Updated: Aug 28, 2019
By: Hena Matthias
History of Somaliland's Foreign Relations
The unrecognized, but independent Republic of Somaliland was created in 1991 after the overthrow of Somalia dictator Siad Barre.
The unrecognized country, recognized as part of Somalia, has become known as an oasis of peace. It has been very successful in fighting and deterring Al-Shabab militants, who are fighting an insurgency in other parts of Somalia.
Over the past thirty years, this territory has remained relatively peaceful in an otherwise conflict-ridden region. Somalia has been engulfed in corruption and violence over the past several decades, while Somaliland has formed an independent government and state, which has held four separate and free elections since 2003.
However, due to tumultuous conflicts within Somalia and the Horn of Africa, the African Union and European Union have not recognized Somaliland as a country in fear of further inflaming tensions.
Although the country remains unrecognized by the international community, the Somaliland passport is not. The Somaliland passport is infact recognized by a select countries, namely; South Africa, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Belgium, France, South Sudan,the UK, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
In addition to limited recognition of its national passport, the country also has a diplomatic presence in countries such as; Djibouti, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Kenya, the USA, the UK, Canada, China, the UAE, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, France, Norway, Sweden, Turkey and Australia.
Within the territory of Somaliland, there is also a presence of various foreign diplomatic missions. This includes; Djibouti, Ethiopia, Turkey, Denmark and Kenya.
With little recognition, Somaliland’s foreign policy strategy centers around advocating for international recognition and encouraging foreign direct investment.
Somaliland - UAE Relations
The UAE is one of the only nations in the world that has actively worked and brokered deals with the Somaliland government.
Beginning in 2016, the UAE port operator DP World started on a $442 million project to develop the port of Berbera within the self-proclaimed borders of Somaliland.
The UAE values Somaliland and the port of Berbera primarily for its location in the middle of China’s New Silk Road- allowing easy access to establish trade networks between China, the Middle East, and Africa.
Additionally, the UAE owns two military ports on Yemeni islands. A base in Somaliland would allow the UAE to expand their control over the Horn of Africa that is not in Djibouti, which has shown to be a popular place for foreign nations military bases.
However, citizens of Somaliland have shown concern that receiving investments from the UAE might involve them in UAE conflicts with other Gulf nations. and has not hindered business negotiations between the UAE and Somaliland over the past few years.
Foreign investment is a key part of Somaliland’s strategy to become more integrated in trade markets in Asia and Africa. The port of Berbera is located strategically on the Gulf of Aden, allowing easy access to the two continents that it separates.
Along with DP World, in 2017 Ethiopia had also shown an interest in economic development within the region and agreed to help fund the $442 million project.
This further upset Somalia leading the Somalia Ministry of Ports and Marine Transport denouncing the deal calling it “null and void” along with the lower house of Parliament, who voted to nullify the agreement.
Ultimately, these decisions put an end to the project, but it was not the last time Somalia and the UAE came into conflict.
In the spring of 2018, the UAE entered a deal to train Somaliland security forces in exchange for building an Emirati military facility in Berbera. Clearly, this upset Somalia and they called on the UN to intervene and stop the building process.
Additionally, a few weeks later on April 8th, 2018, Somalia officials confiscated $10 million from the UAE, which was found in luggage at the Mogadishu Airport. In response, the UAE stopped work on a hospital it was funding in Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia.
Ultimately it was agreed to terminate the military training mission in Somaliland. Somalia’s reactions to a UAE and Somaliland relationship clearly reveals their greatest fear that as Somaliland becomes more integrated into the global trade network, the harder it will be for Somalia to reclaim the region.
Somaliland - Yemen Relations
A large majority of Somaliland’s interaction with Yemen is through the waves of migrants that are fleeing the war-torn region since the Saudi-led coalition campaign in Yemen began a few years ago.
Figures from the International Organization for Migration indicate upwards of 100,000 migrants have been displaced since 2015, with almost a third arriving in Somaliland and Puntland (an autonomous region of Somali).
Somaliland is the choice destination for many because of its relative closeness to Yemen and peaceful government. Local NGOs assist these refugees by providing food, medical care, small amount of cash and transport to Somalia if they wish.
Unemployment in Somaliland
Unemployment is one of the biggest issues Somaliland is currently facing. Developing Somaliland’s diplomatic relations is crucial to tackling domestic unemployment.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs estimates that almost 75% of Somaliland’s citizens are unemployed, a figure that is only made worse by refugees fleeing from Yemen.
Specifically, in Hargeisa, the capital city of Somaliland, there is a high level of youth unemployment - especially among university graduates. This primarily stems from a lack of opportunity and arguably, mass addiction to khat in the country.
Researchers have documented the link between crime and job security. With almost 80% of Somaliland’s youth without jobs, crime has slowly risen since 2016.
The unrecognized country likely has many years until the international community formally recognizes them as an independent state. The government is drastically trying to form diplomatic relations with foreign governments and improve its imagine in the eyes global community, as a result of its inclusion in Somalia.
Craig, J. (2016, April 13). Yemenis Escaping Conflict Flee to Somaliland. Retrieved from https://www.voanews.com/africa/yemenis-escaping-conflict-flee-somaliland
Muhumed, M. A. (2017, August). Somaliland: Youth Unemployment and Security in Hargeisa. Retrieved from https://www.horndiplomat.com/2019/02/12/somalilandyouth-unemployment-and-security-in-hargeisa/
Riordan, K. (2015, May 21). Yemenis fleeing to Somaliland 'struggle for survival'. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/05/yemenis-fleeing-somaliland-struggle-survival-150521100540616.html
(2019, March 15). UAE's enrages Mogadishu over breakaway Somaliland. Retrieved from https://africanbusinessmagazine.com/region/east-africa/uaes-enrages-mogadishu-over-breakaway-somaliland/
(2017, February 22). Why is UAE building a military base in Somaliland? Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-africa-39051551/why-is-uae-building-a-military-base-in-somaliland