While Somaliland seeks recognition, the situation in Somalia has radically changed. A chaotic and violent “state" with no functioning central government at all now has a radical Islamic regime consolidating its hold on ever-wider areas of the south, following its takeover of the capital, Mogadishu, in June. The Islamic Courts Union -the armed wing of the Council of Islamic Somali Courts -defeated a coalition of warlords (the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism), then gained popular legitimacy when credible reports circulated that the warlords were clandestinely supported by Washington.If we are interested in making the world safe for democracy, Somaliland might be a place to work on it.
The U.S. and the international community continue to recognize the impotent and corrupt Transitional Federal Government, set up in 2004 via a Kenya-based process known as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. They reiterated their support when the ICU seemed poised to defeat the TFG, holed up in its inland headquarters in the town of Baidoa. At present there is a cease-fire between the two factions, but as an indication of the latter’s fragility, on Sept. 18 a car bomb aimed at TFG President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed went off outside of Parliament, killing 18 people. The U.S. is now part of a large contact group whose aim is to get the ICU and the TFG to negotiate a power-sharing arrangement.
Both the ICU and TFG concur in one thing: their determination to reincorporate Somaliland into Somalia. Though this was always their intent, the TFG was never in a position to do anything about it. Now, with the ICU’s ascendancy, the prospect of forcible reintegration has new momentum, especially now that leaders of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, an organization of six African countries focused on drought control and development initiatives, has called for sending a peacekeeping mission to Somalia. IGAD is also requesting that the U.N. lift its arms embargo on Somalia.
In response, Somaliland has vowed to fight reunification and the lifting of the U.N. ban.
That reaction is not surprising given the history of Somalia. On June 26, 1960, the “state of Somaliland" was given its independence from Great Britain, and immediately recognized by 35 nations, including the United States. Five days later the area of Italian Somalia was given its independence. The two legislatures met and decided to unify with the capital to be set in the south in Mogadishu.
Following a year of missteps by the new government, dissident northerners boycotted a referendum on unification. The subsequent period of corruption and clanism in Somalia was halted by a 1969 military coup that brought General Mohamed Siad Barre to power in Mogadishu. Barre proclaimed a socialist Somalia as the “Somali Democratic Republic," and launched a period of increasingly autocratic rule.
After Somalia’s defeat in the Ogaden War with Ethiopia, Abdullahi Yusuf, among other leaders, led a failed coup against Barre. Isaaq clan leaders in what is now Somaliland formed a guerrilla movement to continue the fight against Barre and suffered heavy reprisals during the 1980s. With their help, southern opposition movements forced Barre out in January 1991. Five months later the "Republic of Somaliland" declared its independence and proclaimed Mohamed Ibrahim Egal president. Somaliland has maintained its independence ever since, while Somalia entered a 15-year period of collapse and violence.
The history of independent Somaliland since 1991 has been one of steady democratization. A process laid out in a national charter agreed to at a 1993 “Grand National Reconciliation Conference" survived a period of clan fighting to produce a national constitution, which was ratified in a 2001 referendum that was also a plebiscite on independence. The district elections that followed were judged free and fair by international observers. After Egal’s death, Dahir Rayale Kahin, the appointed interim president, won the 2003 presidential elections - whose results were so close they went to the Supreme Court for adjudication. The decision in Rayale’s favor was fully accepted by the electorate.
The September 2005 legislative elections completed Somaliland’s full transition to democracy. “In 14 years, we have created a free and stable country and held multiparty elections at the local and presidential levels, plus a referendum on our constitution," Pres. Kahin declared. “This parliamentary poll is the final step in the process, and we have earned the right to recognition."
Given the evolution of international norms and standards, there is an argument for democracy as a basis for according international legitimacy to Somaliland. There is no doubt that Somaliland has a claim on the international community’s attention - in the words of the U.S. National Intelligence Strategy - to “ward off threats to representative democracy."