Somaliland has sent a formal request to the African Union asking to be recognised as an independent state. Somaliland is a former British colony with a population of 3.5 million which broke away from Somalia in 1991. No country yet formally recognises the de facto nation although several keep an unofficial diplomatic presence in Somaliland's capital Hargeisa.
Somaliland unilaterally declared independence four months after the overthrow of former Somali dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. Since then Somaliland has enjoyed relative security and prosperity compared to the anarchy that has descended on the rest of Somalia. There are no gunmen, roadblocks and bombed-out buildings on the streets of Hargeisa. The breakaway republic also has its own constitution and has held successful democratic elections. The state is mostly peaceful, though there were border clashes last month with troops from neighbouring Puntland, another semi-autonomous Somali region.
Earlier this month Somaliland President Dahir Rayale Kahin ruled out reuniting with Somalia and also cast doubt over the interim government's claim of victory in Mogadishu. He also warned Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf against any belligerent moves against Somaliland. "Abdullahi Yusuf cannot come here. It is a day dream that Abdullahi Yusuf is coming and that he will govern Hargeisa." He said.
Kahin has been pressing other African leaders to recognise his country. Kahin is also encouraged by Sweden’s move in March to treat Somaliland as a self-governing area. The Swedish government stated that "Somaliland which takes politically a unique position shall be treated for the first time as a self-governing area”. While the statement stops short of formal recognition, it is a huge step forward with Sweden’s plan likely to have the backing of the EU.
Somaliland has a long and distinct history apart from Somalia. It was dominated by Egypt in the 19th century until British soldiers came across the Gulf from Aden to establish their rule. They founded the protectorate of British Somaliland in 1887. Britain showed little interest in its new African possession. They called its then-capital Berbera "Aden's butcher's shop". It supplied the meat to the strategic British garrison across the gulf.
Britain granted independence to the colony on 26 June 1960 and Somaliland was immediately recognised by 35 countries. Its independence lasted five days. At the same time, Italy granted independence to Italian Somaliland. Under the guidance of the exiting colonisers, the two governments in Hargeisa and Mogadishu agreed on a plan of unity on the basis that Somalis are the same people, speak the same language and have a common religion. They came together as the Republic of Somalia effective 1 July 1960 with a referendum in both parts to ratify the new Republic’s constitution within a year. But most people in the north boycotted the referendum. The seeds for an independent Somaliland were sown.
Mohammed Siad Barre swept to power in a 1969 coup. His rule rekindled discontent in Somaliland which formed a resistance movement against him. By 1988 the two sides of Somalia were locked in civil war which resulted in more than 20,000 killed and the eventually overthrow of Barre. The Somali National Movement (SNM) met to declare independence for Somaliland and named Abdirahman Ahmed Ali "Tur" as interim president for two years. Mohammed Ibrahim Egal was elected President of the Republic of Somaliland in 1993 a position he held until 2001. A referendum in that year saw 97 per cent vote in favour of full independence.
On 18 May 2007 Somaliland will mark 16 years since it proclaimed independence from Somalia. Although no country recognises its sovereignty, its long-term ability to function as a constitutional democracy distinguishes it from the majority of entities with secessionist claims, and a small but growing number of governments in Africa and the West have shown sympathy for its cause. It satisfies all the criteria for independence. But they remain stymied by an African domino theory. The African Union holds the principle: "respect of borders existing on achievement of independence." The AU is reluctant to recognise independence, no matter how justified, for fear that it would increase pressure by other groups in Africa to support changes in their inherited borders. Somaliland remains trapped in Africa's colonial history.