Why the international community does not recognise Somaliland?
On May 18, the self-declared Republic of Somaliland marked its 20th anniversary of independence from the rest of Somalia. The occasion must have passed almost unnoticed by many around the world since this breakaway nation is not recognised internationally and hardly catches the attention of the world media.
Somaliland, with a population of about 4 million, is an ex-British colony that willingly merged with the former Italian Somalia at independence in 1960 to form the republic of Somalia. But under the military dictatorship of Mohamed Siad Barre, Somaliland was neglected, although it remained an integral part of the Somali state.
Following the overthrow of the Barre regime in May 1991, which left behind a country engulfed by anarchy and bloody inter-clan fighting, Somaliland seceded from the rest of Somalia and declared independence on the same day. Since then, efforts at reconciliation between the different Somali clans, drafting a new Constitution and democratisation have helped Somaliland metamorphose into one of a few peaceful, stable and progressive states on our continent.
In the last two decades the country has made gigantic strides on the socio-economic and political front, though it does not get any assistance from Western creditors to build its economy due to lack of international recognition. It relies for its development, on livestock exports, tourism and remittances from Somalis in the Diaspora, which are estimated at $ 650 million a year.
Even with its sparse resources, Somaliland has registered striking accomplishments, especially in the health and education sectors. For example, it has registered considerable reduction in maternal and child mortality.
According to the deputy minister of Health, Nimo Hussein Qawthan, maternal mortality rate has declined from 1,600 deaths per 100,000 women in 1991 to 1,044 per 100,000 in 2006; child mortality rate which was 275 in 1990, has dropped to 166 in 2006. And because of the vigorous fight against malaria, the country is almost malaria-free!
With regard to education, Somaliland has three world-class universities and several colleges as well as polytechnic schools – all built without foreign assistance. In 1991, according to Prof Ahmed Hussein Essa of the University of Hargeisa, there were a total of 219 primary, intermediate and secondary schools. Today the number of primary schools alone has increased to 506. Literacy rates have gone up from 20 per cent in 1991 to 45 per cent in 2010.
And, politically, the country’s multi-party democracy experimentation has been impressive; respect for human rights and the exercise of the freedom of expression and assembly are some of the salient features of the democratisation process. The country has successfully held three parliamentary and municipal elections, two presidential elections as well as smooth transfer of power since the death of President Mohamed Ibrahim Egal in May 2002.
But despite all these successes, Somaliland is still not recognised internationally as an independent and sovereign state. This surprises many an analyst (and infuriates the Somalilanders) because the country, which will never rejoin stateless Somalia, meets all the standard criteria of an independent state.
Interestingly, Somaliland is remarkably different from Croatia and Kosovo – nations that never had a separate history from Serbia. Yet, the two break-away nations became independent with the support of the Western powers, followed by the rest of the world.
On the other hand, the republic of Somaliland is not different from Eritrea which had a separate history from Ethiopia, but was allowed its independence. And Southern Sudan, which is historically part of the Sudan, recently decided to secede through a referendum and got international support. Now, why, one might ask, should Somaliland be treated differently? Is it because it has no oil?
Soon, the Western countries will be falling over each other to open embassies in Juba, as they scramble for Southern Sudan’s oil, while Somaliland, which is well managed compared to most African countries that are endowed with natural resources, remains totally ignored; but for how long? This unique country needs to be recognised so that it can become a member of the international community, do business with the rest of the world and be able to sign international treaties.
By Mr Kagaruki: is a political analyst based in Dar es Salaam