The recent referendum on Scottish independence, as well as affecting UK and European politics, has had farther reaching influence globally. With new calls for self-determination of ethnically diverse groups and regions, such as Catalonia and Kurdistan, Somaliland has become a self-declared independent state. Luckily for Somaliland, it is a region of relative political stability with unrealised potential in the oil and mineral industries. Why then has the world neglected to notice Somaliland for the region of stability that it provides, both politically and economically?
Historically, Somaliland has suffered from the creation of artificial borders drawn out from European powers in the eighteenth century. Under the protectorate of the British, Somaliland saw itself becoming a neo-colonial base for British pursuits of African dominance. Somaliland saw brief independence in June 1960, only to be re-established as part of the wider region of Somalia through the Trust Territory of Somalia agreement under yet another colonial power, Italian Somaliland, just five days later.
October 1969 brought a military coup d’état in which the Somalian Army seized power, triggering over a decade’s worth of civil unrest. The next ten years saw disaffection, with military rule escalating in violent clashes in the 1980s between Derg guerrilla (an Ethiopian Communist group) and Mohamed Siad Barre’s military government. Soon, bombings took place in the administrative centre city of Hargeisa, a noted Somali National Movement (SNM) stronghold within the region. The SNM began to reach for autonomy under the leadership of Abdirahman Ahmed Ali Tuur, who declared north-western Somalia as an independent state in 1991 under the name Somaliland.
Tuur has since renounced separatism and pressed for reconciliation between the separate region of Somaliland and Somalia. Undeniably, Tuur’s efforts at increasing security have had a lasting effect on the development of security ties within the region. This has proven particularly encouraging for the security of Somaliland after facing an outbreak of civil war in Southern Somalia, which for the most part has left Somaliland unaffected. Stability in Somaliland has, therefore, proven its worth following the transition to independence, an admirable feat in the context of growing insecurity in the East African region.
Similar to many other semi-autonomous regions across the world, Somaliland has been recognised as a federal member state within a greater regional country, Somalia. However, in terms of its status as a recognised country, the world has yet to understand the role that Somaliland may play in the future. Given Somaliland’s political ties to sovereign states such as Ethiopia and Djibouti in East Africa, as well as its links with South Africa and European countries, the question of recognition has become increasingly important in regions well beyond Somalia’s borders.
Recognition as a state is a crucial aspect of Somaliland’s development hence the active role that other states need to play in aiding development. Wales has so far led the way towards officially recognising Somaliland’s independence in 2006. An application by the state of Somaliland to join the Commonwealth has also been on hold from 2007. However, gaining recognised independence and recognised sovereignty are two separate achievements. Why then has there been limited interest in actively granting statehood to Somaliland?
There are ongoing border disputes in the region reaching as far back as the time of the British Protectorate. Neighbouring Puntland (a similar region seeking semi-autonomy) lays claims to South-Eastern Somaliland, and has brought forward groups ready to secede if Somaliland becomes an officially independent sovereign entity. This will no doubt bring heightened security threats to the region, a situation that has already emerged to some extent between 2002 and 2009 with ongoing military clashes.
Despite threats of regional disturbance, Somaliland has fared well and has even provided itself with the potential to become a new domain of global investment. However, the international community’s lack of interest with the region has restricted its potential growth. Despite thriving economically when compared to other regions nearby, Somaliland has struggled to strengthen its currency, the Somaliland Shilling. This is in large part due to the fact that it has to date not been recognised internationally, and consequently does not have an exchange rate. The currency has an extremely limited reach in terms of growth as disputed regions within Somaliland fail to recognise the value. As Somaliland remains internationally unrecognised, even aid has been restricted, leaving the government to rely on tax and remittance from the Somali diaspora.
Whilst primarily headlining in Western media through reference to piracy issues, naval forces and the military have achieved relative success with limiting illegal activity on its coast. However, recurring problems have occurred, potentially enabled by with the ongoing use of aging machinery and weaponry by official forces. This issue could be better addressed by greater support and investment by global governments in the growing infrastructure of Somaliland.
President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo has remained hopeful regarding the potential for Somaliland to attract global investment. Even through limited NGO and government provisions, Somaliland has seen a steadily growing private sector. However, the potential for Somaliland has yet to be satisfied as it is an oil and mineral rich region providing relative stability and growth. Lack of profitable investment and restricted economic development aside, Somaliland may provide the global community with an opportunity for investment and growth without having to fear a similar backlash as seen from Middle Eastern states. Undeniably, Somaliland will be able to provide both a regional and international basis for promoting stronger economic ties in hopes of structurally developing internally. The international community should stop hesitating and encourage Somaliland’s potential by investing in its governmental and private sector institutions.
By Kanar Talabani