The State of Somaliland

I’m not much of a humorist, but I’ll point out that the title of this post is a (weak, I admit) pun, for it refers both to the current state of affairs in the autonomous republic of Somaliland and to Somaliland’s quest for international recognition. Both stories have made headlines recently.


Berbera, Somaliland

Al Jazeera asks, as many others have, whether Somaliland is heading toward collapse. A crisis over presidential elections, originally scheduled for late September but now delayed indefinitely, has made observers in and outside the country uneasy since this summer. But now, Al Jazeera writes, “Recent violence, particularly in the capital Hargeysa, has shown that the crisis in Somaliland has changed from being political to one of security and stability.”

When Al Jazeera speaks of violence, they are referring partly to the explosion that killed a senior military official in the town of Las Anod earlier this month. It’s unclear who bears responsibility for the bombing, but theories are circulating, including one that pins responsibility on al Shabab. It’s also worth noting that this attack occurred in a context of tension between Somaliland and its neighbor, the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, over borders.

A massive flow of immigrants from Ethiopia into Somaliland constitutes another major source of pressure on the region.

Al Jazeera’s pessimism may be warranted, but there are other sides to the story. The dispute between President Dahir Riyale and opposition groups over elections, which turned ugly when Riyale postponed the elections, appeared to reach a breakthrough once parliament approved a new electoral commission in late October. The commission includes the president as well as opposition representatives. ReliefWeb went so far as to call this step a “beacon of hope.”

Finally, a measure of economic growth, at least compared to Somalia’s other regions, may act as a stabilizing force in Somaliland. Saudi Arabia’s recent resumption of livestock trade with Somalia may benefit the whole country, but so far its biggest impact appears to be in Somaliland, where sales have already increased tenfold. The boost for livestock traders is also a boost to Somaliland’s ports and other sectors of the economy. Meanwhile, the New York Times informs us that remittances from Somalis abroad are a crucial source of cash for many Somalis, but have a particular impact in Somaliland, where “the Somali diaspora has contributed money for education, health and other social programs.”

I’m not saying that Somaliland is a capitalist paradise and therefore freedom and democracy will sprout like wildflowers, but it does seem that the measure of political stability that exists is allowing the potential, at least, for economic growth. If those two factors work in tandem, that gives elites a huge incentive to work together to resolve the electoral crisis before it disrupts not only political stability, but economic interests as well.


On the international front, Somaliland has shown, as one writer observers, remarkable persistence in its efforts to attract recognition from other countries. Much seems to hinge on the African Union’s backing, which may come at some point but not, it appears, any time soon.

However, this month’s visit of a Pakistani delegation to Somaliland may open a new door.

Mr. Abdirasak, Somaliland’s newly appointed representative to Pakistan told local media that the two sides have discussed the opening of a Somaliland representation office in Pakistan, to stregthen bilateral relationship and requested Pakistan to throw its weight behind Somaliland’s bid for international recognition.

Somaliland also appealed to Pakistan to help them gain membership in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which is the second largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations with 57 member states spread over four continents.

Local media also reported that Pakistan would assist Somaliland to combat piracy in the region and train it’s small fleet of coastguards.

It is the first visit of such by Pakistani officials to Somaliland since restoring its nationhood in 1991. Many Somalilanders see the arrival of the Pakistani delegation as a firm step forward in a new relationship between the two nations that will open new doors for Somaliland in the Asian region.

Membership in the OIC sounds like a big deal to me. I wonder if they’ll get it. In the meantime, it looks like more persistence on Somaliland’s part will be needed – and, I imagine, the successful conclusion of the now much-anticipated elections – before a serious change in their international relations occurs.

2 thoughts on “The State of Somaliland

  1. Another dimension worth considering here is the situation facing displaced people from Somalia who are seeking assistance in Somaliland. Mohammed Adow’s report sums it up.

    Basically, Somaliland wants the people to be recognised as “refugees”, rather than IDPs. This would represent de facto recognition of Somaliland’s independence. And while this argument takes place the displaced are living in hardship.

    Desperation all round.

    • Toaf, this is a good point, and thanks for sharing the video. I hadn’t thought about the implications of defining people as refugees vs. IDPs.

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