British Somaliland: Somaliland's Colonial Past

By: Alcione Nawroski

In 1888, the British established a protectorate in the region referred to as British Somaliland. It was a British protectorate located in northern Horn of Africa, later part of Somalia, and is now the unrecognized Republic of Somaliland.

The British garrisoned the protectorate from Aden and administered it from their British India colony until 1898. British Somaliland was then administered by the Foreign Office until 1905 and afterwards by the Colonial Office.

The British did not have much interest in the resource-barren region. The stated purposes of the establishment were only the protectorate to secure a supply market, check the traffic in slaves, and to exclude the interference of foreign powers.

In the 1930s, the British presence reached other parts of British Somaliland, and the growth of commerce, motivated some traders to subsequently leave the pastoral economy and settle in urban areas.

In August 1940, during the East Africa Campaign in World War II, British Somalia was invaded by Italy. A few British forces were displaced from their positions and finally retreated, losing the Battle of Tug Argan.

In March 1941, after an Italian occupation of six months, British imperial forces recaptured the protectorate during Operation Apparition. The Italian guerrilla movement disrupted all resistance in British Somalia in the fall of 1943.

In May 1960, the British government declared that it would like to grant independence to the then Somaliland Protectorate. The British Somaliland Legislative Council passed a resolution in April 1960 calling for independence.

On June 26, 1960, the British Protectorate of Somaliland gained independence as a Somaliland State, and five days later joined with the Somali Trust Territory to form the Republic of Somalia (Somalia) on July 1, 1960.

In 1991, after a bloody civil war for independence in the northern part of the Democratic Republic of Somalia, the area that previously belonged to British Somalia declared independence.

In May 1991, the formation of the "Republic of Somaliland" was proclaimed. However, the self-declared independence of the Somaliland region was only recognized briefly by a few entities and today remains unrecognized by any country, only recognized as one of Somalia's federal states.

Somaliland Recognition

As mentioned above, during a brief five-day break in 1960, more than 34 countries, including Egypt, Israel and the five permanent members of the Security Council, diplomatically recognized Somaliland.

However, a voluntary merger with the former Italian colony caused unprecedented regrets due to various conflicts of interest arising from this merger of the former British and Italian colony.

Starting from the point that the current Somaliland is defined geographically as the former English colony, Nasir (2013) refers by Human Rights Watch Report in 2009 on Somaliland titled: 'Hostage to Peace'- Threats to Human Rights and Democracy in Somaliland, that he believes that it is simply returning to its former status as an independent state and that its existence somehow threatens the inviolability of inherited colonial boundaries.

The concern with the idea of the independence of Somaliland is that it would set a dangerous precedent to sanction a redesign of the African map.

It is important to note that African states and some Western governments have treated the inviolability of colonial borders in Africa as a fundamental principle to preserve stability.

Africa is an extremely ethnically diversity continent and home to the most number of countries of any. A continent widely explored by European settlers. For Vladimir (1986) cited by Nasair (2013, p. 338), “The African continent became the property of the imperialist colonial powers (Ibid).

The British imperialists were one of the European powers took part the division of the African continent, and it created numerous colonial empires in Africa, controlling an area of nine million square kilometres on this continent, more than 30 times the size of the Great Britain.

By the beginning of the 20th century, there were just a bout fifty million people living in the British colonies in Africa”.

As a result of numerous conflicts, in 1991 the Somali National Movement (SNM) declared Somalia's independence. For Nasir (2013), there was a recognition as state; as population, defined territory, functional government and ability to establish relations with other states in the other international forums.

Their achievements have earned regional, continental and international praise and recognition, and their recognition has been favourably evaluated by the African Union Commission, Conflict Prevention Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), the International Crisis Group (ICG).

Despite Somaliland's success story, the international community hesitates to recognize it as an independent state. Therefore, there is a conflict of interest where local, regional and international actors contribute to the denial of recognition towards Somaliland.

Barriers to Recognition of Somaliland

Some difficulties emerge for non-recognition of independence as the abuse of the principles of democracy, lack of effective governance at local, regional, and at national, and widespread corruption.

According to some researchers, there are factors that undermine the state's goal of achieving independence because they do not take seriously the administration of the country, which is taken by the widespread corruption, mismanagement etc.

However, the main difficulty comes from the south, when Somalia itself does not have the necessary autonomy to give Somaliland independence. Thus, it is difficult to reach a sustainable agreement among the concerned Somali parties.

For Nasair (2013), Somalia has no legal ground helping its claims over the Somaliland territory except the anxiety of the international community that stems from such factors as fear of being involved in the legal breakup of the Somali state which has not ground.

Its claims could be linked to a foreign fabricated claim from some dominant Arab countries approach aimed at creating a strong central government in Somalia with an anti-Ethiopian posture (Medhane, 2002).

In addition, the African Union (AU) appreciated Somaliland’s achievements and progress, however, it hesitated to recognize it fearing that it could encourage other secessionist waves which may hit all over the continent if Somaliland could join the international community.

Some experts argue that the recognition of Somaliland may violate the territorial integrity of Somalia, an act that international law prohibits. For Nasair (2013), the question of whether recognition will violate territorial integrity is necessarily bound with the issue of whether such recognition will be premature.

The other hand, when claims of territorial integrity clash with those of self-determination, United Nations practice allows the latter to trump the former.

This means that in self-determination situations, the wishes of the people concerned are the only relevant factor. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the international community to recognize Somaliland.

Any effort to deny or delay would not only put the international community at the risk of ignoring the most stable region in the Horn, it would impose untold hardship upon the people of Somaliland due to the denial of foreign assistance that recognition entails.

The Future for Somaliland

As far as the issue of recognition is concerned, it is difficult to address it effectively because of the involvement of many issues and actors as we can see here.

Thus, to conclude Nasair (2013) points out as one of the benefits of recognizing Somaliland as an independent state because Somaliland is strategically important in the fight against terrorism.

In many regards, Somaliland by virtue of its strategic location at the intersection of Africa and Asia, notably facing Yemen, plays a pivotal role in the post-cold war system of states in the Horn of Africa region.


Medhane Tadesse (2002). Al-Ittihad: Political Islam and Black Economy in Somalia. Addis Ababa: Mega Printing Enterprise.

Mohamoud, Abdullah A. (2006). State Collapse and Post-conflict Development in Africa: The Case of Somalia (1960-2001). Purdue University Press.

Nasir Mohamed Ali (2013). Searching for an Identity: Examining the Somaliland Quest for Recognition. Asian Journal of Humanities and Social Studies. V 01.

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