Somaliland’s Search for Place

The Unofficial Republic's Struggle for Acknowledgement

Boys take part in a street parade to celebrate the 24th self-declared independence day for the breakaway Somaliland nation from Somalia in capital Hargeysa, May 18, 2015. Feisal Omar / Reuters

Last week marked the 25th anniversary of the Republic of Somaliland’s proclamation of independence. There was an enormous party in the capital city of Hargeisa, but no outside diplomats attended. In fact, not a single government has recognized the state since it broke away from Somalia in 1991, and so legally, Somaliland is still part of Somalia. As Somalilanders will tell you, however, it isn’t. The problem is that no one listens. 

Somaliland is stuck in a unique bind—the international community has pledged not to recognize the area as a state until the African Union does. The AU fears that Somalia's other breakaway states might follow suit and that this could influence other African regions to do the same. Therefore, it has refused to make the call. So Somaliland is stuck in legal limbo, but it has nevertheless found a way to persevere. Whether it can thrive depends on what happens next. 


In the quarter century of self-declared independence, Somaliland has created its own currency, passports (which are not of much use outside of Ethiopia and Djibouti), bureaucracy, police force, and military. Unlike other parts of Somalia, Somaliland’s streets are relatively orderly, and its central government functions. Since 2003, Somaliland has held a series of democratic elections that have resulted in peaceful transfers of power. At this point, the country is perhaps more politically mature than other African countries that have enjoyed independence for 50 years or more. 

Notwithstanding all of Somaliland’s successes, 25 years of unrecognized statehood has begun to show its wear. Its fragile economy survives on the $1 billion it receives from Somalilanders living abroad and its livestock trade with nearby countries. The country is ineligible for aid from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. As a result, the government in Hargeisa gets by on a tiny budget of about $250 million a year and relies on the support of local clan elders to provide legitimacy to its rule, as well as financial help from humanitarian organizations,

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