Somaliland, a “successful secession” but an internationally unrecognized state

Somaliland, a “successful secession” but an internationally unrecognized state
Somaliland, a “successful secession” but an internationally unrecognized state

TV5MONDE: What is the status of Somaliland vis-à-vis Somalia?

Axelle Djama, doctoral student in anthropology: Somaliland is a State which declared itself independent on May 18, 1991. That year, it separated from Somalia following years of civil war which opposed the regime of Mohamed Siad Barre (President of Somalia from 1969 to 1991) and separatist groups in Somaliland, in particular the Somali National Movement, the SMM, whose leaders later proclaimed independence by restoring the former colonial borders of British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland .

TV5MONDE: Does the rehabilitation of this border correspond to community considerations?

Axelle Djama: In fact, in the Somali regions, in general, it is the clan. which is the basis of social organization. They are families, in a way, spread over the whole territory. When we talk about the Somali regions, we are not only talking about Somaliland and Somalia but more generally part of the Horn of Africa. The Somali populations are also distributed in several territories of Ethiopia, Kenya, or even in Djibouti, which is mainly Somalia.

Somaliland functions as a state despite the lack of international recognition.

Axelle Djama, researcher.

TV5MONDE: Regarding Somaliland, the expression “successful secession” comes up frequently. It is true that since 1991, Somaliland has been extremely structured and peaceful.

Axelle Djama: Yes, it is a territory which, since 1991, has more or less succeeded in rebuilding institutions, administrations and above all in restoring peace after long years of civil war. We speak of successful secession since it is one of the regions of Somalia – if we consider Somalia as still unified in the sense of the UN – which is the most stable.
Also called state fact since it is a territory that has its own administrations. Own political administration, security institutions, school, currency, national currency, anthem, flag, customs, passport, visas… In short, a whole bunch of state artefacts. It functions as a state despite the lack of international recognition.

Semi-desert territory of 175,000 km2Somaliland borders Djibouti and Ethiopia. Hargeysa, its capital, has just over a million inhabitants. The global population is estimated at less than 5 million inhabitants. Somaliland lives from livestock and trade. The main source of government revenue is the port of Berbera.
Somaliland has an information-rich government website.

TV5MONDE: In terms of security, Somaliland has also been spared from Al-Shabaab terrorism, which bloodies the rest of Somalia almost daily.

Axelle Djama: Somaliland experienced an attack in 2008, then no more Islamist attacks since. However, there must be Shebab cells in Somaliland, but they are not active. And above all, they fail to implement their project of terrorism. The movement does not manage at all to establish itself on the territory, nor does it manage to recruit.

The Al-Shabaab movement does not succeed at all in establishing itself on the territory of Somaliland. He also fails to recruit.

Axelle Djama, researcher

It’s quite difficult to explain but we can make assumptions. The first is this difficulty of the Shebabs to penetrate the territory which would be due to territorial checks by the police and the rather effective security forces. The intelligence services also seem to be performing relatively well.


And then there is also a difficulty in recruiting in the local and civil communities because of a certain satisfaction with the situation. What makes the breeding ground for Shebabs in southern Somalia are the conditions of the populations, which are disastrous in terms of means, access to public services, etc. Conversely, in Somaliland, the administrations deliver more or less a number of public services that allow people to live in more peaceful conditions than in southern Somalia.

Territorial disputes

In February 2023, clashes erupted around the town of Las Anod near the neighboring state of Puntland. As RFI explains, this city “is a source of conflict between Somaliland and its neighbour, Puntland. Having changed hands several times since the collapse of the Somali state in 1991, the city is a very old commercial and strategic crossroads, claimed by the two governments“. For Axelle Djama, this conflict is “sleeping“but it regularly ends up breaking out on the occasion of triggers such as, this time, the assassination of a political opponent in Las Anod in December 2022.”It’s a long-term conflict“, estimates Axelle Djama., adding that he “highlights all the territorial, identity and political issues of the region“. The city of Las Anod, epicenter of this crisis, is claimed by Somaliland and by its neighbor Puntland which, if it has decreed its autonomy, nevertheless defends its attachment to a federal Somalia.

TV5MONDE: Although it has proclaimed its independence for more than three decades, the region of Somaliland does not currently benefit from any official international recognition. Does it nevertheless benefit from international support? The Somaliland Minister of Foreign Affairs thus signed a mutual recognition agreement in 2020 with his Taiwanese counterpart.

Axelle Djama : There are indeed areas of common interest with Taiwan in particular. But beyond that, there are a whole host of foreign investors who are setting up development projects or economic projects. I am thinking of the port of Berbera which is administered by the Emirati company DP World.

In addition to the economic actors, there are also political actors who close their eyes in a somewhat opportunistic way to this somewhat borderline situation from the point of view of international law, considering that it is a peaceful and strategically interesting area, well located.

So there are representations of Ethiopia and Great Britain in Somaliland, but also of Turkey. Also diplomatic ties have been established despite the lack of international recognition.

TV5MONDE: Somaliland borders Djibouti and Ethiopia. How does the neighborhood perceive this vast independentist entity?

Axelle Djama: As I was saying, it’s relatively pragmatic. Once again, it is a stable area and international actors have no interest in entering into open conflict with Somaliland or even in denying this entity, as if it did not exist. Admittedly, we see changes in attitude depending on the international context or changes in administration in the different countries – I am thinking in particular of Ethiopia – but in general, the border States are pragmatic and try to keep good relations and not to interfere in disputes between Somaliland and the rest of Somalia.

It is a stable area and international actors have no interest in entering into open conflict with Somaliland.

Axelle Djama, researcher

This pragmatism is particularly linked to trade. As you know, Ethiopia has no access to the sea and depends entirely on the port of Djibouti or Asmara in Eritrea, but relations are complicated. Addis Ababa is therefore tending to diversify its access to the sea by establishing relations with Somaliland and its port of Berbera in particular.

TV5MONDE: From an economic point of view, apart from its strategic position on the edge of the Gulf of Aden, what resources can Somaliland count on?

Axelle Djama: There are very few. When we speak of successful secession, Somaliland is indeed an example of security stability, but we must not be blind to the economic reality. It is a de facto rather poor State. The majority of resources come from taxation and above all from financial returns from the diaspora and foreign investment. There are few resources to invest in public services and when it does, it relies heavily on private investment.



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