The Case for Recognition of Somaliland

By: Valeriia Pantiukhov

International recognition of a country starts with its definition as a political entity, attributes of a country and its legitimacy to be a state. There are two main approaches to define the term 'state.'

Firstly, the state needs to have a permanent populations residing in the defined territory, represented and organized by the organs of supreme authority. A distinction between the state and community was implemented due to the theories of the state of Spinoza, Hobbes, Russo and other philosophers.

As such, the modern approach to the definition of a country or state is an organization, system of institutions that possess supreme authority on the defined territory.

The four common attributes of a state are territory, population, government and sovereignty. On the same line with those, researches determine legislation, tax system, official language and state symbols as important aspects as well.

However, besides the state attributes, the country must be internationally recognized to be considered as legitimate.

Technically, the international community recognizes a country according to the United Nations’ principles of democracy, human rights and security.

In reality however, the act of recognition is a purely political act and does not necessarily rely on the above factors for recognition to take place.

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the General Assembly proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.

To acknowledge the country, the international community has to be sure that no threat will be caused by the newly recognized country, that’s why the Charter of the United Nations emphasises its purpose to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace.

Somaliland Characteristics

Somaliland declared independence after the overthrow of Somali military dictator Siad Barre in 1991, and unilaterally declared itself 'the Republic of Somaliland.' Currently, the country is not internationally recognized and operates as a 'de facto' or unrecognized country.

In order to understand if Somaliland meets the conditions to be acknowledged as a legitimate state, we must understand what characteristic it possesses. Somaliland has a working political system, governmental institutions and its own currency - the Somaliland Shilling.

In addition, it also has a democratic system, its own military (which provides security to its citizens), and its own judicial system.

The official language of Somaliland is Somali, but English and Arabic are widely used as well.

Somaliland Territory

The Republic of Somaliland is bordered by the Gulf of Aden to the north; Somalia to the east; the Federal Republic of Ethiopia to the south and the west; and the Republic of Djibouti to the north west.

The country's borders are based on the borders of the former British Somaliland, before unification with Italian Somaliland - today's Somalia.

Somaliland Population

Population (2013 estimate): 4.5 million. It has an estimated population growth rate of 1.3 per cent; 55 per cent of the 3.5 million population have either a nomadic or semi-nomadic existence, with the remainder living in urban centres or rural towns.

Government of Somaliland

The government consists of three branches which are: the Legislative, the Executive and the Judiciary. Each branch is independent and performs its functions according to the law.

According to the Somaliland Constitution, the government is elected through democratic elections and follows the principles of human rights.

Open and free media is imperative for any democratic society to thrive and attain sustainable development. Somaliland's constitution enshrines the freedom of the press as an essential part of the country's democracy.

Accusations of a lack of freedom of speech in Somaliland, the Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations General Assembly recommends to the government of Somaliland represented by the Ministry of Information and media professional organizations and civil society organizations to work towards drafting a legislation applicable to the media.

Democracy in Somaliland

The basic indicator of democracy is electoral law, meaning the right to vote and the right to be elected. Somaliland is the only constitutional democracy in the Horn of Africa that has conducted several contested local, parliamentary and presidential elections.

Multi-party and pluralist politics is a new exercise in Somaliland. However, political parties are regarded by ordinary citizens and intellectuals as one of the major drivers of division, which hampers the internal cohesion of the society.

One more positive indicator is that citizens did show an understanding of their democratic rights, for instance, to elect or to be elected in the 2017 presidential election. 94% of the respondents approached by the study cast their votes, while 6% had not voted for various reasons, including: logistical problems, or health conditions.

The arrival of international observers in Somaliland elections is a common phenomenon. In this election, around 60 international observers came to Somaliland to follow the process, including the preparation, voting and tallying of votes.

Human Rights in Somaliland

Due to the religious vision and low level of education in the society, the country breaks some of the fundamental human rights. Such as, full and equal opportunities for women at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life.

With that said however, when compared to other countries in the region, Somaliland has made some extraordinary strides in this regard - especially when understanding the extremely conservative nature of Somali society.

It is necessary however, to reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms, to ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements, to develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels.

Somaliland Sovereignty

Supreme authority within a territory — this is the general definition of sovereignty. State’s sovereignty appears in the same moment with the country, it defines that the country is independent to perform its internal and external policy.

Supremacy of the law means that the authority regulates social relationships according to the law. The power spreads to all the citizens, political parties and social organizations.

Independence, as a part of sovereignty, means that the state is not dependent on some other authority and has a right to act without any intervention from outside forces.

There are two types of sovereignty - internal and external, where the first one is a right to govern inside the territory of the country. External sovereignty is called to provide territorial unity and integrity.

In the case of Somaliland, internal sovereignty does in fact exist, because social relations are regulated by the state's laws and authorities. Whereas, external sovereignty is a disputable question, since the country is not recognized, the internationally community looks to its southern neighbor of Somalia for legitimate actions.

A Working System in the Horn of Africa

Somaliland possesses the attributes to be recognized as a legitimate country. But the international community still doesn’t consider it as such.

Somalis from recognized Somalia (the capital of which is Mogadishu) and Puntland (an autonomous region that does not seek total independence) protest that they should not be considered foreigners because Somaliland is not, in the eyes of the rest of the world, separate from Somalia (Somalilanders are treated as Somali citizens at Mogadishu Airport and often obtain Somali passports to travel).

The UN promotes a unified Somalia and does not recognize Somaliland's claim of independence.

Yet the UN has a strong presence and its agencies provide money for (and influence over) some of the most fundamental aspects of the Somaliland Government's interface with the population, including its school curricula, taxation, and police force.

World Policy Journal ranks the top 10 most isolated countries based on a weighted series of criteria including number of countries directly connected by plane, the percentage of individuals on the Internet, the number of foreign visitors, the percentage of the total population that are immigrants, and imports per capita in dollars.

The first three countries in the list are North Korea, Somalia and Myanmar. So, despite its isolation, these countries are recognized by the international community. There is no certain number required to have for recognition of the state.

The country becomes a strong subject of international relationships, what gives it an ability to participate in international trade, to perform diplomatic missions, to exchange academic and cultural experience with the other states.

The issue arises when international organizations such as the African Union do not wish to see new states created in Africa, out of fear of destabilizing the region. In turn, the international community continues to recognize the failed-state of Somalia as legitimate.

As such, Somaliland has a long way to go before real recognition will take place. Even if it can prove that it has created a real and working system of democracy in the Horn of Africa. Something that does not exist - officially at least.


Adan Yusuf Abokor and Nasir M. Ali. Assessing the 2017 Somaliland Presidential Election. (2018).

Amnesty International. Somaliland: Escalating censorship, harassment and prosecution of government critics. (4 July 2019).

ANATOMY. World’s Most Isolated Countries.

BBC news.Somaliland profile.(14 December 2017).

Charter of the United Nations.(1945).


Somaliland Civil Society SDG16+ Coalition. Somaliland SDG16+ Progress Report (June 2019).

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Sovereignty. (Mar 25, 2016).

The Irish times. Somaliland: A profile. (Aug 6, 2019).

The Republic of Somaliland Government. Somaliland Government (2019).

The interpreter. Somaliland: Where sovereignty means something. (24 Jun 2013).

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

UNPO REPRESENTATION REPORT. Somaliland.(Feb 01, 2017).

V. A. Deyshle, A.M. Sologyan, N.N. Fedorova.(2006). Political science:common and practical

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