Depending on who you ask, three and a half million people in the Horn of Africa inhabit either a state yet to gain international recognition, or a rebellious region of Somalia. Somaliland declared its independence in May 1991 and has been operating de facto autonomously since. As the shadow of the civil war appears to be lifting from Somalia, Somaliland’s future is significant to regional peacekeeping efforts and to the world.
CONTEXT FOR SOMALILAND’S HISTORY
Since the overthrow of the Barre government in 1991, Somalia has been plagued by civil war. In recent years, however, a more stable central government has emerged. This government, aided by the African Union, has been successful in subduing the Al-Shabaab islamic militant force, which had previously been the greatest threat to the Somali government. Order seems to be returning to Somalia, but what about Somaliland?
THE CURRENT STATUS OF SOMALILAND
Somaliland declared its independence when the Civil War broke out; since then it has conducted its own elections and introduced its own currency. However, people in Somaliland and Somalia both speak Somali, and they are from the same ethnic group as well. Somalia therefore treats Somalia as an autonomous region that it will reassert control over once the civil war ends.
In contrast to the civil war plaguing Somalia, Somaliland has not experienced a high rate of hostilities and violence. As it is further away from the main conflict areas in Southern Somalia, Somaliland’s infrastructure and economy have not been damaged to a significant extent. This should aid the post-conflict reconstruction efforts in the region. Whatever their future status, Somaliland will in a relatively advantageous position from an economic perspective, especially given its prominent primary sector exports.
SOMALILAND’S INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
The international community, for the most part, has not taken an active stance on the question of Somaliland’s statehood. Some African Union representatives, as well as European governments’ members, have met with Somaliland’s leaders, although no substantive talks have been held yet. Still, the international community could play a role in facilitating negotiations regarding Somaliland’s future, and the African Union’s involvement in resolving the Somali Civil War establishes a precedent for them to mediate talks.
As the Somali Civil War subsides, hostilities will hopefully cease. Attention can then be turned to the future of Somaliland, and the international community, especially the African Union, should play their part in ensuring that an outcome suitable for all is reached.