History in Somaliland

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Somaliland one and always one

Formerly the British Somaliland Protectorate, shortly after gaining independence on June 26, 1960, British Somaliland merged with Italian Somaliland on July 1 of that year to form Somalia. The prime minister of British Somaliland, Muhammed Ibrahim Egal, became a minister in the new republic of Somalia. He became Prime Minister in 1967 but was deposed in a coup in 1969. The coup elevated General Muhammed Siad Barre to power. Siad Barre instituted a Marxist regime, and became a close ally of the Soviet Union. 

Although initially enthusiastic about forming a union with Italian Somaliland, the euphoria quickly changed to disenchantment as many in the north-west of Somalia felt increasingly marginalized in government and other sectors of society.  While the authoritarian government of Siad Barre was becoming increasingly unpopular with Somalis, no where was the regime more resented than in the north-west.

Following an unsuccessful attempt by Somalia to capture the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia in 1977, Somalis from the north-west (primarily the Issaq clan) living in the United Kingdom formed the Somali National Movement in 1981. The SNM was one of a growing number of groups which aimed to topple Siad Barre. 

As the 1980s unfolded, the Siad Barre regime became increasingly unsteady, and the SNM expanded its control in the north-west region. Mogadishu responded by instituting draconian measures in the north-west to suppress the SNM. When these failed, the government indiscriminately used raids and bombing campaigns to assert control. Nonetheless, by the end of the 1980s, the SNM controlled virtually all of the north-west, including the major towns of Hargeisa and Burao. The Siad Barre regime was on the verge of collapse.

Independence, Democracy, and Non-recognition (1991-Present)

In 1991, after the collapse of the government in Somalia, the territory asserted its independence as the Republic of Somaliland, at a meeting of clan elders in the town of Burao. Abdirahman "Tuur" Ali was appointed the first President of the newly re-established Republic of Somaliland.

Instability plagued the young country, and after two ineffective years in office, clan elders sought to replace Ali. In 1993, they gathered in Borama to elect Muhammed Ibrahim Egal, former prime minister of Somalia, as president.

President Egal quickly moved to establish the institutions of a state in Somaliland. A highly practical and uncanny politician, Egal reconciled grievances among disparate groups, disarmed militias, and gradually oversaw the state take control of infrastructure such as airports and ports from militia groups. A new currency, the Somaliland shilling, was introduced in 1994. Realizing the limited power of the state, Egal's economic policies promoted the market economy, allowing Somaliland to more easily recover from decades of conflict.

During this time, Somalia continued to be riven by conflict. Various peace efforts failed, until the thirteenth attempt, in 2000, at Arta, Djibouti. The Arta conference established the Transitional National Government (TNG), led by Abdikassim Salat Hassan. However, the TNG failed to establish control beyond a few neighborhoods in Mogadishu. Egal refused to have anything to do with Somalia's reconciliation efforts. Instead, in 2001, he proposed a referendum on Somaliland's independence, in which 97% of the nearly 1 million Somalilanders who voted endorsed independence. While the international community took note of the referendum, it did not move forward to recognize Somaliland's independence.

Egal's moderate governance, along with the counsel of the clan elders, probably saved Somaliland from following the route taken by its southern neighbor. Re-elected by clan elders in 1998, after some criticism, he initiated the process by which Somaliland would have democratically elected leaders at all levels of government. However, he died on May 3, 2002, while undergoing treatment in South Africa. In a swift transfer of power that was widely praised, the Vice President, Dahir Riyale Kahin, was sworn in as Somaliland's third President.

President Kahin established a timetable for elections at the local, legislative, and Presidential levels. In December 2002, local elections resulted in the birth of multiparty democracy in Somaliland. Three parties - President Kahin's UDUB Party, the Kulmiye Party, led by SNM veteran leader Ahmed Mohammed Silanyo, and the UCID Party, led by engineer Faisal Ali Warabe, received the highest number of votes. These three men contended for the Presidency in elections held on April 14, 2003 - the first such election held in Somaliland in more than four decades.

The 2003 Presidential election saw Kahin squeak by his rival, Silanyo, by a mere 80 votes, in an election that was deemed free and fair. The National Election Commission declared that UDUB received 205,595 votes to Kulmiye's 205,515 votes. UCID, the third party, recieved far fewer votes. Silanyo protested the results and petitioned the Supreme Court without success. In a move mirroring Al Gore's decision to concede the US presidential election despite concerns about the vote count, Silanyo, in the interest of national unity, conceded the Presidency to Riyale.

In April 2005, the government announced that legislative elections would be held on September 15, 2005, completing Somaliland's transition to democracy.

Future Prospects

The challenges facing Riyale and Somaliland are numerous. Despite being independent for fourteen years and having all the tools of a state, recognition continues to be denied to Somaliland, although increasingly, some foreign government agencies and international NGOs are dealing directly with Hargeisa. The country's dynamic Foreign Minister, Edna Adan Ismail, continues to press the world community to recognize Somaliland.

Corruption, while relatively small by African standards, is becoming a major problem, in part because of the meager financial resources Somaliland has to begin with. Remittances from abroad (estimated at $250-$500 million annually) have greatly helped the reconstruction effort. But with a budget of only $25 million per year, Hargeisa has not been able to rebuild, much less improve, existing infrastructure. Recognition would bring the aid necessary to do this.

Riyale's government has struggled to reverse the crippling poverty (fueled in part by Saudi Arabia's ban on Somali livestock) in the country. In recent years, Somaliland has absorbed thousands of refugees that have returned from Ethiopia and other countries. In addition, the addiction of thousands of Somalilanders to khat poses a serious long term problem for Somaliland's economy.

Some have questioned the viability of Somaliland as an independent country. The peace, stability, economic climate and political developments of the past fourteen years demonstrate that Somaliland can stand as an independent nation, and it should be recognized as such. However, while some western nations (notably Britain) are sympathetic to Somaliland, its claims to independence continue to be vigorously challenged by the remnants of Somalia, the Arab League, and some African countries.

In October 2004, a Somali reconciliation conference (the 14th since 1991) in Kenya elected Abdullahi Yusuf to lead Somalia. Yusuf will head a Transitional Federal Government (TFG) for the next five years. The choice of Yusuf as Somalia's president disappointed Somalilanders. Yusuf, the former President of the autonomous Puntland region, had been engaged with clashes with Hargeisa over Somaliland's eastern Sanaag and Sool regions. Indeed, within days of Yusuf's ascencion to power, Somaliland and Puntland forces engaged in bloody clashes over the border.

It is highly unlikely that Somaliland will even consider rejoining Somalia so long as Yusuf is in power. Moreover, with each passing day, the chaos that continues to reign in Somalia makes it unlikely that Somaliland will ever rejoin Somalia. 




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