Thursday, October 22, 2009

Somaliland - The Rodney Dangerfield of the international community?

I recently bought a magazine called Monocle. It's a renaissance magazine, to say the least, dealing with architecture, household products, defence armaments, travel, and so on. In last month's issue there was a small piece on Somaliland. Somalia? Nope, Somaliland.

Somaliland, bordered by Ethiopia to the south, Djibouti to the northwest, and Somalia to the east.*

Now, most of us will have never heard of Somaliland. It's the northwestern portion of Somalia that declared independence in 1991 after the fall of the Barre dictatorship, but has never been recognized as a sovereign state**, even though it is far more stable in relation to the troubled Somalia to the south. And they're about to have a general election. How is this possible in the gun-totin', pirate-haven, Marine-killin', Blackhawk-Downin' ultra-dangerous Horn of Africa?

I first became interested in Somaliland while writing a paper on bottom-up state building in Somalia. This was before the Islamic courts were enforcing their authority to any great degree, when business, gang and religious interests were semi-cooperating to form and employ quasi-official groups to attempt to police the dangerous streets of Mogadishu, keep order at the port, and provide some stability for business. This piece here from the Economist, March 2004, should demonstrate that any success they were having was minimal and tenuous.

In contrast, their neighbours (and supposed subjects) to the north in Somaliland were holding elections, building hospitals and schools, establishing a central bank, and so on. The government has an official website,, on which you can find news of the soon-to-held election or how to apply for a visa.

So, please, check out Somaliland. Discover its treasures, its tribulations, its people and their culture. I originally planned for this to be a piece on Monocle, then on state-building, but it's just really interesting that Somaliland even exists. And maybe more interesting that it remains unrecognized by the international community. One would think that as a successful, self-made, post-colonial African state, Somaliland would be held up as an example of what can be accomplished. There are all sorts of cynical thoughts rolling around my brain right now.

* Somaliland shares (or rather contests) a border to the east with Puntland, another pseudo-independent state making up the northeast third of the old Somalia. It's interesting that Puntland is not mentioned on the Somaliland government website.

** Except, in a wonderful piece of political gamesmanship, by Wales, itself not a sovereign state.

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