By: Aman H.D. Obsiye
Somalilandsun – Introduction, The Republic of Somaliland re-declared its independence on May 18th, 1991, therefore removing itself from Somalia proper. I say re-declared its independence because on June 26th, 1960 it initially gained independence from Great Britain and then voluntarily joined into a union with Somalia Italiana (Italian Somaliland) on July 1st, 1960, to create the Somali Republic.
Since re-declaring its independence, Somaliland has been able to govern itself peacefully as a functioning country with an independent judiciary, free press, distinctive currency (Somaliland shilling), and other attributes of national governance. Since 1991, Somaliland has had four presidents with the latter two being elected in open elections that was deemed free and fair by international observers. I had the pleasure of observing their 2010 Presidential election.
Somaliland justifies its independence mainly on two points: (1) it was previously an independent recognized country, State of Somaliland, from 06/26/1960-07/01/1960, and (2) its people where brutally victimized by Somalia’s dictatorial ruler, Siad Barre (1969-91). It is no secret that gross human rights violations were inflicted upon the Isaaq tribe by Barre’s regime. Over fifty thousand innocent people died from the onslaught simply because of their tribal affiliation, what I call Africa’s Other Genocide.
The Montevideo Convention stipulates four elements for statehood: (1) a permanent population; (2) a defined territory; (3) government; and (4) capacity to enter into relations with the other states. The two main legal theories concerning statehood are the declarative theory and the constitutive theory. The former theory stipulates that sovereignty must be declared by the respective state and the respective state must meet the four elements in the Montevideo Convention. The latter theory simply states that another recognized sovereignty must publicly recognize the existence of the respective state. Under the Montevideo Convention and the declarative theory, Somaliland currently exists as an official country. No country has recognized Somaliland as of yet, therefore it does not qualify as a country under the constitutive theory.
Why Recognition May Be Imminent
Recently, Somaliland’s President Mohamoud Silanyo has visited Ankara (April 13th) and London (April 17th) per official invitations. He is currently in Washington D.C. per official invitation from Obama’s Administration to meet senior officials and members of the US Congress. One must wonder why President Silanyo is being courted by the world powers, while the other regional presidents within Somalia proper are not.
Also, when asked about the meeting between himself and Somalia’s President, and the Ankara Communique their respective governments signed, President Silanyo has stated that “our dialogue with Somalia is on a two countries basis . . . .” In addition, while speaking at the Atlantic Council in D.C. (April 22nd), President Silanyo stated that “Somalia and Somaliland can and should be equal partners.”
It seems that the Somaliland’s aspiration for recognition may soon come. Mogadishu now has an official government recognized by the community of nations (e.g. US, UK, etc.) and various international organizations (e.g. World Bank, IMF, etc.), its government is no longer transitional. This allows the current Mogadishu government to legally grant Hargeisa (Somaliland’s capital) official recognition; this would not have been binding in the past with the transitional governments. The parent country, Somalia, may be the first country to recognize Somaliland. The international community seems to be facilitating this process.
The Communique’s third point hints at this: “the Dialogue is between the Federal Government of Somalia and the Government of Somaliland. The international community that is supporting this process will only provide facilitation when is needed.”
The Two Likely Scenarios for Recognition
The first scenario will be similar to the Addis Abba-Asmara model or the Khartoum-Juba model. In the former model, Addis Abba, the parent country, recognized Asmara as its own sovereign entity after Eritrea held a referendum. In this model Hargeisa would host a national referendum, in which the majority vote would obviously be for Somaliland statehood. In the latter model, Khartoum, the parent country, entered into a unity government with Juba for a said period of time. After the said period of time, Juba held a referendum which allowed its citizens to choose between statehood or continued unity with Khartoum. After Juba chose statehood, Khartoum recognized it as a sovereign state. In this model Hargeisa would enter into a national unity government with Mogadishu for a said period of time, and afterwards host a referendum.
The second scenario will be similar to the London-model. The United Kingdom consists of four independent countries (i.e. England, Scotland, N. Ireland, and Wales), which collectively make up the sovereign state, the UK. In this model Somaliland would be recognized as an independent country with its borders being the former British Somaliland. Somalia would continue to be recognized as an independent country with its borders now being the former Italiana Somalia. Together, Somaliland and Somalia would collectively make up the sovereign state (e.g. the Somali Union). The second scenario has previously taken place between Somaliland and Somalia. The legislature of the State of Somaliland passed the “Law of Union Between Somaliland and Somalia” on June 27th, 1960 [see article 1 (a)].
To conclude, the Somalis are part of both the African and Arab civilizations, and both civilizations have witnessed the disintegration of unions. From 1982-89, Senegal and Gambia collectively made up the Senegambia Confederation, and from 1958-61, Egypt and Syria collectively made up the United Arab Republic. If Somaliland and Somalia decide to disintegrate their union, they will not be the first of their respective civilizations.
Regardless of which scenario ensues, Somaliland may soon become a recognized country.
Aman H.D. Obsiye is a law student at the University of Minnesota, specializing in International Law. He served as an official international election observer in Somaliland’s 2010 Presidential election.