South Sudan, Somaliland, and Border Changes in Africa

Yesterday the BBC invited readers to a discussion on Facebook about the potential impact of South Sudanese secession on political configurations in Africa:

If South Sudan gets independence, will it encourage splits in other African countries? A number of voices are suggesting that could happen as the vote takes place in the South. Could Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Congo, Angola and others break up too? Colonel Gaddafi described a divided Sudan as “the beginning of the crack in Africa’s map” … Would that be a good or bad thing for the continent?

From what I know, border changes and the partition of nations occur relatively rarely. In Africa, you have Eritrean independence from Ethiopia in the early 1990s, but beyond that I am struggling to find an example of a country on the continent seceding from or joining another since the independence era (see Wikipedia’s list of border changes in Africa since World War I). So I think that South Sudan’s secession may inspire hope among secessionists elsewhere, but I do not think it will touch off a domino effect of splits.

There is one other region in Africa that appears within reach of independent nationhood: Somaliland, which has claimed independence since 1991. Somaliland has its own government and enjoys a greater degree of stability than other regions of Somalia. Recently Somaliland successfully transferred power from one democratically elected leader to another, reinforcing democratic credentials that outshine those of many independent African nations. As crisis continues in southern and central Somalia, moreover, the US and other Western powers are showing greater willingness to consider recognizing Somaliland or at least treating it, de facto, as its own nation.

Interestingly, given this discussion about South Sudan and Somaliland, The Economist recently interviewed Somaliland’s new president, Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo, and Somaliland’s foreign minister, Mohamed Abdullahi Omar, on the subject. The interview is worth reading in full, but here is one key quote:

Baobab: What are the implications of the referendum in South Sudan for Somaliland’s quest for recognition?

AS: If the international community accepts South Sudan’s independence, that opens the door for us as well. It would mean that the principle that African borders should remain where they were at the time of independence would change. It means that If Southern Sudan can go their way, that should open the door for Somaliland’s independence as well and that the international position that Somaliland not be recognised  separate from Somalia has changed.

What do you think? Is recognition for Somaliland in sight?

15 thoughts on “South Sudan, Somaliland, and Border Changes in Africa

  1. Somaliland is an independent country from that alshabab are in control of, Somaliland is the key for democracy in east Africa, let us not lie to one abother ther is no way back with somalia. war will begin if ever somalia try to get involved with somaliland affairs.

    somaliland is recognized country the sooner the world admits the better east Africa will get, the question here is does the world wants east Africa to be stable?

    • I think you are right that there is no turning back for Somaliland. I still think it will take a while longer for official recognition though.

  2. The people of Africa must not be held hostage for the mistakes and violations of human right committed by European colonial forces. Somaliland along with Ogaden occupied region of eastern Ethiopia must be given the right to express there self determination rights and be given the same opportunity that has been given to south Sudan. Though Somaliland voluntarily joined southern Somalia after gaining independence in the 60s, the Ogaden region has yet to be given this basic human right. The international community must recognize the hundred years of oppression and suppression against the Somali ogaden people by brutal successive Ethiopian regimes.

    • Thanks for the link Jon. I skimmed your document (which has a very effective opening by the way) and it looks like we mostly agree.

      • Thanks Jon. Your paper is also very interesting. I liked how you compared the situation to history and one area in Africa to the rest of Africa. Helped me gain a perspective.

  3. Somaliland has reached the point of no return on the the re-union with Somalia…Period . Anything beyond that will restart the the civil war that brought down the dictatorship of Siyad Barre in 1991…

  4. i appreriate the this article and i want say thank you somaliland is brother of their nabourhood of somalia and recongnation of somaliland will participate the stabilaty of somalia
    the refredum of south sudan is apporunity of somaliland and openign the the hope of window

  5. Does the Senegambia Confederation of the 1980’s count? Another example of two countries deciding to join together and then separate, much like British and Italian Somaliland in 1960. Granted, Senegambia never functioned wholly as one country like Somalia did. Similarly, the UAR (Egypt and Syria) formed in 1958 and split in 1961.

    • Hi Alex, it all depends on how one counts it. There were definitely splits and unions during what I would call the independence era – say, 1952-1967, to pull some dates at random. So the UAR, the Senegal-Mali federation, all that counts for me. But since that time, I see very few examples of political reconfiguration beyond Eritrea. But the Senegambia Confederation is an interesting example, and I’ll have to think about that. With the issue of federations and confederations in general, your example also made me think that maybe in the long run, it’s possible ECOWAS will achieve greater political unity among its members. But that seems far off. What do you think? Do you see Africa’s boundaries as fairly fluid?

  6. Somaliland once was an independent country, British Somaliland gained independence on 26 June, 1960, and five days later it merged with Italian Somalia to form Somali Republic. So Somaliland is not seceding from the rest of Somalia, it is simply regaining it’s independence.

  7. “Somaliland’s case is unique” as the African Fact Finding Commission concluded in their tour to Somaliland years ago in mission to study the Somaliland case. The uniqueness, in this context is that Somaliland was a seperate country during the colonial Africa era. It claims the sovereignty over the legal borders of the former Somaliland Brithish Protectorate which gained independence 5 days before the ex-Italian Colony of Somalia become independent and joined the former one (Somaliland). Therefore, Somaliland does not contradict the clonial border based criterion that the African corrupt leaders entertain.

    • The U.K (like virtually every other recognized state in the world) is bound to an agreement of ‘no new borders’. After the violence of the mid 20th century and the imperialism of the 19th/early 20th centuries I don’t blame them. There are reasons states like Kosovo remain the exception and look at how controversial that one was.

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