Tomorrow, Saturday, May 18, the people of Somaliland across the world will gather in different places to celebrate 33 years since their State from a failed union with Somalia in 1991.

The country has since been practically independent with a government and other national attributes. However, the international community still regards it as a place in Somalia even given the significance calls by nationals in and out of the country for its recognition.

This explanatory piece delves into the country’s independence and why the world must recognise it.

The Republic of Somaliland is situated in a very strategic location in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea and has always been of interest for global strategic and commercial viabilities.

In the mid-16th century, the great Ottoman Empire annexed the port of Zeila and provided protection, at a cost collected through customs and other charges, for Arab, Persian, and Indian merchants who serviced the trade requirements of the surrounding area and the Abyssinian hinterland.

Shortly after Britain set garrisons in Aden Yemen, only 150 miles across the Berbera port of the Republic of Somaliland, in 1839, Somaliland became a source of fresh meat.

With the departure of the Egyptians and the possibility that other colonial powers had their eyes trained on the potential of the Somaliland coasts and its hinterland, Britain had to act fast.

The British government and Somali elders signed a series of treaties with Britain from 1884-1886 and the British government agreed to the Somali elders’ conditions among which were: (a) that Somaliland was to be a Protectorate and not a colonial conquest, and (b) that no British baby was to be delivered on the mainland.

Only after the agreement was finalized and signed on hide skin aboard a ship was the British able to land in the soil of Somaliland.

Somaliland obtained its independence from Great Britain on June 26th, 1960, by the Royal Proclamation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.

The independent state of Somaliland was the 15th state to gain independence in Africa and was immediately welcomed by 35 UN member states, including permanent members of the Security Council.

A few days later, Somaliland voluntarily entered into a merger with Italian Somalia on July 1st, 1960 to form the Somali Republic.

The dream of the Greater Somali Republic that Somalilanders were advocating and pursuing did not succeed and malfunctioned in its inception.

For instance, the first attempted voluntary union between Somaliland and Somalia had failed in its onset while the two sides did not succeed in ‘ratifying the Act of Union’ and this has made the union, void, unsuccessful, unlawful, and unattractive to the rest of the Somali people in the region.

In this regard, the history of Somaliland and Somalia voluntary union has been portrayed as an aborted union, from the onset and is characterized by volatility, outright bias and marginalization, destruction, gross human rights violations, deprivation, underdevelopment, ethnic cleansing, and genocide against the people of Somaliland.

An estimated more than 50,000 innocent civilians were killed in 1988 when 500, 000 people fled to Ethiopia from the main cities of Somaliland.

Rebirth of Somaliland

The Somali National Movement (SNM), which was founded in 1981 -1991, succeeded in liberating Somaliland and defeated the military regime of Siyad Barre in January 1991.

The victory of SNM has become the beginning of reinstating the hope and the will of the people to freely determine their political destiny and deepening the fate of peace and political solidarity of the people of Somaliland.

Therefore, the Republic of Somaliland restored its sovereignty on 18 May 1991 withdrawing from the unlawful merger with Somalia in 1960. The decision was made by the Grand Conference of Clan Elders held in Burao from 27 April to 15 May 1991.

It was later supported by the Somaliland Public after the referendum was held that reaffirmed Somaliland’s reinstating its sovereignty from Somalia as a separate independent sovereign state where 97.1 % voted in favor of the reclaimed sovereignty.

The withdrawal from this failed union with Somalia in 1991, does not in any way contradict the Constitutive Act of the African Union or any other international law. This fact was confirmed by the report of the African Union Fact-Finding Mission to Somaliland in 2005.

In the meantime, Somaliland’s withdrawal from this aborted union with Somalia does not constitute secession while Somaliland and Somalia were two independent countries united as many other African nations had experienced in their post-colonial political settlements.

Aftermath, of Somaliland’s, regained its sovereignty in 1991, the Republic of Somaliland has succeeded in major political, security, economic, and social development including peace-building, state-building, political stability, restoring social services, liberalizing the economy, and establishment of the constitutional democracy.

Somaliland has flourished in the state-building and democratization process concurrently.

Somaliland state-building process was also a social contract where clans’ representatives and politicians signed the national charter in 1993 that later transformed into a national constitution.

In 2001, the national referendum was held where 97% of the turnout ratified the national constitution and reaffirmed Somaliland to be an independent, democratic, and sovereign nation-state.

The constitutional democracy was a major political step taken in the right direction because Somalilanders had the ambition and dream to have a democratic system and constitutional state that upholds the rights and aspirations of the citizens.

Today, the Republic of Somaliland is a champion and leading country in Africa and the Horn of Africa in particular creating and institutionalizing a multiparty political system and competitive, free, fair, and transparent elections.

The Republic of Somaliland is the first country in the world and Africa that succeeded in a biometric iris scan voter registration system, and this was aimed at preventing any fraud and irregularities in the elections.

The international observers subsequently testified how the Somaliland elections are the most peaceful, free, fair, transparent, and orderly manner of elections in which most African countries and the third world did not conduct its kind.

The Republic of Somaliland has become a pioneer of peace and democracy in Africa in the mid that most African countries are jeopardized by authoritarian regimes and military coups.

Moreover, peace, political stability, and democratic credentials have enabled Somaliland to prove its citizens enjoy peace, political stability, and security which inspired the international community to support Somaliland both social development, economic growth, state-building, and democratization process.

Somaliland has also fulfilled the statehood criteria that the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (1933) laid down permanent population, a defined territory, and government and has capacity to enter into relations with other states.

Land boundaries

The Republic of Somaliland is bounded by the Red Sea – Gulf of Aden – to the north; Somalia to the east; the Federal Republic of Ethiopia to the south and the west; and the Republic of Djibouti to the northwest.

Somaliland is positioned along the Gulf of Aden near the entrance to the Bab al-Mandeb, a major sea lane through which almost one-third of the world’s shipping passes.

Somaliland boundaries were amply defined by, respectively, the Anglo-French Treaty of 1888, the Anglo-Italian Protocol of 1894, and the Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1897.

The Djibouti–Somaliland boundary was established by the Anglo-French agreement of February 2–9, 1888.

Country area and population

The country’s Area is 110,000 Square Miles or 177,000 Square Km, the overall population can be deduced from area-specific computations made of population distribution in the different regions of the Republic adding up to 5.7 million.

Somaliland officially attained its independence from Britain on June 26, 1960.

Coastline and Maritine Zone

The Somaliland coast lies north of the equator, between latitude 10.0N and latitude 11.0N and between longitudes 43. 15/E and longitude 49.0E in the Gulf of Aden. It stretches 856km with an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) area of approximately70, 000 sq. km.

The four main zones Somaliland has an international right to command are (a) a territorial sea that extends twelve nautical miles seaward from delineated baselines; (b) a contiguous zone that extends beyond the seaward limit of the territorial sea to a distance of 24 nm; (c) a continental shelf that extends 200 nautical miles seaward from its baselines, subject to delimitation with states having overlapping maritime claims in accordance with international law; and (d) An exclusive economic zone that equally extends 200 nautical miles seaward from its baselines subject to delimitation with states having overlapping maritime claims in accordance with international law.

Political Structure

The government of Somaliland comprises legislative, executive, and judicial branches – each of which counterchecks the other but does not have a direct overarching jurisdiction over the other paving the way for a system of check-and-balance.

The legislative comprises a bicameral parliament breaking into the House of Elders, ‘Guurti’ or (Upper House of Parliament), and the Lower House which is called the House of Representatives. Each of the two houses has 82 members.

The Republic of Somaliland’s Constitution permits three national political parties, which are currently Kulmiye (ruling party), UCID, and WADDANI – the two opposition parties.

Regional and International Engagement

Somaliland is located in the Horn of Africa region which is currently very volatile due to several reasons including but not limited to poverty, ethnic devastating conflicts, violent extremists, pandemic diseases, effects of locusts, proxy wars, internal displacement, illegal immigration, recurrent droughts, and an increasing underdevelopment conditions in the region as high youth unemployment rates caused by persistent poverty.

Moreover, Somaliland is committed to maintaining and upholding regional and international peace and security and Somaliland is not only keeping its own territory and borders peaceful, stable, and secure but also, work with neighboring countries such as Ethiopia, and Djibouti to secure their borders from the invasion of violent terrorism and other organized crimes.

Somaliland also is committed to working with partner countries and the international community at larger in combating terrorist groups and piracy.

Somaliland is also dedicated to promoting regional economic integration, transnational trade, liberalizing the economy, and advancing the free market.  

The expansion and modernizing of Berbera Port and the construction of a corridor road linking the Somaliland coast to Ethiopia promise greater regional economic cooperation across various countries in the region.

However, the overreaching goal of this regional economic integration is to ensure that landlocked countries such as Ethiopia have access to multiple trade routes and Berbera has become one of the most appropriate routes in terms of traffic and distance to Ethiopia regarding other various routes in coastal countries.

The Berbera corridor has been regarded as a highly welcomed initiative in regard to regional and transnational trade activities in the region and this cements the African Continental Free Trade Area and its efforts to foster the continental economic integration.

Kungu Al-Mahadi Adam is an experienced Ugandan multimedia Journalist with a background of fact checking and thorough research. He is very passionate about current African affairs particularly Horn of Africa. He...

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