuing, albeit unwilling, entanglement in
wider Somalia politics. The separatist movement Sool, Sanag and Cayn (SSC)
demonstrates that the trend for micro-entities in the rest of Somalia also
impacts on Somaliland.
However, there are also positive links. Civil society groups across Somalia
make use of Somaliland as a safe haven, and people displaced by fighting in
the South are able to live in Somaliland. Businesses operate across the Horn
of Africa's Somali-inhabited lands from Somaliland. There are strong cross-
border links between elites and ordinary people.
Can Somaliland help the South?
At present Somaliland is able to operate independently with relatively
little obstruction as there is little in the way of effective government at
a national level in Somalia. However, if Somaliland fails to resolve its
relations with the rest of Somalia problems are likely to be stored up for
the future. Possible challenges include the potential for a spillover of
violence from the South, or a future political or military contestation of
Somaliland's right to exist by a functioning central government of Somalia.
Though the issue of relations with Somalia is highly contentious, it cannot
It was apparent through the course of the meeting that there is a disconnect
between what Somaliland considers to be its position in the world and what
its international partners feel are important issues to focus on.
International concern remains centred on the problem of Somalia's weak
governance and instability. Somaliland's success is seen as offering some
hope for resolving problems in south-central Somalia. International partners
are keen to find a way to involve Somaliland in the search for peace in the
South, believing that as an entity which has emerged from a successful
Somali-led peace process and has undergone democratic transformation,
Somaliland could contribute important insights to the wider peace process.
On the other hand, Somalilanders are far from enthusiastic about any kind of
engagement in the problems of Somalia. They see little to be gained and much
to be lost in becoming entangled in seemingly intractable negotiations and
war that could spread destabilisation to the north-west. Many also argue
that Somalia's issues are not their responsibility. Since Somaliland
declared independence Somalia's instability is seen as a concern only
because they are neighbours.
However, Somaliland may also lose out if it is excluded (or excludes itself)
from discussions about Somalia's future. Such discussions could lead to an
internationally recognised and enshrined constitutional settlement which
runs against the interests of Somaliland. From this perspective there are
important risk-avoidance reasons for Somaliland's engagement in wider Somali
The Importance of a Process
One key idea emerging from this meeting highlighted the pragmatic advantages
for Somaliland in entering an internationally recognised process, rather
than trying to forge a path based on solitary lobbying and appeals to
justice or historical rights.
This argument was not accepted by all meeting participants, and it is
understandably hard for many Somalilanders to accept that they have more to
do. Many feel that after fighting the Barre regime and struggling to build
peace they deserve recognition. Likewise for Somaliland's politicians there
is very real political risk in being seen to accept that Somaliland must do
more before recognition is achieved, or that it should engage more widely in
discussions on Somalia's future. However, many participants saw some benefit
in trying to build a process which puts Somaliland on a legally recognised
course towards defining its status.
The experience of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) was
given as an example where an organisation entered an internationally-
recognised process that delivered recognition. In the case of Sudan, this
process was agreed between partners who were suspicious of each other.
Despite this, a constitutional arrangement was reached which may have been
seen as less than perfect by some, but which crucially guaranteed certain
rights for both sides and a path to recognised independence. The Sudanese
Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) became the constitutional guarantee of
recognition and put South Sudan in a secure legal position.
For South Sudan, the CPA provided that route. Despite the nervousness of
some about South Sudan's viability as an independent state, its right to
recognition in July 2011 could not be disputed because the CPA was formally
accepted by both parties and had already been internationally recognised.
Many external partners will not recognise Somaliland until a Mogadishu-
based government does so. However, if Somaliland were to enter a process
similar to the CPA, a situation could be created where Somaliland has its
current status guaranteed and international partners are able to engage more
fully with Hargeisa, despite the lack of immediate recognition. Entering
talks or beginning a process does not require any party to initially accept
the positions of others. In theory, all sides could agree that they disagree
on certain issues, such as Somaliland's status, but still engage in useful
There remains tension between international hopes that Somaliland can become
involved in the wider Somalia peace process and the insistence of Somaliland
on remaining separate. However, Somaliland could benefit from being part of
a formal process that would offer a path to regularising its position in the
eyes of Somalia, the AU and the wider international community.
This does not mean abandoning the advances that Somaliland has made.
Indeed those advances mean Somaliland is in a position of strength when it
comes to designing a path forward. But such a process offers the chance to
attain a fully recognised status in a way that relying on a strong emotive
case or appealing to history does not. It is not easy for many people in
Somaliland to accept that there is more they need to do; indeed it may seem
highly unfair to ask them to do so. Yet if it is the only realistic path to
the recognition Somaliland deserves, then perhaps a pragmatic re-engagement
with the wider Somali search for peace may be a price ultimately worth
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Received on Wed Jan 11 2012 - 16:38:52 EST