Somaliland: Why not Recognize the Country that is More Viable than Somalia?

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Map of Somaliland British Protectorate in 1960

By: Lee Mwiti

Somalilandsun – On the face of it, Somaliland has all the basic characteristics required for statehood: a settled population, a largely defined territory (bar a dispute with Puntland) and a central government in effective control. Indeed, it has its own flag, currency, army, police and holds regular–and democratic–elections.

Adventurous travellers to the region located north of Somalia tell of a warm people, glorious weather and stunning landscape such as the Cal Madow ranges. Even the fact that one has to pay for goods while there with a wheelbarrow-load of local currency has not deterred the refreshing entrepreneurial spirit of the locals.

The region unilaterally declared independence from Somalia in 1991, in the chaos that followed the collapse of the central Somalia government. Even then, the country has always had ambitions of self-determination, considering itself a successor to the British Somaliland protectorate of 1960, before an ill-advised unity bid with Italian Somaliland.

Since then, the region has built itself up, to a point where it has attracted the ultimate stamp of capitalism: Transnationals. Coca-Cola in 2011 issued a franchise licence to Somaliland businessman Ahmed Guelleh for a bottling plant. Only Cuba and North Korea are yet to be issued such a licence.

But there is a damper: No other country has recognised Somaliland’s declaration of independence, and as such it lacks the capacity to enter into diplomatic relations, the other key determinant of statehood, and a vital factor for attracting even more investment.

It is hard not to argue that the African Union would have taken a softer stance had its secession been clothed as a liberation struggle, but as matters stand, the bloc–and most other states in keeping with international law–maintain that colonial borders were frozen at the point of independence, to avoid stirring an hornet’s nest.

Further north is to be found Somalia, whose federalist system continues to perceive Somaliland as still its own. As expected, relations between the two authorities have been frosty.

Fresh lemon juice

They have, however, been prodded by countries such as Britain and Norway to hold talks, but it is hard to see either climbing down from their hard-line positions. Indeed, Mogadishu is aware that diplomatic recognition of the Hargeisa government would be international acknowledgement that it is a lost cause.

The latest round of long-drawn out talks two weeks back in Istanbul could only agree to hold more talks.

Somalia, on the other hand, has in recent years managed to earn itself the tag of the ultimate failed state. The central government remains weak, and only survives in the face of a grave militant threat by the grace of the African Union troops. Indeed, it is only in control in the the capital Mogadishu, and targeted cities such as the port of Kismayu.

Elections are conducted by lawmakers–themselves also selected–as the country is too unstable to allow a popular vote. Few make a decent living in such an environment. It can hardly keep a grip on its borders, with the net effect that neighbouring countries have no second thoughts about crossing their borders into Somalia, ostensibly to secure their own national security.

Granted, there are offshoots of recovery: Not a day passes by without some envoy trooping to Villa Somalia–the state house–to re-establish links. Photo ops with donors are the order of the day, while aid continues to stream in.

This also dLee Mwitioes not, in any way, denigrate the devastation being visited on the country by decades of internecine warfare. But it is a country whose sovereignty exists in name only–why would ambitious Somaliland want to be a part of such chaos?

The international community owes the hardworking people of Somaliland a rethink about its diplomatic recognition.

Still, a state may thrive without international recognition, and Somaliland remains a region keen on squeezing fresh lemon juice out of the lemonade handed to it, Taiwan-style.

Twitter: @ShrewdAfrican

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