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Somaliland: A Successful State

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 5434 words Published: 11th Sep 2017

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Somalia is considered to be one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa, yet are plagued with conflict. All Somalis share a common language, a pastoral economy, a religious faith which is Sunni Islam. In addition to this Somalia is a clan-based society which has a deep root in the country's politics. Before colonialism, Somalia's political system was clan-based were tribal sheikdoms was considered to be the form of rulership. Furthermore, power was scattered, meaning tribal leaders had a very difficult time control large regions. Thus, centralization or perhaps a unification under one leader was difficult if not unlikely(Kibble, 2001)[1]. Somalia was colonized by the British and Italians who used a combination of direct rule with a laissez faire approach further out in the periphery (Kibble, 2001)[2]. There are six major clans in Somalia; which are patrilineal; Issaq, Dir, Darood, Hawiye, Rahanweyne. These tribes are interlinked in all social political and financial domains (Kibble 2001)[3]. Thus,"Kinship-based social structure determine entitlement to resources, divisions of labour and authority, but also contracts (xeer) between and among clans." (Kibble 2001)[4]. Furthermore, decision making is conducted by male clan leaders based on consensus. Now, colonialism created boundaries in Somalia and has effected delicate clan relations and power distribution. In terms of Somaliland, the British ultimate goal was"to secure a steady delivery of livestock to their much more important colony of Aden, which controlled approaches to the Suez Canal" (Kibble 2001)[5].

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Between the years 1969-1991 this regime was a result of a military coup which was later legitimized by their aim to end corruption strong and develop a Greater Somalia. This time a National Security Court was established to enforce Public order but later replaced the Independent judiciary. This lead to the eventual descent of the somali state towards an Authoritarian regime (Battera, 2004)[6]. Furthermore, corruption was rampant during Barre regimes around this time due to an increase of foreign aid and military assistance with Italy and other gulf countries (Battera, 2004)[7]. Thus, the balance between the center and periphery was overwhelming favoured towards center thanks to neopatrimonialism. Eventually, legitimacy was lost and that is when Barre turned towards any who could potentially rise against him. Barre prefered target were Somalis who were once apart of the British colony who at this time tried to achieve autonomy. In response Barre to this during the "civil war in the late 1980s Siad Barre indiscriminately bombed the civilian population in Hargeisa and Burco" (Pegg, & Kolstø, 2015)[8]. It was during this time that Somaliland decided to become independent as as result of Somalia being an authoritarian state, rather than a democracy which was originally agreed upon during unification.

This paper shall attempt to answer the question as to why Somaliland although unrecognized internationally is a successful state. First I will discuss the lack of International recognition , which has increased state nationality and increased domestic legitimacy. Second, the implementation of a Hybrid political system true to pre-colonial roots has strengthened the de-facto state. Finally, Somaliland has demonstrated successful and peaceful turnovers of power.


A successful state is one where the acting government demonstrates control of the periphery, the center, financially able to provide basic institutions and strong legitimate authority. Arguably international recognition is also a factor of a successful state, yet despite this Somaliland has managed well without it. Lack of international recognition has increased state nationality in Somaliland. Somaliland as it stands is not formerly recognized as a legitimate state among the international community. However, this does not mean that Somaliland is not a state in perhaps the truest sense of the word. It appears that although Somaliland lacks international recognition it has an abundance of internal recognition. Internal recognition in Somaliland has translated to legitimacy, thus in the eyes of the Somaliland people the de-facto state is legitimate. Ironically a failed state such as Somalia has the international recognition as well as international representation, such as a seat in the UN. However, despite international approval, among Somalis the state does not have legitimacy. Insofar, the government's power simply extends to that of Mogadishu, yet even within the capital power is relative.According to Lipset legitimacy involves the capacity of a system to maintain and engender existing political institutions most efficient to one's society (Lipset, 1960)[9]. In the Failed state Index which measures; corruption, government effectiveness, political participation, level of democracy, illicit economy and protest. Somalia is considered to be the world's most failed state with a 9.5 out of 10 score (Pegg, & Kolstø, 2015)[10].Furthermore, based on the Freedom House world index that ranks countries based on liberties and political rights. This scale considers 7 as the lowest and 1 the highest, here Somaliland has ranked 4.5 , while Somalia is a 7 (Pegg, & Kolstø 2015)[11]. Thus, it can be observed that in terms of political rights and perhaps even liberties Somaliland has proven to be more successful.Nonetheless, it should be noted that data conducted in Somalia is relatively difficult and may not necessarily be all inclusive. Thus, legitimacy and state success is not solely based upon international recognition.

According to Holsti, vertical and horizontal legitimacy are the defining characteristic that determine a state's ability to be recognized domestically and internationally. Vertical legitimacy is based on performance, ''The state has to earn and maintain its right to rule through the provision of services, including security, law and order'' (Holsti, 1996)[12]. While Horizontal legitimacy defines the limits and criteria for membership in the political community. Thus, if different subgroups within a community accept and tolerate each other then there is high Horizontal legitimacy. In addition the lack of international financing forces the state to abide by vertical legitimacy. Therefore, internal legitimacy is the notion where members within a polity are confident in their government and institution to provide basic needs. In the case of Somaliland formally considered a de-facto state is legitimate in all ways but internationally. Through the creation of its own military, navy, provision of basic health care and representation of clans. Traditional Ghuurti are used in Somaliland to settle disputes among clans and/or subclans as well as to achieve cohesion. However, this does not imply that disputes were all non violent there have been instances where conflict ensued due to resources (harbors, airports).

The lack of international recognition in Somaliland has proven to build the state at a bottom up level. By comparing Somaliland to Somalia we are able to identify that no international intervention has proven to be pivotal to Somaliland's success. There were two large foreign troop interventions in Somalia, in addition to regional and international conferences. Yet none of these conference has lead to stability or at the very least control of more than a small fraction of Somalia (Pegg, & Kolstø,2015)[13]. According to Pegg and Kolsø the responsibility of Somalia was taken from the Somali people, which resulted in failed interventions (2015)[14]. Furthermore, overall intervention of the international community to the Somali people has done more harm than good. According to Hammond(2013)[15], ''Trust between Somalis and international actors has never been particularly strong, but in recent years has weakened to the point where international political engagement has come to be seen by many Somalis as a liability....'' In addition, Menkhaus (2012)[16] states Somalis ''want an end to warlordism and jihadism, but they also want an end to foreign domination.". Yet peacebuilding in Somaliland is for the most part been in the hands of the people because they do not have the ability to request international aid. Thus, "If the Somalilanders did not achieve peace among themselves, nobody would do it for them" (Pegg, & Kolstø, 2015)[17].This notion of self-reliance has fueled nationality within the de-facto state ultimately solidifying internal legitimacy. Somaliland has been forced to rely upon themselves and this has only strengthened there persistence of independence and stability. In Somaliland, the lack of external intervention is often seen as a strength. "Former foreign minister Abdillahi Duale (personal interview) believes that any major international engagement would have undermined self-reliance and the slow growth of local institutions for maintaining peace" (Pegg, & Kolstø,2015)[18]. Similarly, former minister of finance Muhamad Hashi Elmi ''We had no five-star hotels, but had our meeting in the shade of a tree. The lack of attention from the international community has been a blessing. We did not realize that at the time, but now we realize it." (Pegg, & Kolstø, 2015)[19]. At this point in time Somaliland has two strong arguments for independence the first being its substantial support and legitimacy within the state. Secondly, its previous status of once being a former British colony prior to the unification of Somalia. According to the notion of utis possidetis former territorial lines are keep with its possessor.


A unique aspect of Somaliland is its Hybrid political system, a joining of pre-colonial and postcolonial politics. The addition of pre-colonial politics has made Somaliland an interesting case in East Africa. The implementation of a pastoral democracy relies upon the use of traditional clan elders to mediate and negotiate politics. Fused with modern democracy where power is divide by different branches of government. For example a permanent Guurti was made for the upper house of the parliament where clans would appoint elders to represent each clan (Pegg, & Kolstø, 2015)[20]. In the beginning the lower house of parliament and the government were clan based, to change this a quota of clan representative was made to determine the MPS and ministers. Yet, it was understood that this system made smaller clans overrepresented. This overrepresentation was enacted so that smaller clans did not fear the dominance of the Issaq clan in government. Nonetheless, a restraint was enacted by a national referendum in 2001 where a competitive party system was chosen for the lower house rather than clan-based (Pegg, & Kolstø, 2015)[21]. In essence Somaliland " fell back on the time-honored consensus-based reconciliation mechanisms of the beele, in which the clan elders deliberate extensively among themselves until mutually acceptable solutions are found" ( Pegg, & Kolstø.2015)[22].According to Pegg and Kolstø "The party system in Somaliland is somewhat idiosyncratic, as only three parties which demonstrate support in each of Somaliland's six regions are allowed to register for national elections in accordance with Article 9 of Somaliland's Constitution" (2015)[23]. The limitation was enacted to prevent fragmentation among clans (Pegg, & Kolstø.2015)[24]. Rather than to dissuade clan and kinship practices which will fuel animosity among the polis. This new approach to accommodate political and social norms pre-existing in that region has proven to further legitimize the Somaliland de-facto state.

Democracy is often championed, hailed as a solution to social and political issues because it removes clanism and other "antiquated" political institutions. Although, clannism did not function as an effective political institution in pre-colonial times it can succeed with the inclusion of democracy. Societies such as Somaliland and Somalia clans of kinship are a pivotal aspect of social life, and will not be changed any time in the near future.Thus, rather than attempt to abolish it or degrade it ( such as the case of the Barre regime) accommodating it will prove to be much more effective. These relations of kinship are closely tied to one's identity and self perception, the removal of it will be seen as an attack on one's person's. However, that being said it is also important to take into consideration of the opposite spectrum. According to Hoehne "many members of the House have become urbanized and somewhat disconnected from their largely rural constituencies, eroding the traditional principle of collective and consultative decision making''. In addition Hoehne states (2013)[25]''The outcome of these developments is a 'crippled hybrid' in which neither state nor traditional institutions function really well.'' and , ''their claim to legitimate traditional authority became hollow''(2013)[26]. Although theoretically, choosing a representative will inevitably result in the distancing of said leader from those of which he represent.This does not take away the merit of recognizing clannism in Somaliland that to individuals is important both socially and politically.

Furthermore, " The clan element in the hybrid system of government has secured strong support for the regime, particularly in rural, conservative areas, but from the perspective of liberal democracy it is defective. Not only is the principle of one person-one vote violated, but under this system women and minorities from outside the traditional clans have no political influence whatsoever " (Renders, 2012)[27]

Nonetheless, despite this it was the implementation of clanism that brought Somaliland together. Thus without the state accommodating clans the de-facto state would prove to be useless and would not have lasted as long as it has. Although, international assistance was limited it was the very lack of intervention that allowed the Hybrid system in Somaliland to exist. It is doubtful a "western" international organizations would approve such "antiquated" politics, and would have pressured them to change.


Somaliland has demonstrate the ability to have successful and peaceful turnovers of power a number of times. The newly reformed de-facto state had the tasks of building a tax base as a result of no international support. Conflict management was paramount during this time of the state's delicate position. Initially, the de-facto state was not as representative as it had led others to believes. It lacked the financial ability to maintain authority. However, despite this Somaliland made attempts to secure the the Berbera port. Although the port was under the control of a unrepresented clan within the government which expressed displeasure with the de-facto state.

Yet, Edbank notes, "In part due to internal divisions, and in part due to a lack of resources, the SNM was never able to project authority beyond the territories of the Isaaq clans that made up its core membership. It quickly became apparent that the SNM had only been held together by a common distaste for the military regime in Mogadishu. With the war over, financing from the diaspora - which had helped support the SNM during the civil war - dried up, and the group succumbed to internal divisions" (Eubank, 2011)[28].

At this time many within government and the polis in general were of the belief that the President's clan "Habar Yonis" were manipulating power in their favor. This challenge towards the de-facto state was similar to the issue that ultimately lead to the collapse of Somalia. Favoritism due to clan ties was predominate at this time and often used as a way to consolidate power (Eubank, 2011[29]). The SNM was an established group created after the Somali civil war in hopes of solidity stability in Somaliland. The clan then ended its relations with the SNM administration in favour of opposing the government's manipulation of power. This was the case of the Berbera port controlled by the Isaaq clan known as the Habar Jelo, considered to be a rival of the president's clan. In 1992 the government killed over 300 people in the town of Burco due to attempts to control weapons in the town(Eubank, 2011).[30] Consequently an armed conflict erupted between the two groups. Eubank emphasis this point "The port of Berbera was at that time controlled by an Isaaq clan which was not well represented within SNM government, the 'Ilse Muse" ( Eubank, 2011)[31]. After numerous national peace conferences the government was able to collect taxes from the port and managed to receive direct financing from the private sector to create a new currency(Eubank, 2011)[32]. Yet, the government had to ensure a set of national institutions that included a larger support, internal checks, balances, and a bicameral legislative branch. Thus, the new government was able to gain the support of both the private sector as well as the local clans (Eubank, 2011)[33].The conferences resulted in a more inclusive representation in government along with a reestablished National Charter. The Parliament now included 150 clan elder, as well as a new vice president and president(Eubank, 2011)[34]. Furthermore, the new president "whose paternal lineage came from the 'Ilse Muse clan - which had controlled the port of Berbera - and whose maternal lineage came from the Habar Yonis clan - which had previously been represented by the presidency. This 'encouraged public optimism that [the new president] could unite the Isaaq' (Eubank, 2011)[35]. Furthermore, the private sector strongly supported a violent-free Berbera airport. The Berbera port provided the government with a source of income ' which by September 1995 was estimated to be between US$10-15 million per year' (Bradbury, 2008)[36]. The second test Somaliland faced was the newly established National charter that was not embraced by the former president's clan Habar Yonis. This disagreement was a result of the clan disatifaction regarding the new central authority and representation ratios (Eubank, 2011)[37]. Yet compromises were made due to pressure from the civil society and financial strain (Eubank, 2011)[38]. Furthermore, "In 1995, a group of Somalilanders living abroad organised the Peace Committee for Somaliland and began pushing for a peaceful resolution " (Eubank, 2011)[39]. This resulted in a new constitution being enacted for a more inclusive allocation of seats by increasing the seats for Habr Yonis ending the conflict (Eubank, 2011)[40].

"At a national level, much of this revenue comes from customs collected at major trading centres - like the Berbera port and Hargeysa airport. But local governments also depend upon local financing throughout the country. Under Somaliland's system of decentralisation - another measure established at the Boorame Conference in 1993 to ensure local governments were accountability to local populations, and not financially accountable to a potentially predatory national government - Somaliland's district councils continue to raise their own revenues to supplement disbursements from the central government by 'taxing local resources, with land, animal slaughter and business tax providing the main revenue streams'(Bradbury, 2008)[41].

The Boorame Conference ensured that government accountability at the national and local level be meet to satisfy civil society. Based on these two cases in the history of Somaliland there is evidence of its ability to relatively sustains its political stability. In order to secure power it comes as little to no surprise that the de-facto state was forced to use violent means. However, the during and after of the violence proved to be detrimental to the state itself. The loss of resources and finances due to these conflicts ultimately hastened the de facto-state to compromise. It could be said that perhaps if Somaliland did receive Foreign aid it would be much less inclined to listen to grievances or compromise its position. Thus, the disregard from the international community in Somaliland has in this instance been beneficial. Somaliland is unable to receive aid or any financial backing from other states of organizations. In addition the de facto state must rely upon tax revenue as a source of income. Forcing it to rely upon its own people and bureaucracy for financial and political stability. Evidently, prolonged conflict will only serve to impedide the state's ability to secure power and the displeasure from civil society. Ultimately, this forces Somaliland to not be a predatory state and turn upon the very people they rule, because they must rely upon them to consolidate power and wealth. This creates a binary relationship that are interdependent on each other to succeed. Furthermore, the Somali political culture which by nature encourages discussion and debate among leaders fuelled peaceful talk. Conferences were financed and supported by diaspora and civil society within Somaliland. This demonstrated that the decisions of state is in the hands of Somalilanders. Simultaneously strengthening public nationality as well as consolidating legitimacy.

In Conclusion, Somaliland has demonstrated its ability to be a successful state. Not only does its civil society believe it to be legitimate it also represents previously ignored clans. Somaliland claim to be a recognized as a state drives from the notion of utis possidetis. Ultimately, the lack of international recognition increased internal legitimacy and power. This allowed a bottom up approach towards the rebuilding of the former British protectorate. Furthermore, this increased the notion of horizontal and vertical legitimacy within Somaliland. Since the responsibility of the polis rest solely upon the state resulting in a binary relationship of interdependence. Thus making the possibility of a "predatory state" unlikely. In addition, the Hybrid "pastoral" democracy system that Somaliland has chosen to use to accommodate clanism has demonstrated a new form of democracy. This "archiac" notion of democracy would not have been accepted if international organizations were involved. Rather, the acknowledgment of Somaliland's clan based society perpetuated stability. Unlike the Somalia Barre regime who claimed to rebuke clanism, yet maintained ties of kinship to consolidate power. Ignoring the very a nature of the society will prove to only hinder stability. Finally, Somaliland has been able to overcome issues of representation such as the case of IIse Muse representation and the Berbera port conflict. The de-facto state faced claims where the president was believed to favor his own clan "Habar Yonis" by consolidating power and parliamentary seats to them. However, they overcame this issue due to pressure of civil society and financial losses. Forcing the two groups to concede, thereby allowing a new parliamentary system to be enacted to ensure fair representation. Making the next president have clan ties to both groups from their paternal and maternal line. Then the second conflict was due to Habar Yonis displeasure with the new National Charter. This issues was resolved by allocating more seats to this clan thus ending the conflict. Somaliland is where the colonial and postcolonial history has lead to their strong patriotism and drive to succeed as a state regardless of international acceptance. This paper only analyzes the theoretical notion of success and "legitimate" sentiments across Somaliland.However, it does not discuss the economic stability within Somaliland in depth due to a lack of research conducted in this area. Further studies could include if Somaliland has the economic ability to compete in a global market sustainably as a sovereign state.

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[1] Steve Kibble,Somaliland: Surviving Without Recognition; Somalia: Recognised but Failing? ( International Relations 2001), 12

[2] Steve Kibble,Somaliland: Surviving Without Recognition; Somalia: Recognised but Failing? ( International Relations 2001), 13

[3] Steve Kibble,Somaliland: Surviving Without Recognition; Somalia: Recognised but Failing? ( International Relations 2001), 13

[4] Steve Kibble,Somaliland: Surviving Without Recognition; Somalia: Recognised but Failing? ( International Relations 2001), 15

[5] Steve Kibble,Somaliland: Surviving Without Recognition; Somalia: Recognised but Failing? ( International Relations 2001), 17

[6] Battera, F. State- & democracy-building in sub-Saharan Africa: The case of Somaliland - A comparative perspective. (Global Jurist Frontiers 2004),3.

[7] Battera, F. State- & democracy-building in sub-Saharan Africa: The case of Somaliland - A comparative perspective. (Global Jurist Frontiers 2004),3.

[8] Pegg, & Kolstø. Somaliland: Dynamics of internal legitimacy and


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