At the end of August, 2016, the Somaliland premier, President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo told reporters in Hargeisa that more than a million citizens had signed a petition calling for the international community to recognise the nation. After a bloody war that had started three years before, Somaliland seceded from Somalia on the 18th of May in 1991. 2016 marked Somaliland’s silver jubilee but it still has not been legally recognised by the international community. Speaking on the side-lines of a conference titled, The Republic of Somaliland: The Case for Recognition, Saad Ali Shire, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said, “It is absolutely unfair. We can’t get international credit or foreign investment to build the country and create jobs as we are not recognised.” If the petition is anything to go by, his sentiment is shared by a million other people. The petition will be sent to international bodies including the African Union and the United Nations.
The crack in Africa’s map
Colonel Gaddafi was not in support of the South Sudanese secession which he called “the first crack in Africa’s map”. The worry was what was happening in Sudan “could become a contagious disease that affects the whole of Africa”. Secession has been a headache for most countries especially considering the fragile nature of nations whose borders were defined by Europeans to solve their own conflicts and not to create strong African states. The glue that holds most African states together is a conference held in Europe to partition Africa and this adhesive seems to be losing its hold with time. In the Organisation of African Unity, Resolutions adopted by the First Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government held in Cairo in 1964, it was declared that “all Member States pledge themselves to respect the borders existing on their achievement of national independence”. However, the declaration did not stop nations within other nations to seek independence. The latest success was South Sudan but it is by no means the only movement in modern times. In Senegal, there is a secession movement in Casamance, Cabinda in Angola, Zanzibar in Tanzania, Western Sahara in Morocco and Somaliland which has been so close yet so far from ultimate legitimacy for 25 years. The fear has been that if other movements see the success of Somaliland, they may be re-energised to pursue independence but if this argument had any merit at all, Africa as it is known would have changed in 1993 when the country of Eritrea was formally admitted into the United Nations as a member state.
Somaliland’s battle for legitimacy
According to the sitting President of Somaliland, his self-proclaimed country entered into a voluntary union with the former Italian Somalia seven days after winning independence on the 26th of June 1960. This union led to widespread discrimination and culminated in a civil war after which Somaliland reclaimed its independence in 1991. However, the African Union has not recognised the territory as being an independent state rather accepting it as an autonomous region still subject to the Somali government. The African tone has (as already said) been one that suggests respecting colonial boundaries but Somaliland has been the exception. It was a separate territory under British control and even enjoyed 5 days as a self-governing and internationally recognised state. If Africa intended to respect colonial boundaries, Somaliland would have been recognised even as back as 1991 but the field of politics is a balance of so many other dynamics and not simply respect for old declarations. Somaliland’s recognition, The Economist says will “almost certainly embolden Somalia’s other secessionist provinces (Puntland, Jubbaland and Hiranland), would lead to the balkanisation of Somalia along clan lines, while simultaneously reigniting old regional tensions”. There are so many factors that need to be considered and appreciated in coming up with a way forward.
The Somaliland Foreign Minister argues, “There are claims in many occasions that those who want the international recognition are a few politicians who want to exploit it. This (the petition) contradicts that. It proves the cause of Somaliland is a common cause. It’s the people’s cause.” With more than a million signatures, Somaliland now waits to see if it will get the legitimacy it seeks. In the meantime, it remains to perform better as a political state than most recognised states. The economy remains fragile as it should with little foreign direct investment if any and little foreign trade. If Somaliland is successful, Africa is set for another cartographic make-over.