Le Monde: Somaliland, the lessons of a ghost country

The former British protectorate (Somaliland), self-proclaimed independence of Somalia in 1991, has not been recognized by any state but tries to consolidate the exercise of democracy.

Who knows Somaliland? This territory located in the northern confines of Somalia has persisted for twenty-six years to prove that it can make a peaceful and democratic destiny in the midst of chaos. The former British protectorate, self-proclaimed independent of Somalia in 1991, has so far been recognized by no other state. It officially remains an autonomous province of the country formed the Somalia Italian 1 st  July 1960, five days after having loosened the ties with the colonial power.

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Its trajectory is an exception in the Horn of Africa, where authoritarian regimes and failed states are the norm. The presidential election of November 13 has just confirmed. The candidate of the party in power, Musa Bihi Abdi invested on December 14, was elected after an electoral process that observers of the international mission funded by the United Kingdom have called “overall peaceful and well organized” . Despite irregularities in several constituencies and after a week of negotiations peppered with some clashes, his main rival, Abdirahman Irro, sided with the verdict of the electoral commission not to ruin Somaliland’s most valuable asset in advocating its cause on the international stage.

Closed door

So far, the emissaries of Somaliland have, however, always found a closed door. Westerners, yet attentive to the consolidation of this democratic experiment – besides the United Kingdom, the United States financed the updating of the electoral lists from a biometric system by iris scan -, discard the African Union (AU). The continental organization is not more willing to engage on this issue. The country’s candidacy, filed in 2005, to become a member state of the AU has remained a dead letter. The line of the AU is clear: avoid to reopen a debate on the borders inherited from colonization, which could supply the secessionist wishes still alive in many countries. The dispute between Morocco and the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, whose effects it has been directly affected since the Sherifian Kingdom reinstated the institution at the end of 2016, confirms it in this way. In addition, the influence of Egypt, close to Somalia, a member like it of the Arab League, also contributes to this status quo.

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With its administration, its army and its flag, Somaliland is thus part of these de facto (de facto) states as opposed to de jure (de jure) states which enjoy the anointing of other states and the United Nations. This status stowaway does not prevent to maintain relations with some bilateral donors and UN aid agencies, whose stores line the streets of the capital, Hargeisa, to make publicity of some projects financed by foreign subsidies. The United Kingdom has opened representative offices. The absence of separate statistics in the aid registers makes it difficult to accurately assess this support. At best, it would reach a hundred million dollars on the big annual billion granted to Mogadishu since 2010.

On this account, Somalilanders have good reason to believe that the war pays more than peace. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Saad Ali Shire, said bluntly: “The international community does not recognize our efforts and contribution to the stability of the region. It rewards bad governance more. “ Without greater access to international wickets, including those of the Monetary Fund International (IMF), and a reassuring legal framework for foreign investors, Somaliland lives primarily capital repatriated by its diaspora and the success of some private entrepreneurs. The contract signed in 2016 with Dubai to develop the deep-sea port of Berbera on the Gulf of Aden, and the one signed this year with the United Arab Emirates for the installation of a naval base, however, gave rise to hope for better days.

Inconceivable backtracking

In the meantime, widespread underemployment pushes young people onto the roads of exile. With their Ethiopian or Eritrean neighbors, they are among the most likely to try to join the Europe. The drought that has plagued the Horn of Africa for four seasons has decimated herds of dromedaries that were exported to the Arabian Peninsula. Tens of thousands of people who have lost almost everything have inflated the refugee camps located near the main cities. In addition, 70% of the 3.5 million inhabitants living in this territory a little larger than Greece are under 30 years old. The peace and freedom they are so proud of is not a cure for hunger. Nor to the absence of horizon in which encloses the situation of a ghost country. Any return back seems however inconceivable.

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In the younger generations born in an “independent” Somaliland, the only evocation that could one day otherwise raise an absolute refusal. Musa Bihi Abdi has pledged to resume the discussions with the Mogadishu federal government to negotiate the terms of a divorce that would open the way to international recognition. So far, all attempts have failed. The last mediation, under the auspices of Turkey, aborted in 2015. The road ahead is long and unsecured. The many European chancelleries who have congratulated Somaliland for this additional step towards democracy and promised their cooperation financial institutions have been careful not to venture into this field.