Somaliland vs. Somalia

By: Lucija Karlovic

Recognized and located in the horn of Africa, Somalia borders Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. An area of conflict with extremist group Al-Shabab rising to power and controlling large swaths of territory.

Since the country's independence from colonialism, recognized Somalia has failed to integrate a successful governing democratic body - a failed state which has led to both political and social instability.

To its north, and not represented on the map, the unrecognized country of Somaliland has proved to be a more viable system and the only example of democracy in the Horn of Africa.

It is an example of successful integration of democratic governance within a modern state, Somaliland provides hope through its ability to thrive whilst surrounded by authoritarian neighbours. But how do two countries with a common brutal history depict such vastly different modern day results?

The answers lies in Somaliland's choice to build a government in a bottom up process whereby the traditional ways of governance are implemented into a modern state. The traditional ways have now become the root of Somaliland's governance of consultation and consent (Kaplan & Kaplan, 2019).

Somalia: History

Initial claims of ethnic Somalis sharing the same culture, language and religion seem to be an inaccurate and misleading statement when comparing the countries of Somalia and Somaliland.

Although clan affiliations play a large role in identify, the division between the nomadic pastoralists and southern agro-pastoralists also play a role in differentiating Somalia from Somaliland (Ahmed, 2010).

Clanism however, is still the major root of society seen in both states. Even Islam plays a smaller role in Somali society. In its long standing history of clans, the region was previously referred to as a stateless area with power being dispersed among these clans and sub clans, rather than formal governments.

Six major clans exist in the state of Somalia with each separating further into sub clans. In the 1800’s European colonialists divided Somalia into different regions.

There were essentially three parts of Somaliland which created the foundations for the modern territories of Somalia, Somaliland and the surrounding regions.

Firstly, the British Somaliland Protectorate, which defined the current borders of today's Somaliland and Italian Somalia, which occupied the southern half of internationally recognized Somalia and French Somaliland which today falls under Djibouti as well as some parts of Kenya and Ethiopia.

In 1960, Somalia in its internationally recognized form, became in independent and sovereign state.

It wasn't until nine years later that Mohammed Siad Barre staged an armed military coup in order to bring about a socialist regime. A regime that gained some popularity and success through the building up of social programs but only lasted a few years due to criticism of a one party rule and the defeat by Ethiopia in 1977-1978 in the Ogaden War.

This regime also caused a prolonged famine in 1974 – 1975, where a drought caused food sources to plummet and the shut-down of the major Arab-Somaliland-Ethiopian trade axis.

This was an event that negatively impacted the rural population in Greater Somalia in such a way that still to this day it has yet to recover (Ahmed, 2010). The regime also brought about centralization and a state that became socially isolated.

There was a massive loss of life and displacement of populations due to the famine, the war and formation of government opposition. During this period mining and transport routers were shut down and the Berbera port was closed from 1988-1991.

Somaliland: History

Occupying only a fifth of recognized Somali territory, Somaliland is dominated by the Isaaq Somali clan. For this reason, in 1981, a group was formed known as the Somali National Movement. This movement paved way for independence of the Republic of Somaliland.

Through its desire for independence and return to colonial borders, Somaliland fought back against an unequal dispersal of wealth and the grave instability seen in other parts of the country. Since the early 1990s, Somaliland worked towards building a governmental body that prioritized traditional democratic methods and modern state institutions.

The most successful display of this merger was seen in 1993 when a peace charter was put into motion where based on traditional laws the law and order of the state was established.

Governmental seats were allocated according to clan numbers and in 1996-1997; the number of seats for non-Isaaq clan members were in fact increased. The elders in the community were placed in positions of security and resolve internal conflicts. A national charter was established in order to define the political structures of the government.

It was a display of unity where businessmen, elders, community and clan members all came together to discuss the future of the state. It was a conference where knowledge of the past was utilized in order to build a better and more stable future. Now in recent times, Somaliland attempts to continue to grow into a better more prosperous democratic nation.

In 2001, a constitution was passed in order to minimize clanism. The suggestion to reduce and limit the number of political parties to three was approved and supported by each of the six regions.

Throughout the years, the region has seen a rebuilding of governmental buildings, infrastructure and has even seen the establishment of its own unrecognized currency - the Somaliland Shilling.

In addition to its own currency, the country is home to its own national army, passports, license registry and an international airport located in its capital Hargeisa (Kaplan & Kaplan, 2019).

Since the 1980s, it has seen an economic boom through foreign trade through the Berbera port and the shift from a war and survival orientated economy to a functioning marketing economy is evident.

Because of its unrecognized status, the country is unable to receive international aid or engage in international trade without first going through its recognized neighbor of Somalia. A concern that threatens its very existence and prevents it from further prospering as a state.

The Struggle for International Recognition

Although displaying success in its building of a state, the biggest problem currently faced by Somaliland is its lack of international recognition.

In 2003, Ethiopia hosted the Somaliland president and showed promise of recognizing Somaliland as an independent state - this however has still yet to come to fruition (Studies, 2010). The continued lack of recognition has created a sort of political reliance on internationally recognized Somalia.

This year in 2019, the unrecognized country celebrated 28 years of independence and sovereignty over its territory. With a current population of about 4.5 million people and the ability to provide security to its citizens, the instability and famine plaguing its neighbour Somalia has put Somaliland in a positive light.

Although the questions remains, are the colonial borders of Somalia more legitimate than the ones currently recognized by the international community?


Ahmed, I. I. (2010). The heritage of war and state collapse in Somalia and Somaliland : Local-level effects , external interventions and reconstruction The heritage of war and state collapse in Somalia and Somaliland : local-level effects , external interventions and reconstruction. 6597.

Ingiriis, M. H., Conflict, A., & Review, P. (2019). Statebuilding in Somaliland. 9(1), 124–127.

Kaplan, S., & Kaplan, S. (2019). The Remarkable Story of Somaliland the remarkable story of somaliland. 19(3), 143–157.

Studies, A. S. (2010). African Security Studies. 6029(2003).

#Somaliland #SomalilandTours #Hargeisa #HornofAfrica

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