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Summary of Somaliland Conference in London 2017-05-18

The major advancements made by Somaliland in the last 26 years


Somaliland is a nation situated in the horn of Africa. It is an independent state that meets all the conditions of an independent sovereign state according to the 1933 Montevideo convention. It is not a new nation state and nor is it self-declared.

Somaliland was officially formed in July 1887 as a British protectorate after Britain signed treaties with various Somaliland leaders. In June 1960, Somaliland was granted independence from Britain, the 15th state in Africa to gain independence. It became a sovereign state following the UN procedures for decolonization. Somaliland had a complete and functioning government, and settled a number of agreements with the United Kingdom under article 102 of the UN charter which deals with registration of treaties and international agreements between states. Thus, Somaliland existed as a sovereign state prior to entering the union to form Somalia. The union with Somalia was an unsuccessful project that came to an end in May 1991. Therefore, this project can be seen as a matter of entering a union and then leaving it.


Since leaving the union, Somaliland has developed a degree of political stability. Across the Somaliland territory you can see the signs of a functioning state. The principle of press freedom, freedom of speech, a free and independent media, as well as individual liberties are part of that achievement, as are democratic electoral processes that have been in place now for almost two decades. Some minimal degree of infrastructural development, such as roads, airports, ports, telecommunication systems, education systems, and diplomatic missions across the world are also being established.

Somaliland has made major advancements in the last 26 years. However, it is a myth that Somaliland somehow emerged out of the Barre regime an oasis of peace and stability. At first Somaliland was not stable and there were times when Somaliland was at war with itself. In 1991 when the SNM finally liberated Somaliland, Hargeisa was destroyed, to dangerous for it to even be an interim capital. And though there was some progress that first year, a lot of it was reversed by fighting between factions within the SNM and between clans. And again there were fights in 1994 and 1996. So it has been a long road. This is to underscore the hard work that has been required to take Somaliland from a place were violence was almost a daily occurrence, to where it is today.

The political stability found in Somaliland in some part is due to the fact that there was no political vacuum created when the Somali union dissolved. Somaliland had been through alternating leadership cycles, had had its own internal coup, and to overcome this had worked out ways of governing; while in southern Somalia the movement that took over Mogadishu was less than two years old. They didn’t have that experience of the democratic allocation of power, which was one of the reasons for the catastrophic result in the early 1990s. The SNM, which was at the time in control of large parts of Somaliland territory, had already existed for over a decade and worked out ways of governing.

Furthermore, Somaliland’s leadership was strengthened by the construction of a hybrid system of a civilian government (though including elements of SNM) that has the characteristics of a multiparty constitutional democracy, while at the same time being fundamentally anchored in the social tradition of kheer (customary law). There have been discussions at many peace talks/ conferences between these groups, contributing to a history of pluralism in Somaliland. The first charter of Somaliland received legitimacy from leadership of all the major clans and communities in Somaliland, and that legitimacy has served Somaliland very well over the years.

It is also noteworthy to point out that Somaliland has professional security forces, military and police that do not interfere in politics. Given that the country is such a young democracy and especially considering the neighbourhood in which it is found, this is a rare and commendable example.

The major challenges facing Somaliland
Despite the challenges it has faced, Somaliland has found sufficient justice to remain in peace for as long as it has. That does not mean it has been smooth sailing. On the contrary, Somaliland is at risk of stagnation and even of deterioration if we do not look at the challenges facing Somaliland clearly.

Good governance (citizenship/civic belonging)
Over the last 26 years, Somaliland has undergone significant social and political transformation that has resulted in clan power sharing. The current power sharing agreement is between the elites - mainly leaders from the three political parties - the Guurti or clan leaders, religious elders, and the business community. Inequality is systemic and institutionalised through clan dynamics. Powers are largely defined in Somaliland by clan dynamics and relationships; this has been good for peace and stability so far, but to secure long-term stability this will not be effective. Norms and values are generated through certain interpretations of Islam.

One of the weightiest issues that continues to haunt Somaliland is the burden of how to diminish the power of clan’s identity and its place, and how on the other hand to boost the rule of law, rights and obligations for citizenship and civic affiliations. This context has immediate and serious implications on the pursuit for international recognition.

A legacy from the foundation of the SNM, which was based primarily on clan solidarity, was that the communities of eastern Somaliland (Sool, Sanaag, Khatumo) were seen as part of the power structure of the Barre regime. Conversely, communities in the east (the Darood community) feared that an SNM-dominated Somaliland would be revengeful and monopolistic. This mutual suspicion persists despite the fact that some of the representatives from Somaliland from the Darood community participated in the founding conference in Burao, and that they continue to serve in the highest ranks across Somaliland’s institutions. Consequently, ever since the end of the failed union with Somalia, the eastern regions have been kept under tight control by Somaliland, and even in the recent past, bloody clashes have occurred. Some positive progress in negations have taken place recently, and implementation of these agreements by both parties are very important. The aforementioned dynamic has consequences for the argument surrounding international recognition, given that Somaliland will need to ensure internal legitimacy for independence.

Regional inequality
Uneven development challenges exist across the country, given differing needs in the different regions. As an example, the recent drought in certain regions of Somaliland has demonstrated not only the uneven distribution of resources throughout the country, but also that the government has taken a reactive rather than proactive stance to address them. There are still security challenges throughout the country, with reported judicial cases involving al-Shabaab. In the political domain, communities in western zones have articulated a degree of bitterness as to what they see as inequities with regards to the seats in both houses. The distribution of political power and access to economic opportunity for personal success is highly concentrated in Hargeisa. Such dominance by the capital has the potential to be destructive.

For any single institution to manage and mitigate uneven development and regional inequalities fairly is a daunting task. Meanwhile, ignoring regional inequality puts Somaliland’s political stability at risk. Governmental accountability for these issues is crucial to ensuring as equitable a process as possible.

Women and minorities
Another area with the potential for adverse impacts is the low representation of women and minority communities. In both houses of parliament, women constitute less than 2% of the members. Also disturbing is the increasing marginalisation and exclusion of women from Somaliland’s political structure, which is in part due to the introduction of the representative system. Under the old system there were customary (albeit not fully representative) ways for women to influence political decision making - for example, through husbands and fathers. However, even that space closes down when you start moving to a representative system in which women are not elected representatives.

The minority Gabooye community are highly discriminated against. They are hardly visible in political, economic or other institutions, and there are few opportunities for them.

Some have made arguments that if the current political status quo is disrupted it would lead to political and, in turn, economic instability. However, current economic policies overwhelmingly benefit private enterprise; concentrating power and wealth into the hands of those who already have it, rather than being in the hands of the government to distribute.

Education: Somaliland has made outstanding progress in the education sector. Currently there are over 200,000 students in primary and secondary schools and sixteen universities with thousands graduating in various subjects. This is an improvement in terms of quantity, however the education system suffers acutely in terms of quality. A poorly educated society cannot attract international interest.

Economic wellbeing: Unemployment amongst youth (under the age of 30) is 70%, despite the fact that they constitute 68% of the population. Here women are in the most disadvantaged position. Those who have a job are either underemployed or paid inadequate wages. This level of poverty and poor future prospects is explosive and may amplify disorder. Again this is a disadvantage for recognition. If Somaliland wants to prevent its youth from migrating it has to create jobs and attract investment. The question should be, what type of economy does Somaliland aspire to?

The effort to establish a viable nation-state is an ambitious and difficult one in which the issue of how citizens are represented politically and decision-making is absolutely critical. Elections are an important way of allowing that kind of representation, but they are not themselves synonymous with democracy. There are lots of elements to democracy - about decision making, about the way that representation, and about the way that power is shared  - that are not captured in elections. Elections handled badly can be more damaging than constructive. Thus it is important to make the point that democracy is only about elections; there is more to it.

A multiparty electoral system in which the elections are now being delayed is not a durable proposition. There is a risk of stagnation, or even deterioration of Somaliland’s democratic status. So the process of timing is important, even if the delay is for a good reason. From the perspective of the rest of the world, the self-perpetuation of the parliament does not help Somaliland’s reputation or inspire confidence in its political arrangements. It is important to underline that any political settlement is a dynamic one, it has to be because it is representing the changing requirements and needs of a population. It is also true that any political settlement that starts to rely more and more on representation rather than discursive decision-making is going to transplant customary systems. It is not possible for Somaliland to move towards a representative electoral based system, as it has done very successfully in the last 26 years, without also compromising the role that is being played by clans.

Voter registration: The process of voter registration is highly important, as Somaliland has had no voter register since 2008. Also Somaliland has no reliable census data on population by district, town, and area. These numbers are important because they are the ones that determine the share of power; these numbers are traditionally supposed to feed in to some kind of understanding of how clans share power and how seats are allocated in the parliamentary elections.

So far the voter registration has been smooth, in spite of the delays. The process of voter registration in which each person is counted challenges the customary system. It is impossible for a transition from a customary system to an electoral based representative democracy not to involve some kind of replacing some of the customary systems, the most obvious being clan. Counting people informs renegotiations about how power is to be balanced in the future.

The party system: In the 2012 election there was a decision to opt for an open list, with the idea that an open list (i.e. everyone gets to vote for the person they want to vote) was more democratic than a closed list (i.e. the party selects the order in which they receive seats). What seemed like a technical electoral decision became one with far-reaching ramifications. The open list had the consequence that it bypassed the parties and created a party system that is largely built around personalities and increasingly resorted to a reliance on clan constituencies. This fundamentally undermines the small advances that had been made in transferring some of the power of the clan to political parties. Today clan affiliation is as politicised as it has ever been. Issue-based politics is becoming a rare and dangerous species in Somaliland. One of the concerns heard in Hargeisa recently was that “if we had parties competing for the presidency it wouldn’t be a problem because the party can lose and can concede a defeat. But if clans are competing for the presidency conceding defeat becomes much harder”.

The two houses of parliament: The upper house (Guurti) at the moment has no system of replacement beyond the process of insisting that the brother, the father, or close male relative of whoever dies or moves on is sent to the Guurti. That needs to change, as it is compromising the Guurti’s own power and legitimacy as a body that represents the clan. It is important that a system is found, whether it be through clan selection, or by popular election.

The lower house of parliament is also overdue for an election. It was elected in 2005, and the current 12-year term is quite the extension of their remit. It is also suffering from the kind of stagnation that is a risk during an incomplete process of transition to an electoral system. Lower house elections are important, and we need to get to a point where they occur regularly and on time.

International Relations/Recognition
Somaliland’s stability is linked to that of the region, which is very much in turmoil. It is important to understand the interests of Somaliland’s neighbours, as well of those further away. Ethiopia’s relationship with Somaliland is interest based, and may shift over time, as it has over the last 25 years. The relationship with Djibouti is also interest based. In addition, Somaliland is situated in a part of the world where Middle Eastern politics, both geopolitics and sectarian division, are spilling across the Red Sea into the Horn of Africa. By accepting the UAE’s request for a military base at Berbera, Somaliland has joined this geopolitical sphere for better or for worse, against the interest of other powerful governments who are aware and have developed interests. Whether they knew Somaliland existed before or not, they certainly do now.

From a global perspective, Somaliland as a recognised sovereign state would be of mutual benefit for the international community. In the world current climate with terrorism, piracy, conflict, state failure and mass migration and displacement on the agenda, Somaliland can play an even greater role in addressing these issues if recognised. Somaliland will also be in a much better position to partner with other states in order deal with terrorism and to guarantee safety and security for ships in the Red Sea. These are issues that are of concern to western countries; hence, the recognition of Somaliland is/should be of interest to them, and recognising Somaliland is of benefit for them. This also means that the Somaliland case cannot only be targeted toward African nations.

The AU sent a mission to Somaliland back in 2005 and again in 2008, who produced a very positive report noting that Somaliland is a unique case and that recognising it wouldn’t open a Pandora’s box. I have appointed someone to be a special envoy for the AU. In conclusion, there are good reasons for the whole international community, not just Africa, to recognise Somaliland. Recognition is more than anything a political decision.

Somaliland spends nearly half of its public resources on security, and the country’s track record shows its ability to succeed in containing terrorism and piracy, through an effective intelligence service and coastguard, as well as in diminishing the flow of migrants to Europe and beyond. In addition, despite its geographical location in a conflict prone zone, Somaliland has since its independence nevertheless maintained peace. Somaliland has an impact on the stability of the region and could do more if recognised again. Despite all the success Somaliland has achieved, and particularly considering the situation in the region, the decision not to recognise Somaliland risks state failure and the loss of all the progress that has been made in the aforementioned matters, with repercussions on an international scale.

Dialogue with Somalia
The dialogue with Somalia was initiated by the British government and started in London in February 2012. Unfortunately, soon after the talks moved to Turkey who have facilitating the dialogue eve since. Although there have been eight meetings to date, there are so far few substantive achievements that we can point to. The dialogue with the Somali leadership has been very superficial and poorly thought out on all sides including on the part the mediators, who do not really have an agenda for the talks. The new president [of Somalia] has said he is committed to the talks. After the Somaliland elections in November the international community is then committed to facilitating the talks; hopefully this time round they will make headway. This is the most reasonable route to take as conflict is not in the best interest of Somaliland, Somalia or international community. We are looking forward to the resumption of the dialogue and hope we will be successful when it resumes.


Civic belonging
Civic belonging is at the heart of what being a Somalilander means. We need to encourage this by:

  • Reasserting the rule of law in a more serious fashion
  • Dealing with corruption
  • Addressing major inequities in national political representation
  • Ensuring a new emphasis on competence and quality in national appointments
  • Identifying June 26 as Somaliland’s national day rather than May 18.

Regional inequalities
Formal and informal exclusion, and inequalities that come from clan relationships and dynamics need to be recognised and highlighted in terms of the way they access power and exercise agency. This is not to suggest that kinship and clan social fabrics should be entirely dissolved, but to recognise that these dynamics has led to certain exclusions of certain groups. If this is not addressed, then the settlements and the stability Somaliland has will be further entrenched as solely elite-driven.
In terms of stability and good governance, there is a need to revisit the constitution. There does not seem to be a place in the Somaliland constitution for the three big communities of Somaliland to share equally in the notion of citizenship and access to power and resources. Why is that all three Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates are from the same two clans? Why in the 25 years hasn’t there been a president or vice president from the Eastern region? There is something wrong with the political system that has become ossified in this way. The Somaliland government should seriously look into and consolidate the electoral laws.

In the upcoming elections there needs to be a campaign based on political issues, based on the needs of the communities and reduction of the country’s disparities. The challenge lies with the three parties that are campaigning and those running for the presidency to articulate what they are going to do about these disparities, whether it be the regions or minorities that are complaining. Whoever wins will have to be held accountable for their promises.

Internal Unity
Regarding the recent talks with Eastern regions, there is always resistance from clans and warlords in every power sharing agreement. These should not be allowed to deter the negotiations. There are disparities within the military, where army command posts have to be allocated in a balanced way. Soldiers have to be integrated in order to alleviate fear and create trust within the community. Unity within the Somaliland community will lead to more leverage in our discussions with Somalia and with the rest of the world in discussions over recognition.

Economic well-being
Somaliland must genuinely focus on improving the material welfare of its citizens. A new way of stimulating the economy would be through a collaborative partnership between the state, which should focus on development, and the private sector. New initiatives in this area could include among other things a more sound macro-economic policy, which is not something currently addressed in full by the state. Heavier investment in high quality infrastructure (ports, airports, roads, water etc.), greater technical assistance in agriculture, fishing, and livestock, and more effective measures in collecting taxes are all necessary.

We should establish reachable but rigorous standards of excellence that can strengthen a sense of citizenship and pride in our achievements. Similarly, we should create opportunity for the talented tenth, the top 10%, so that they can come to the forefront of the society and drive the rest forward. We can also seek affiliations with major academic institutions in the region and the rest of the world, as well as foundations that specialise in education. Somaliland should not wait to be recognised in order to undertake such initiatives.

The next election is scheduled for 13 November. Initially it was to be a combined presidential and parliamentary election; however, the parliamentary election will be further postponed, and this is a challenge that needs to be dealt with. There is a chance that the presidential election will go well, but to do so requires the support of the population of Somaliland, as well as the support of the politicians who are contesting it.

Somalilanders are convinced that the upcoming elections will be decisive in charting a path for Somaliland’s future. If the electoral process offers genuine competing perspectives and is handled with judicial competence and transparency, there is hope a new leadership might appear and rectify some of the concerns mentioned above.

It is really important to address what is becoming a politicisation of clan affiliation, and the increasing exclusion of women within the political system. In terms of the challenges of the Eastern and Western regions, it is important that Somaliland does not fall under the political hegemony of a particular clan group. Women are more and more marginalised from the political structures that are operating - one way of addressing that would be to introduce a quota system for women’s representation.

International Relations/ Recognition/ S-S Dialogue
There are different types of power, such as, physical (brute force), economic (capacity to either deny or allow access to livelihood), ideological (ability to convince others to think in particular ways). Somaliland does not have any of these powers to exert in the pursuit of recognition. An alternative power would be ‘sticky power’, which is the capacity to attract others even though you do not have any power over them. Somaliland should think about creating sticky power - being attractive enough for the rest of the world to say there is something wonderful happening in Somaliland. This could be the answer to Somaliland’s recognition. In order to do that, Somaliland should seriously think about good governance, which is the basis for sticky power. What we have at the moment is fine but not good enough.

Currently there is very little evidence that the rest of the world is persuaded by the Somaliland case. Even though we have been seeking recognition for a quarter of a century the efforts have produced very modest results. This situation requires urgent and creative reassessment. Somaliland needs a new international strategy for international affairs. Four points that we should consider are as follows:

1. Craft a multidimensional and accurate summary of the case for Somaliland’s sovereignty. There have been statements here and there but a powerful, highly organised argument has not yet been constructed. We should assemble a team of the best and the brightest men and women who can carry and deliver the Somaliland case to the rest of the world. Somaliland has had good advocates and diplomats, however their work has not been institutionalised. The Somaliland case requires institutionalised diplomacy and representation. There is also a need for Somaliland diplomats to understand the interests of our partners and neighbours better, in order to inform the leadership as to how engage in and to seek what they may be after. Somaliland’s independence must be shown to be attractive, demonstrating how Somaliland is contributing to regional peace and security and economic growth, and how sovereignty will benefit Somaliland’s neighbours and the world at large.

2. Identify the most critical targets in the international community. Build relationships and use them as a leverage to show that Somaliland is part of the regional security architecture that can contribute to peace and stability in the region.

3. Allocation of sufficient funding to support this kind of campaign, including for staff. Currently 95% of the MFAIC’s budget goes to salaries of people who works in the ministry; therefore, it has very little capacity to finance any kind of initiative overseas.

4. Establishment of clear timelines for progress. In terms of the dialogue with Somalia, it is time to set evidence-based standards for what the next government is supposed to achieve, how it intends to achieve it, and how it will be held to account for the outcomes of the process.


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