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History as tool in Somaliland bid
The Somali region argues that its history as a separate entity and peaceful existence make it a prime candidate for independence.
By Abdurrahman Warsameh
Mogadishu, Somalia, 4 June 2008 - The row over presidential and parliamentary elections in the as-yet unrecognized republic of Somaliland, in the northwest region of Somalia, was resolved Sunday after the three national parties held marathon talks in the presidential residence in Hargeysa, the capital.
But the dispute, which was triggered by the decision of the upper house of the parliament to extend President Dahir Riyale Kahin's term for a year, did not mar the independence anniversary celebrated by "Somalilanders" on 18 May.
Unlike southern Somalia, Somaliland has been stable since it unilaterally declared independence shortly after rebels overthrew then-ruler Mohamed Siyad Barre in 1991, arguing that "the union did not work according to the aspirations of the people." Since then, the country has been seeking diplomatic recognition from the rest of the world.
Saeed Adaani, the Somaliland presidential spokesman, told ISN Security Watch that Somaliland's quest for recognition from the international community has both legal and moral bases "since the issue is not one part of a sovereign country seceding but the demand for separation from an unholy union."
"Many people are unaware that south Somalia, which was an Italian colony, and Somaliland, [which] was a British protectorate, voluntarily united in 1960 after being two separate countries for centuries."
According to Adaani, historically, the two "countries" have never been one, but it was the decision of the people of Somaliland to join with the south that was the catalyst for the union, which, he argues, has not worked in their interests.
"We have every right to reclaim our independence and revoke the unworkable unity between the two countries, [both of] which can have good neighborly relations between them just like with other countries," Adaani told ISN Security Watch.
International case falling on deaf ears
The leaders of the pro-independence government - led by Riyale's ruling United Peoples' Democratic Party and strongly supported by the only other legally-mandated parties, the Kulmiye and the Justice and Welfare Party - has forcefully pushed its case for independence on the international stage, focusing particularly on the UK, the US, the EU and the African Union (AU).
Somali government spokesman Abdi Hajji Goobdoon told ISN Security Watch that the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia "does not recognize the existence of a breakaway part of the sovereign state of Somalia."
"In its latest resolution on Somalia, the UN said it respects the unity, sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Somalia and urged world countries to do so," Goobdoon said.
"So we and the world do not recognize two Somalias, but one single unified country called Somalia that is indivisible and whose unity is sacred and nonnegotiable," he added.
Despite recent signs that the international community is interested in the stability of, and democratic political process in Somaliland, no country has come forward to extend the much sought after recognition. According to Omar Ali, a Somali commentator in Mogadishu, this is because, since the unification agreement was signed in Mogadishu, a separation agreement should also come from Mogadishu.
"Whoever they are, southern leaders, whether [they are] feudal warlords, the Islamists, or the current transitional government, have all unanimously opposed the secession of the northwestern regions," Ali told ISN Security Watch in Mogadishu. "And the leaders in Somaliland have been openly hostile toward the south, which they accuse of three decades of repression and persecution."
He says that Somaliland's case cannot be compared to that of Eritrea, which has received near-automatic recognition from the world following independence from Ethiopia. The latter's co-operation was instrumental in the separation of the two countries.
"Somaliland did not get or seek the cooperation of southern Somalia political leaders and distanced itself from what has been going on in the south by saying it will only speak with southern leaders after they recognize Somaliland. And southern leaders do not want northern regions to go. A real catch-22," says Ali.
According to Somaliland, the circular argument revolves in the other direction. "There is no way for us to speak with people who do not acknowledge our existence," Adaani said.
"To those who insist that we talk to south Somalia leaders about our independence, we say Somaliland is, has always been and will forever be an independent state whether we are recognized or not," he said.
Somaliland : The Horn's best kept secret?
Whatever the status of Somaliland as a political entity, its supporters say the self-declared country has taken long strides toward reconstruction, stability and democratization while the rest of the country has suffered total chaos and lawlessness.
Somaliland has established its own government institutions, three political parties, a parliament and a police force. It also has a flag and currency of its own. The country has been stable since declaring independence nearly two decades ago while south Somalia has been the scene of recurrent violent confrontations between competing forces.
The entity's first elections in 2003 were commended by US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer during her visit to Somaliland earlier this year.
The visit has been seen as a signal of the US government's interest in development in Somaliland. The US and the EU have conditioned their acceptance of Somaliland independence on recognition by the AU. Frazer confirmed this view, stating during her visit that she believed "the issue of recognition should be left with the AU.
"We will work with the AU and will respect whatever decision it takes on Somaliland's status" Frazer told local reporters.
Delegations from the AU, the EU and various UN organizations have visited the entity, praising its stability, security and political progress.
A not entirely peaceful peace
For residents of the self-declared country, the prospects for recognition may seem remote, but they say the peace they have enjoyed is more important than confirmations of suzerainty from the international community.
"At least we are proud that our part of this violent sub-region is peaceful enough to live [in] and there will come a day when recognition for our state and what we have achieved will come," Mohamed Hajji, a resident of Hargeysa who calls himself a "Somalilander" rather than Somali told ISN Security Watch.
But the accolades about its peaceful existence do not ring entirely true: The territory is not under full control of Somaliland as Sool and Sanaag, two border provinces of the region, have been under the administration of the semi-autonomous Puntland. This contest has led to a number of deadly confrontations between the two sides.
Somaliland's army retook Las Anod, the administrative capital of Sool region, late last year after bloody clashes, making parts of Sanaag the only remaining territory not under Somaliland control and further aggravating the already explosive relations between Somalia and Somaliland according to Yusuf Jama, a political scientist in Garowe, the capital of Puntland.
"The thinking was that the recognition of Somaliland's independence should first come from Somalia after a "yes" vote from a free and fair referendum carried out from the local people. But now Somaliland leaders are further alienating themselves from Somalia," Jama told ISN Security Watch.
"I see federation or confederation or another form of coexistence, apart from outright independence, [as being the most likely] viable solution for the both Somalis and Somalilanders."
Abdurrahman Warsameh is an ISN Security Watch correspondent based in Mogadishu.