January 8, 2007

Somaliland: Recent Troubles Refocus International Attention

A return of violence and unrest to Somalia has brought international attention back to the question of whether the relatively peaceful region of Somaliland deserves the opportunity to develop as an independent state.

A return of violence and turmoil to the troubled state of Somalia has refocused international attention on the unrecognised state of Somaliland, as its people continue to witness events from their relatively peaceful northern territory.

British Somaliland was granted independence in 1960, and after a brief period of independence, joined former Italian Somalia to form the Somali Republic. Civil war and widespread unrest put increasing pressure on this union, which was exasperated further by the eventual collapse of the Somali Republic in 1991, following the overthrow of its military dictatorship.

In response, clan elders led the former British protectorate to announce an end to the union with Somalia, thus declaring formal independence for Somaliland in 1991. A 2001 referendum reaffirmed this status and also provided its government with a new democratic constitution. Despite these successful efforts to enhance its legitimacy and democratise its institutions, international recognition of Somaliland’s independence has not been forthcoming.

The latest period of unrest in Somalia has however yet again emphasised the achievements of the government in Somaliland. Recent events were observed from a position of relative peace and stability, as the territory remained unaffected by the violence and divisions that plague its neighbour to the south. This fact will undoubtedly be seen as further evidence for the view that Somaliland deserves the opportunity to escape the difficulties of Somalia, and so the opportunity to continue its process of democratisation and development as a fully fledged member of the international community.

The fragile peace that has followed the Ethiopian backed expulsion of the Union of Islamic Courts from Somalia has however also provided renewed prospects for a viable and strong negotiating partner, affording the interim government of Somalia with new opportunities to restore order, along with the prospects of an African Union Peacekeeping Force to assist in this work. This, it is hoped, might finally offer the prospect of a meaningful dialogue with respect to recognising Somaliland’s independence, thus providing its people with the means to address the numerous economic challenges they continue to face as a people suspended in political limbo.

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