Somaliland the Country the World has Forgotten

A man with body paint in the colours of the national flag participates in a street parade to celebrate the 24th self-declared independence day for the breakaway Somaliland nation from Somalia in capital Hargeysa, May 18, 2015. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

In May this year, the people of Somaliland will be celebrating 25 years of independence.

There is a sizable Somaliland diaspora in the UK, which will be joining in those celebrations.

However, the celebrations will be somewhat muted by the fact that notwithstanding Somaliland and Somalilanders have run their own affairs now for a quarter of a century, they still have not received formal recognition of their independence by the international community.

One of the foremost principles of the post-colonial world was that of “self-determination”, i.e. the ability so far as is possible for peoples to decide how they were governed. It was a principle that led, in due course, to the creation of new states in Africa, such as South Sudan and Eritrea.

Somaliland has a much stronger claim to statehood than either South Sudan or Eritrea as Somaliland has been a de jure state in the past.


Somaliland is what was once known as the British Somaliland Protectorate. An area of land in East Africa, occupied by Britain, to give protection to Aden, and to the sea routes to India.

The British Somaliland Protectorate had clearly defined boundaries, settled and agreed between Britain and neighbouring colonial powers, during the 19th century.

There is no dispute as to Somaliland’s borders.

During the 1950’s, Somalis in Africa had a dream of a greater Somali nation which would have brought together Somalis living in the then British Somaliland Protectorate in that area of Africa which had been occupied by the Italians and was at the time subject to a UN protection; also bringing together Somalis in Ethiopia and Somalis in Kenya.

Greater Somalia never happened.

What did happen was that one Sunday in 1960, the British Somaliland Protectorate was granted independence from the United Kingdom as a de jure state.

That de jure entity chose to merge with what had previously been Italian Somalia which was granted independence by the UN a number of days later.

The two countries came together to form what was known as Somalia.

It did not take long for the relationship to turn sour and there came a time when the Government in Mogadishu sent war planes to bomb and seek to destroy Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland.

Hargeisa to this day still has the bomb craters and scars of that bombing.

Thousands of Somalilanders were killed, but the attacks on Somalilanders by the Government in Mogadishu did not receive much attention from the international community at the time.

In response to being attacked by Mogadishu, Somaliland declared independence.

For the last 25 years they have been running their own affairs.

Somaliland has a President and a bi-cameral Parliament.

There are regular Presidential and Parliamentary elections, with change of power between political parties in a way which is not necessarily often seen elsewhere in Africa.

Unlike Somalia, there has been no piracy off Somaliland’s coast and Somaliland is an essentially peaceful country.

Why then has the world seemingly forgotten Somaliland?

Countries in Europe, like the United Kingdom, give development assistance to Somaliland through DFID, but claim that it is not appropriate for European countries or “former colonial powers” to get involved and that this is a matter which should be sorted out in Africa.

When strife and conflict has affected other parts of Africa, the European Union has not been slow to intervene.

Somaliland seems to be paying the price of being peaceful and orderly.

In international law, Somaliland’s position is no different from that of the Gambia and Senegal.

At one time, Gambia decided to merge with Senegal.   Then after a while decided they did not like that union, de-merged, and again became a separate state – a position entirely analogous to that of the relationship between Somaliland and Somalia.   However, notwithstanding that Somaliland has declared itself independent now for some 25 years, broadsheet newspapers in the UK, such as the Sunday Telegraph, still refer to Somaliland as a “ . . . breakaway region of Somalia”.

It is a phrase which distorts the reality on the ground, but lawyers could argue that until Somaliland is formally granted “de jure independence”, newspapers like the London Sunday Telegraph are able to pretend that Somaliland does not exist.

This grey world of being a “de facto”, rather than a “de jure” state also seriously impairs Somaliland’s ability to develop their own natural resources, whether they be gypsum, marble, oil or gas, or to develop their fishing.

Notwithstanding that Somaliland has been independent for some 25 years, they have recently found themselves subject to UN sanctions imposed on Somalia, in an attempt to bring order to Mogadishu.

So far as the people of Somaliland are concerned, the UN imposing sanctions upon them as if they are Somalia, is simply rubbing salt into the wound of the failure of the UN and the international community to recognise Somaliland as a separate country these last 25 years.

When Somaliland has sought to market its offshore fishing, the UN Sanction Monitors have attacked companies such as Anglo Somaliland Resources who have been seeking to market opportunities and fishing in Somaliland to responsible international fishing companies.

The upshot is that no one in Somaliland is benefiting from their fish stocks. These are simply being raided by bandit ships from Yemen, Egypt and elsewhere, and no one from the UN Sanction Monitors, or any other UN Agency is making any attempt to prevent such plundering of Somaliland’s fish stocks.

Somaliland wishes to develop the road between Berbera, a strategically important port, through to the border with Ethiopia and thence to Addis Ababa.

It would make enormous sense to improve the road connections between Berbera and Ethiopia.   As soon as the Government of Somaliland makes such a proposal, the Government of Somalia objects and seeks to frustrate donor contributions.

There are some in the international community who say that Somaliland should negotiate their independence with Somalia but for much of the last 25 years, there has been no coherent Government in Mogadishu with whom the Somalilanders have been able to negotiate.

The people of Somaliland have made it very clear, for a very long time, what they wish for under any established principle of self-determination. Any Referendum in Somaliland would give overwhelming support to Somaliland having de jure independence.

25 years after Somaliland reasserted their right to be an independent country, it is time for the world to stop forgetting Somaliland.

It is time for the UN and the international community to stop imposing sanctions on Somaliland and criticising those seeking to help Somaliland.

It is time for the UN and the international community to give Somaliland the independence that Somaliland wants and deserves.


Sir Tony Baldry

23 March 2016