Seeking Recognition: Somaliland’s Fight Beyond Independence

On May 18, Somaliland, a long existing and yet unrecognized state, hosts a celebration like no other. Seeing its streets filled with color and buzz, it is almost hard to believe that this autonomous entity was once part of Somalia.

It has been 25 years since Somaliland declared itself an independent state, but the fight for recognition still goes on to this day. Socially and economically, the small state of 4 million people leaps ahead of its more dysfunctional neighbor, with an increasing flow of investments from the diaspora and multinationals, and a level of security that has been admirable, given its proximity to Somalia. The legality of the state’s secession from the larger Republic of Somalia is still under debate across multiple international platforms, but the case is more clear-cut to Somalilanders like Mohamed Ahmed Mohamoud, Executive Director of the largest Somaliland civil society policy platform the Somaliland Non State Actors Forum (SONSAF). Capital’s Tesfaye Getnet sat with Mohamoud on Somaliland’s Independence Day to understand the debate from the seasoned analyst’s point of view.

Capital: Politicians in Mogadishu say that Somaliland’s recognition claims have no historical or legal basis and that the entity declared independence without referendum. What would you say is the legal and historical basis for Somaliland’s recognition?

Mohamed Ahmed Mohamoud: I think this is not true, because Somaliland became an independent country in 1960, when it constituted a union with Italian Somalia. Somaliland obtained its independence before Somalia, when 35 countries including the members of the Security Council recognized Somaliland on 26 June 1960.

In the meantime, I would like to emphasize that the Republic of Somaliland is not seceding from Somalia but that the Republic of Somaliland dissolved the aborted union with Somalia in 1960; which was, if I may add, a voluntary union. The declaration of independence of Somaliland was actually timely, accurate and historical. When the Somali National Movement (SNM) defeated Siyad Barre’s regime in 1991, all the clans inhabiting Somaliland, or the former Somaliland British Protectorate, unanimously voted for withdrawal and dissolution of the failed union with Somalia in 1960.

Thus, the declaration of independence of the Republic of Somaliland was legitimate since all the clans’ elders, together with the SNM leadership, signed the accord. From this standpoint, Somaliland has succeeded in establishing a viable state, which is inclusive, democratic and peaceful. And, also, the declaration of independence of Somaliland has reduced regional hostility between Somalis and Ethiopians.

Somaliland is qualified as a constitutional and democratic state that respects human rights, international declarations or universal principles, respects minority rights and the diverse views of politicians. I think politicians from Somalia need to refer to the historical evidence indicating that Somaliland was a British Protectorate from 1884 to 1960, and that is has a defined territory as well as international borders created by the British and Italians during the African partition. Somaliland is neither a new country of Africa nor has it seceded from Somalia.

In addition, international treaties such as the Somaliland-Anglo-French Treaty of 1888, the Somaliland-Anglo-Italian Treaty of 1891 and the Somaliland-Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1897 clearly indicate the historical legal aspects and creation of Somaliland as an independent nation state. These international treaties were signed by the British Administrator on behalf of the Somaliland people, and prove that the legal basis for the Republic of Somaliland is irreversible.

In Somaliland’s historical national constitutional referendum, 97 percent of the people of Somaliland voted for the independence of the Republic of Somaliland, even the AU’s fact-finding mission report in 2005 singled out Somaliland’s case as unique in African political history. The African Union has appreciated Somaliland’s political development and democratic credentials. The provocations from Somalia are all baseless and will never undermine our political case for independence and self-determination.
Capital: Twenty-five years have passed since Somaliland declared itself an autonomous state, but it has not yet received recognition from a single country. Some say recognition is out of the question, what do you say about this?

Mohamoud: I think it is the international community’s responsibility to recognize Somaliland and support the continued efforts and good practices adopted by the people of Somaliland over the past decades. Somaliland already meets the criteria of statehood having a defined territory, a permanent population, a government and the capacity to enter into relations with other countries.
At present, the international community works with Somaliland’s government as an independent country, in the belief that the Somaliland people have managed their own internal differences, developed their country and contributed to regional and international security such as in the fight against terrorism, piracy, arms smuggling and illegal migration. Somaliland has also contributed to maintaining peace and stability in the Horn of Africa.

The Republic of Somaliland shares its borders with Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia, and demonstrates to the international community enormous dedication, credibility and mutual cooperation with its neighboring countries, all of them benefiting from the peace and stability in Somaliland. We host many refugees from Somalia, we are committed to promoting regional integration, trade and economic development because Somaliland wants Berbera Port to become a regional hub and corridor between Africa and the Middle East. Somaliland is a mature and responsible state that makes regular contributions to the region and beyond.

It is unfair that the international community is busy with the tremendous problems of Somalia. It is unacceptable. We, the people of Somaliland have a right to obtain international recognition in order to access regional and international opportunities for investment and development.

So what I know is that the Somaliland people will never give up seeking recognition for its state’s sovereignty, and I do believe that this day will come. Our independence came after a bloody struggle against Siyad Barre’s regime and we will continue this struggle until Somaliland is recognized.

I do believe that Somaliland’s recognition maybe an opportunity to put Somalia back in the international map and, at the same time, the recognition of Somaliland should be taken as a preventive step to fight terrorism, piracy and other elements of insecurity in the region.

Some of Somaliland’s opponents make baseless arguments saying that should Somaliland be recognized, Somalia’s situation would deteriorate. But, Somaliland’s recognition will not be negative for Somalia nor for the region. The international community knows that Somaliland is a responsible state that it has demonstrated, from the onset, its adherence to political integrity and regional cooperation.

Capital: What approach should be used to convince the UN and the west to recognize the sovereignty of Somaliland?

Mohamoud: Indeed, we have multiple opportunities and approaches to convince countries in the west. In the first instance, the United Nations Charter’s first provision states the rights of self-determination and promotes international peace and security. Therefore, many UN member states deal with Somaliland regularly respecting the will and the choice of the majority of the people of Somaliland.
Secondly, over the past two decades, Somaliland has had international development partners that continually support development projects underway in the country. Such countries have been working with Somaliland as friends and they have been witnessing how far the Somaliland people are devoted to developing their country and pursuing sound international relations by attracting more friends and partners.

The UN and the international community as a whole know that Somaliland is owned by its people – not dictated by anyone. That it is a self-financed, bottom-up state, based on self-reliance and a locally driven political agenda. Somaliland is a democratic nation state, holding free, fair and competitive elections. All of these are values western countries promote as universal principles. So, if western countries do not support the political development of Somaliland, they undermine these principles.

In this debate towards Somaliland’s recognition, western countries say it is the AU’s responsibility but this is not fair. The US recognized Somalia’s Hassan Sheikh’s government in 2012 after the post- transition period.

Capital: Some political experts say that Somaliland will be incorporated to Somalia when peace and stability are fully secured. What is your opinion on this?

Mohamoud: I think this is a political illusion, similar to the dream in 1960 to create a greater Somali Republic in the Horn of Africa. But, the chances that Somaliland reunites with Somalia disappeared in 1960 when unification failed to attract other Somali regions such as Djibouti, the Somali-Ethiopian region and the Northern Somali region of Kenya. And it will not be possible, at any cost, for Somaliland to reunite with Somalia again.

In 1960, Somalilanders felt political alienation, injustice and intolerable political behavior towards us. We pray to Allah for Somalia to get peace and security for the sake of regional cooperation and we are ready to help Somalia to resolve its own problems. Somalia is under huge political disintegration, insecurity, and is very dependent on handouts from the international community. So, the current political polarization of Somalia is a risk to the entire region and we need the AU to search for options and to facilitate Somaliland’s international recognition. Otherwise, the Horn of Africa will remain vulnerable to conflict, drought and underdevelopment.

Capital: Not getting recognition has meant less investment in infrastructure, education and in many other basic needs of society. In addition, for the country’s 4 million people, the government’s budget is no more than USD350 million. It seems that the government will not be involved in big investment unless it gets loans from donors who require Somaliland to be recognized before they are able to lend money. 

Mohamoud: This is an issue that we have been challenged as Somalilanders. Hopefully, our strategic location and our state and peace building processes will attract and convince international investors to come here. At present, there is international interest in investing in Somaliland. This is a really encouraging signal, and Somaliland has already demonstrated several conditions expected by international investors including institutional building, security and the rule of law.
Capital: Recently, a Dubai based port operator signed a term contract agreement with your Port Authority to develop Berbera port. Do you think this agreement will encourage other big companies to invest here?

Mohamoud: Yes, this bilateral agreement between DP World and Somaliland will accelerate the process for other international investors to follow. Somaliland has the longest expanse of coast along the Red Sea waters, close to the international shipping arena of Bab-el-Mandeb , and we want Berbera port to supply the region. Before DP World, there were international oil and mining companies engaged in seismic operations and this country has untapped natural resources compatible with international investors’ needs. Somaliland can be the corridor or the getaway to Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

Source: Capital Ethiopia

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