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Somaliland: On Recognition And Statehood

Waxa qorey: Ibrahim Hassan Gagale

Introduction:   The twelve year old patience of Somaliland people in these trying times for diplomatic recognition proves the perseverance and resilience of that nation and its commitment to independent, sovereign state. Somaliland suffered, before, from a two-decade long humiliation, dereliction, injustice, and repression (1960-1980) and a decade long merciless campaign of atrocities and destruction (1981-1991) through indiscriminate heavy bombardment on civilians, cities (Hargeisa and Burao) towns, and rural areas by warplanes, tanks and artillery. 

This vitriolic war was caused and pursued by Darodism-driven zealots, a view not shared by many of their clan, and drew misled, disoriented Hawiye and others into it. It was motivated by both tribal hatred and desire for land expansion and devised to ethnic cleanse an entire people, Isaks, either by massacring or expelling in order to resettle refugees from Ethiopian-ruled Western Somali Province and others in their motherland. The insane campaign, which violated Islamic righteousness, conscience, and morality, was mounted from Mogadisho by Siyad`s divisive, brutal regime. The valiant armed struggle of SNM (1981-1991), supported by its courageous people, rescued Somaliland and its people from the well plotted statelessness in January 1991. This liberation facilitated the victorious national reconciliation, the immediate withdrawal from the disastrous union with Somalia, and the reclamation of Somaliland sovereignty in the Pan-Somaliland Conference held in Burao, capital of Togdheer region, in May 1991. Subsequently, law and order were restored, clan militias were disarmed, and democratic institutions were established .  The joint efforts of Somaliland police and army made Somaliland a peaceful, stable country since its proclamation, and protect it from international terrorism, drug trafficking and smuggling. The army is also ready to defend the country from external aggressions. 

Somaliland Recognition 

The United Nations, which has the authority of international legitimacy, is still withholding the legitimate recognition of Somaliland unjustifiably for the last 12 years. Somalilandland has fulfilled the fundamental condition for diplomatic recognition: An existing independent nation with its own colonial-drawn borders- a legal basis for diplomatic recognition. Article 4 of African Union charter asserts that the organization respects and recognizes independence of African countries based on colonial borders. The diplomatic recognition of all the 54 current African states is based on these colonial borders. 

Provisions on sovereignty in the charters of the UN and Arab League also support and recognize independence based on colonial borders. Somaliland is not a breakaway or a separatist country.

The UN, the African Union, and the Arab League know undisputably that Somaliland achieved independence before Somalia on June 26, 1960 within its colonial borders, and was one of the 17 African countries that obtained independence in 1960 from Europe. However, it had unratified merger with Somalia for 30 years (July 1960- January 1991) but withdrew from that union due to the above mentioned atrocities and destruction. 

In that year of independence, 1960, and before the merger, 35 countries recognized Somaliland diplomatically including Egypt. Why not now? what is the difference between then and Now? Somaliland is not the first country that withdrew from a union. Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia withdrew from the Soviet Union collapse in 1989, Bosnia and Macedonia withdrew from the Federation of disintegrated Yugoslavia in 1990s. All these new countries were automatically recognized by the United Nations. Somaliland is not exception as it fulfilled the same criteria. Besides the withdrawal decision of May 1991, the landmark referendum held in Somaliland on May 31, 2001, overwhelmingly approved Somaliland constitution and reaffirmed, in the presence of international election monitors, the will of the Somaliland people to have independent, sovereign state of their own.

Neither the UN nor the regional organizations (African Union and Arab League) have the right to nullify the decision of Somaliland people in that referendum. The neglect of Somaliland by the international community exposes its shocking double standard that on one hand advocates for peace, stability, and democratic institutions, and, on the other hand, ignores peaceful, stable, democratic Somaliland by denying it of diplomatic recognition. This denial has no legal basis in the court of international law. The delay is just a mere hope by the UN and regional organizations that Somaliland may return to the union with Somalia one day. 

This political gambling at the expense of Somaliland people for 12 years is irresponsible. It is also perpetuation of lawlessness, despair, famine, and violent, factional fighting in Somalia. This unfounded hope will not affect the iron will of Somaliland people toward self-determination but will consolidate their unchanging stance to have independent, sovereign state from the injustice and killing machine of Somalia. Somaliland government will not attend any peace talks held for Somalia because that would undermine its sovereignty and damage its legitimacy for recognition . The recent, alarming report of IGAD executive committee named:

Negotiating a Blueprint for Peace in Somalia, and released on March 6, 2003 is another undisguised hostile attempt by IGAD countries that, when failed to rescue the curent peace talks in Kenya from collapse, is ploting to derail Somaliland sovereignty and fight its legitimate, diplomatic recognition. The Somaliland government, parliament, political parties, intellectuals, media, Somalilandforum, and its surrogates and sympathizers around the world ought to stand up now for Somaliland cause and launch a coordinated worldwide campaign at the UN, African Union, and donor governments to defend Somaliland sovereignty and advocate for immediate diplomatic recognition. Somaliland government must reject publicly the pressure from UN, African Union, Arab League, and IGAD, and show the impracticality of what is called “Federalism”. This report is on: When the UN, African Union, and the Arab League push Somaliland to reunify with Somalia again, can they guarantee for Somaliland people that a ruthless Southern military or civilian dictator will not emerge in Federal Somalia again, dissolving any federal constitution, parliament, and government immediately, and inflicting the same atrocities and destruction upon Somaliland again? The answer is simply NO. Then, they should stop that push , recognize Somaliland, and let the two peoples live in peace separately. Somalia itself has no delusion that Somaliland has international legitimacy for recognition for achieving independence before it in 1960. There is no doubt that Somalia would be peaceful and stable country today led by its own government if Somaliland were recognized long time ago. This would happen for two reasons. First, the people of Somalia would not waste any more time on waiting for Somaliland. Secondly, they would emulate jealously with Somaliland. Now, neither Somaliland is recognized nor Somalia has peace, both peoples are punished equally in the hands of UN. The current UN policy of keeping both countries at bay is not working any more. The sooner Somaliland is recognized the better chance to restore peace, law, and order in Somalia. There is no question that Somaliland will be recognized diplomatically, soon or later, for having full legitimacy and the statehood of Somaliland will be real. The patience and resilience will pay soon. Now, the eyes of the international community are focused on the coming Somaliland presidential elections in April 2003. What is at stake, in this crucial moment, is the diplomatic recognition of Somaliland and its democratic institutions. It is the biggest test of Somaliland since its inception of 1991 and the best chance for international recognition. So, the election must be clean of corruption and tribalism, must be conducted peacefully, and every Somalilander ought to respect its results. The loser must concede graciously for the interest of the country and the people and the winner must be congratulated wholeheartedly for the same sake in order to sustain peaceful, stable, democratic Somaliland that promises prosperity and happiness for all Somalilanders and wins the respect of the international community. Besides diplomatic recognition, smooth, fair elections boost foreign financial aid to fund essential projects such as roads, health, water supply, schools, electricity etc.

But beware! It is the sacred duty of all Somalilanders to make sure to elect a president who is committed to the cause of Somaliland. The ruling party must not use the search for Somaliland recognition for political gains and both government and political parties must be cleansed of pro-union elements that can jeopardize Somaliland cause. Opposing Somaliland sovereignty is treason but opposing an incumbent rule or administration advocating better political reforms is a progressive democratic view and must be respected by all. 

Somaliland Statehood

Somaliland state rose on the ashes of Somalia-mounted war ravages that claimed much blood of Somaliland`s dear sons and daughters either through killing and massacring in cities or falling in battlefields during liberation resistance (1981-1991). The current situation in Somaliland is commendable and on the right track that could promise every Somalilander for fast recovery, permanent peace, and progress. Somaliland people must continue disproving the claim of others that Somalilanders have selfish, chronic tribalism that prevents them from sustaining stable, peaceful State. They must dismiss that false idea and show the world that patriotism and nationalism are far above tribalism and selfishness in Somaliland. The inter-clan armed confrontation between 1994-1995 was a tragic mistake and undeserving to forget the sad memories inherited from Somalia, and offensive to those who were slaughtered or fell for the cause. It is the interest of all Somalilanders to solve all problems peacefully. Somalilanders have enough experience what could devastate a nation. The only danger that can threaten the peace and stability in Somaliland and undermine its diplomatic recognition could come from tribal ambitions for corrupt, tribal dictatorship through corrupt elections that finally causes violent reactions from the rest of the nation and that could trigger another civil war of death, destruction, and fleeing which affects the ruled, the ruler, the poor, and the rich equally and that could lead Somaliland to another unwelcome, embarrassing, and humiliating merger with Somalia. Such scenario must be avoided by all means. Both external and internal enemies are also another menace to Somaliland. They work hard to undermine Somaliland peace and stability in order to deny it of recognition and statehood. They would love to see Somaliland in shambles with its people seeking refuge in Somalia again for union. 

All Somalilanders must be on constant alert to avert preemptively such sabotages. As any other nation on this planet, Somaliland people can disagree on platforms of the different political parties but they can not disagree on defending national security, unity, and sovereignty. The biggest war in a democratic country is the battle of ideas and the biggest weapon is the political platform to win the hearts of a nation. A successful Somaliland State with permanent peace and progress hinges on three: Respect for the law (Somaliland Constituiton), respect for the democratic system, Islam supports shared rule through representation that respects Islamic laws and rejects unjust dictatorships, and respect for freedom of press and speech. Law is the guarantor of smooth, uninterrupted running of Somaliland state as well as the safety of the people and their property. Democracy is the enemy of tribal dictatorship and corrupt regimes. Freedom of press and speech is the guiding beacon of a democratic rule and the guardian of the people`s state. It is the foe of a government for disclosing or spotlighting publicly its selfish greed for power and wealth, its corruptions, mal-administration, and human rights violations. It is the existential interest of all Somalilanders to protect constructive freedom of press and speech (TVS, radios, newspapers, Internet, speeches etc) from governmental crackdown to avoid tribal dictatorship, corruption, and favorism. There are some Somalis who wrongly believe that all Somalis share any Somali territory and have the right to reside, work, participate in its wealth, or even govern in any one of the five Somalis (Somaliland, Somalia, Djabouti, Northeastern Somali province in Kenya, and Western Somali province in Ethiopia) just because all Somalis share origin, culture, religion, and language. This is a dangerous tendency that advocates for chaos, statelessness, and total absence of national identity which existed during Siyad`s rule (1970-1990) when refugees from Western Somali province in Ethiopia were allowed to hold key positions in the government and military , making them the most powerful and privileged people in the then Republic of Somalia, and, at the same time, depriving its citizens of their basic rights and legitimate opportunities. Somaliland government and people must always reject that illegitimate sharing tendency. Somalis are not different from the 18 arab countries who also share origin, culture, religion, and language but have separate independent states that require an arab person to have legal visas for entering another arab state. Similarly, Somalis do not share any territory or state but each territory or country belongs solely to its own people. If the Somalis failed historically to share union and government peacefully and democratically, then they must stay separately for the peace and interest of each people. Somaliland belongs exclusively to Somalilanders who, regardless of lineage or clan affiliation, historically and ethnically have origin in Somaliland and resided in it in the year of independence, 1960. Only Somaliland citizens have the sole right to claim and possess Somaliland citizenship, passports, and personal IDS.

Somaliland has well-defined national identity, inviolable territorial integrity, and internationally recognized borders. Any person that comes from the other four Somali territories or any other country in the world for the purpose of: visit, business, work, livestock marketing or any other harmless, decent purpose must enter and stay in Somaliland on official visas, and must leave it before its expiry. Exempt are Somaliland pastoralists who reside on the near other side of the border (Dhulka Hawd) with Ethiopia for sharing ethnicity and history with Somalilanders.

 Non-Somalilanders who prefer to stay in Somaliland awhile for different acceptable circumstances such as political or tribal persecution must have legal documents of residence. It is the interest of Somaliland security, stability, and sovereignty to keep track of all foreigners in the country. The administration, governance, and defense of Somaliland solely belong to Somaliland people. God`s willing, Somaliland will hail soon its diplomatic recognition and will consolidate its statehood.

Writer: Ibrahim Hassan Gagale, Email: