The main purpose of development economics should be to give any country or community hope. Hope for a future they own and where they can grow. But no hope is seen nor given to anyone in Somalia, as the country has been a disaster since the day it gained independence in 1960. With the premise of bringing the major native ethnic group of the Somalis together, the British and Italian colonies were unified. Its government started as a failed democracy, followed by a brutal dictatorship under Siad Barre, resulting in wars and many genocides across the country. The dictatorship lasted two decades, until in 1991, the government was dismantled by rebel armed groups. Afterwards, no government successfully took control. Somalia has been in a civil war with different factions fighting for control, being the perfect hub for terrorist groups, warlords and pirates. An absolute anarchy. The years go by and there is still no hope for the Somalis.
But there is one exception – Somaliland, a region of Somalia that belonged to Britain in the north of the country. It has had relevant developments and it’s starting to have its first foreign diplomatic relations. It possesses its own currency and even its own passport. Its achievements have been considered remarkable. Even though it is not internationally recognized as a country separated from Somalia (yet), it’s developing the best it can to become one.
In this article we will focus on this small wannabe country and try to ascertain if it can indeed become a successful nation recognized by the rest of the world or if it is just another African state waiting for its decline. Is there still any hope for the Somali people?
A short story of tragedy
Somaliland has always been the odd one out in this unification, being always marginalized by the rest of the country. In 1978, during Barre’s dictatorship, with the goal of unifying other Somali dominated territories, the national government started a war with Ethiopia, which it lost. This defeat destroyed the economy of the country, the lives of its citizens and the image of its government. Because of this, in the mid-1980s, rebellions started rising. Somalia’s military started a brutal counteroffensive, not only against the rebels, but also against the different clans that supported them. It was in Somaliland that the national army marched to the region’s largest cities of Hargeisa and Burao. Using artillery and air strikes, they bombarded the cities, destroying 90% of Hargeisa and 70% of Burao, killing thousands of civilians. This is known as the Isaaq Genocide. Barre’s government collapsed in January 1991, and in April of the same year, Somaliland declared independence. All Somaliland militias were dismantled or incorporated into the new national army of Somaliland, providing a solid stabilization and security in the region. For the rest of Somalia, a long civil war awaited.
On the road to a better future
For Somaliland to become a successful country, there are some key points that must be assured: regional stability, an efficient government and a healthy economy.
Somaliland is considered the most stable region in the Horn of Africa. As the former militias join the national army, this army remained loyal to the new government. After the remaining of Barre’s forces were defeated, many other dangers were still present, such as Islamic terrorist organizations, pirate groups and the other numerous factions in the civil war. All were successfully expelled. Its major stability problem is still with the neighboring Puntland with whom it has some territorial disputes. As of national identity, these were the same people marginalized by the rest of Somalia and the same clans killed in the Isaaq Genocide. We can associate the loyalty of Somaliland’s troops to this strong national identity.
Its government started as a democracy that distributed all major powers between the most powerful clans. Later in 2002, it decided to substitute it for a more ideology-based democracy. This new government had a modern constitution, with full separation of powers between independent institutions. In 2003, the first president of Somaliland was elected, and the subsequent elections have been all considered fair and legitimate internationally, largely thanks to this government architecture that was built with no help from abroad. All of this made Somaliland’s government gain the recognition of most efficient democracy in East Africa.
As for its economy, despite having great potential, it’s still quite underdeveloped as it continues to be based on livestock exports, largely to Arab countries. The government is progressively looking to diversify its economy, investing in its most promising sectors. Somalia is situated in the Horn of Africa, a valuable strategic location since it’s where many trade routes pass through. Somaliland took advantage of this by investing in its ports. Berbera’s Port is one of the biggest and most developed ports in the region and is a booming site for maritime operations, providing access for maritime trade and attracting foreign investment from China and the UAE. Its territory also has an abundance of mineral resources, such as industrial ore like iron and titanium and even rare metals. Oil reserves are also present and have already started being explored in 2018.
To summarize: it’s the only stable region in Somalia, as well as one of the most efficient governments build from the ground that has a promising economy. This great potential is not officially recognized in the world, but in many ways, it is unofficially: it has trading agreements with multiple countries, such as the UK and Taiwan, and is a member of multiple international organizations such as the UN’s Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization.
There are still many weaknesses inhibiting the self-declared country from being recognized. For instance, the ongoing civil war with the north-eastern area of Somalia – Puntland, due to the territorial dispute over eastern provinces, whose control is claimed by Somaliland based on colonial boundaries and by Puntland based on tribal affiliation. Another obstacle is that many countries and international organizations, including the African Union, don’t support a successful separatist’s movement, no matter how efficient it may be, fearing it may encourage other similar movements to seek independence. And because it has no recognition, no foreign aid can be provided to the government. Hence, the government is very dependent on private donors and investment, leaving the danger of corruption of the government wide open.
Apart from its lack of recognition, Somaliland also has many internal problems. It still presents an extremely low GDP per capita of $347 US, making it the fourth poorest country in the world, according to the World Bank. As the effects of climate change increase, it endangers the livestock industry, which is still the backbone of the current economy, resulting in income loss and famine to a part of the population. Despite Somaliland’s efforts and investments towards education, half of the children still have no access to school. Several human rights abuses are still committed, such as feminine genital mutilation, which unfortunately is still very popular in Somalia as it’s estimated that 98% of women have been submitted to it, according to ActionAid.
Truth is, this reality is very complicated. It takes a very long time to see improvements in a country, and failed cases of separation are the most common examples. But against all odds, this government has been achieving all the right benchmarks in the 30 years of its independence: stability in a region globally known for widespread chaos, a complex political system that disapproves and punishes corruption and a promising economy built with investments in infrastructure and education. Moreover, by granting international recognition, the resulting provision of foreign aid would alone solve many of Somaliland’s problems. But one question remains: if the international community doesn’t reward this nation, how can it expect to see more of its kind in the future?
Sources: World Bank, East African Business Week, UNICEF, UN News, The Conversation, Institute for Security Studies, Economist, Britannica, BBC, Action Aid, The Taiwan Times