In Search of Re-Recognition: The Somaliland Road-Ed


“We are working to rectify the mistake and restore the recognition of Somaliland,” Dr. Jama Musse explained.

Somaliland is reclaiming the recognition it received 64 years ago when it was liberated from colonial rule. Although this effort faced strong opposition from Somalia, the leaders of Somaliland expressed hope that it would soon succeed. If Ethiopia gives recognition, Somaliland will become the 55th member state of the African Union.

Dr. Jama Musse Jama is a mathematician. Jama holds a PhD in African Studies and compiles a collection of Somali folktales. He wrote various books, including those focusing on Somali traditional and social games.

Although he has been outside of his country for more than three decades, he never wanted to be labelled as “diaspora”. Jama, the executive director of the Hargeysa Cultural Center, is one of the leaders pushing for Somaliland to gain international recognition again.

“Before colonialists came to the Horn of Africa and Africa in general, the Somali people did not have an administrative unity,” says Dr. Jama.

The land where Somalis live began to be divided into five “when colonialists came and conquered Africa in 1884.” Formerly known as “French Somaliland”, Djibouti, areas inhabited by Somalis and annexed to Ethiopia and Kenya, “Italian Somalia” and “British Somaliland” were created by European colonialists in Berlin.

Today’s Somaliland was the forerunner when the Somalis were freed from the colonial rule. “We were liberated on June 26, 1960. We are the 12th country to be freed from all African countries,” said Mohamed Warsame Duale, a former colleague of the United Nations, proudly saying, “We got our independence before Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti and most other countries.”

On July 1, 1960, “Italian Somaliland” was liberated from colonial rule. “British Somaliland” and “Italian Somaliland” merged in 1960 to form the Republic of Somalia. Aden Abdul Osman Dar, nicknamed Aden Ade, was the first president of the Republic of Somalia and the government was established.

The union of the two was also involved in the formation of “Greater Somalia” by bringing together the five territories of Somalia that were divided due to colonialism. “There was no Somalia and Somaliland project. It is a project started to return the land of the Somali people,” said Dr. Jama, adding that it was expected that Djibouti, as well as the areas where Somalis live, would be included in Ethiopia and Kenya.

“Somaliland’s desire was to bring together all the Somali people. But this is a feeling that disappeared in a short time,” said Dr. Jama, explaining that the contemporary Somaliland leaders wanted to leave in 1961, less than a year after they realized that “that plan was not working on their own.”

Formerly known as “French Somaliland”, Djibouti, located just outside of Bab El Mandeb, had to wait until June 27, 1977 to break free from its European colonial rule. But it refused to join the Somali Republic.

The second president of the Somali Republic, Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, was assassinated and General Siad Barre took power in a coup d’état in 1969. An insurgency against Siad Barre, the Somali National Movement, emerged in Somaliland in the 1980s.

In August 1991, the Somali National Movement and other rebel groups ousted Barre from power. In May of the same year, the Republic of Somaliland, with its capital in Hargeysa, declared its independence.

“Somaliland did not gain independence in 1991. Somaliland became a recognized independent African country on 26th June 1960 and now reclaims re-recognition after 64 years,” emphasizes Dr. Jama. It was not easy to regain the recognition of Somaliland as a country. “We are working to rectify the mistake and restore the recognition of Somaliland,” Jama explained.

Somaliland has a constitution approved by popular vote, although it is not internationally recognized. The government headed by President Muuse Bihi Abdi has 26 offices organized at the ministerial level. It issues its own passports to its citizens; It holds elections, it has currency.

Mohamed Warsame, a former adviser to President Muuse Bihi Abdi and now the leader of the opposition party, argues that “we have met all the conditions to be a member of the League of Nations.” They believe that the fact that Somaliland can be called “a land of stability in an unstable and violent region” makes it better than a troubled region.

Mohamed Warsame, who has been declared by the United Nations and the international community to be free and fair, is the one who is presenting Somaliland as supporting evidence for international recognition.

Somaliland’s efforts to regain the recognition it received 64 years ago have gained momentum in the last four months or so. The revival was caused by the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Somaliland President Muuse Bihi Abdi.

Dr. Mohamed Farah, director of Hargeysa-based Peace and Development Academy

The path chosen by Abiye and Muuse Bihi Abdi will meet challenges to achieve what Ethiopia and Somaliland wished so easily. Egypt and Turkey sided with Somalia after the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding. The United States, the European Union and the Arab League have expressed their concern.

But the fear from the international community is not “reasonable” for Dr. Ahmed Farah, the director of the Peace and Development Academy based in Hargeysa. “Somaliland has the right to recognition under international law. Ethiopia also has the right to recognize Somaliland separately,” said Dr. Mohamed.

Somalia does not recognize the sovereignty of Somaliland and has also been condemning the international agreements Somaliland makes separately. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s government has protested the MoU as “a violation and invasion of Somalia’s sovereignty, independence and unity.”

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said, “No one will surrender the Somali state for a single word.”

Dr. Mohamed, who says “Somalia is at war with al-Shabaab,” is of the position that “it cannot be at war with Ethiopia.” For this, the Ethiopian soldiers said, “Currently, the Somali people from al-Shabaab; They argue that they are in Somalia, protecting the Somali government from collapse and crisis.

Even the threat of a “hand-to-hand war” is not easy for Dr. Ahmed. According to Dr. Ahmed, “There is no reliable security partner that can protect Somalia’s sovereignty from Ethiopia.”

Somaliland and Ethiopia are expected to sign the final agreement in about two months despite growing opposition, Somaliland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Issa Kaid told Deutsche Welle.

Like Ethiopia, the full document of the Memorandum of Understanding has not been made public in Somaliland. The first vice-chairman of the opposition Barwako political party, Mubarik Albdullahi, told Deutsche Welle that the agreement signed by Ethiopia and Somaliland must be approved by parliament according to the law.

Mubarak believes that the final goal should be for Somaliland to gain international recognition and become a member of the United Nations. For this, the government of President Moses Bihi Abdi needs to convince the parliament.

“If the government of Somaliland can convince the opposition, the people and the parliament that this memorandum of understanding and the subsequent agreement will serve the interests of the country, I don’t see any major obstacles blocking the way,” Mubarik said.

“We support him. I can’t say that we are against it,” said Mubarik Abdullahi, explaining that it is necessary to know the content of the final agreement to take a stand.

Deutsche Welle has learned that the government of Somaliland has started to hold discussions with stakeholders on the documents it has prepared for negotiations with Ethiopia. From the Ethiopian side, nothing is officially known about the process. Mohamed Warsame expressed his hope that “if Ethiopia leads the way, we will become the 55th member country of the African Union.”