NOTE: this is a copy of the article that I submitted for review by the Oxford Society of International Relations in 2016. Interesting anecdote: I wrote the majority of this on the top bunk in the billets at Camp Murray while in training for a new roof-mounted humvee weapons system called the CROWS.

When I was given the opportunity to submit a draft for SIR on the particular region in the Northeastern corner of the boomerang that you call “Somalia” – the region itself is called “Somaliland”, and we’ll touch upon why I just called it a “region” and not a “country” just then – I was hesitant.

Somaliland, Basque Country, Chechnya and Grosny, Dagestan, and up until a few years ago, South Sudan – these places have been a sour subject in the backwash of my Irish insanity.

I should disclose – since you Europeans are so damned insistent on history and heritage – that I indeed do stem from the royal Connaght clans O’Connor and as well the Basque Country – so far as I know my more Southern ancestor last stepped off the European Continent in a little town called El Ferol.

I am an Irish, Basque, American. Or, as your UK history books would have it: a terrorist.
Thus, I am conflicted – especially as an enlisted Combat Engineer in the United States military – when I see a place like Somaliland. Its brooding enthusiasm in independence makes me confused. I want to jump with joy, and then I sit down and cry myself to sleep.

I've never been warranted the opportunity to venture that far north of Mogadishu, and as I am still a US government employee, the State Department has sternly advised me against any travels in the region until my estimated time of separation. But the tales told by my friends and contacts in the region of a beautiful oasis in the North, and teatime in the always-sunny, hilly coastlines of the Zelia in the Adwal with its coral reefs and deserted islands have haunted my vagabond soul. To stand atop the Abode of the Birds with my arms outstreched shouting "I am the King of the world!" like Jack on the Titanic is on my bucket-list. Indeed, this place sounds pristine, and even the desert plains of the Togdheer would be a great place to lie on your back and count the stars.

Why, in its relatively long life, has this region of Somalia not been recognized as an African powerhouse? If an independent Somaliland were to rise in the North, would a Hergasi government be as economically superior to the central government in Mogadishu as it is made out to be on African Twitter?


For the majority of my studies on Somalia, I have preferred not to make the same mistake that my own government did when it landed in Somalia the year before I was born. I have tried not to stray into the “Somaliland issue” for the past five years, and observed it from afar. Perhaps it is due to a bout of hereditary depression, but I feel in no way qualified to make policy suggestions in a part of the world that would happily eat me alive.

In this time within our society there is a word, a particular word – casually being thrown around the grand halls of political academia in a fashion not dissimilar to the manner in which a chimpanzee will casually toss around his own feces. This appropriation while technically correct is also done so without the foresight of its consequences. Words matter. Perhaps more so on the world stage than in any other field.

The word is non-state actor.

It is the grammatical opinion of this writer that descriptors are more dangerous to the status quo than might sometimes be predicted by their authors. Words like “first world” and “third world” and “north south” and “failed state” perhaps do a far greater amount of damage to their semantic denziens than is intended.

Non-State Actor, while written in most places on this campus with a healthy dosage of dispassion, likely carries with it a curse upon those unrecognized governments who want to be sovereign. Non-State actors do not get a seat at the table. As a result, these governments often do not receive the proper recognition their populous’ feel they deserve.

And so Somaliland, with all of its prancing motorcades of independence and fruitful obligation to the will of Alah and Mohammad as the messenger, is stuck - just as I am stuck. Somaliland is stuck in a precarious position - not exactly the same precarious position that many other Islamic Republics find themselves, which is the border between tradition and modernity, although Somaliland may soon have to face that problem in the coming years. Somaliland is teetering on the knife-edge of an identity crisis.

What we are, as human beings, is a question as old as the first human civilization - which, as it just so happens, is not that far away from here. Who the Somalis are, within modern history, is a question not too difficult to answer. The Somalis are an ethnic mix of Arab and African, oral legend holding that a group of adventurous Arabs crossed the sea to find a new home in Africa, genetic data testing confirming a more closely related historical decent of the first humans. As in the first humans ever.

The prerequisite rules concerning the words "Somali" and "Somalilander" are confusing to many people. As a whole, the ethnic Somali is a people united in their history with a common language, common genetic markers, and similar oral histories. As a result of the bastardization of the Horn of Africa (HOA) region first by the elephant hunters of Ptolemyian Egypt, followed centuries later by the Ottoman Empire, Egypt again, Ethiopia, Britain, Italy, and France - ethnic Somalis can be found today throughout the region - in Djibouti, Somaliland, Ethiopia, Puntland, Somalia, Jubaland, Kenya, Sool, and Maakhir.

It is a common trait amongst those in the midst of an identity crisis - and I am speaking from personal experience - that although this crisis is raging inside one's own fabric, any outward appearance to the world portrays a perfectly sane individual. Somaliland, as a collective identity - is on the border (refer to the Michaelmas edition of SIR for more on what it means to be on a border) between Africa and Arabia. And within Africa, the border between the North and the South. This phenomenon is true for the entire geographic region of Somalia.

In June of 2007, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenwani held a conference with Somaliland President Dahir Kahin. During that conference, an official communique by the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry referred to Mr. Kahin as "President Kahin," which was the first time that Somaliland had been officially acknowledged as a sovereign state by another government. In that same year, President Kahin applied for Commonwealth status as an observer nation - but the application is still pending. Since then, the governments of the United Kingdom, Belgium, Ghana, Sweeden, Djibouti, South Africa, and more recently Turkey, Ireland and the USA have established diplomatic ties with the government of Somaliland, but have been mostly hesitant to acknowledge its independent status.

Germany has outright refused to recognize, in any way, shape, or form, the independence of Somaliland as a self-governing state. Germany has also led the charge at the UN General Assembly to reaffirm Mogadishu as the central Somali government of not only Somalia, but also Somaliland, Puntland, Maakhir, Sool, and Jubaland.

In a Diplomatic Cable from the US Ambassador James Swan in 2009 to the US Government which was part of the Wikileaks Diplomatic blast, Swan writes that "The GODJ - Government of Djibouti - is open to re-establishment of a Somaliland liaison office in Djibouti.  But the GODJ Foreign Minister stresses that Djibouti maintains its "one-Somalia" policy, and has made clear to the Hargeisa authorities that it does not support formal recognition." It is clear that the United States has had a fair interest in promoting an independent Somaliland, but recognition has stalled in the thrones of confusion and bitter antagonization that tend to dominate the US Congress.

Somaliland's strongest political relationship is with its neighbor Ethiopia - as the land-locked nation relies heavily on water access through the Somaliland port city of Berbera. Some on African Twitter have gone so far as to claim that Somaliland is a puppet state to the economic influence of Ethiopia. These claims have no real legitimate evidence to cite, but the notion is interesting to consider. The Berbera Port, after all, is leased by the government of Ethiopia, and without that critical intergovernmental economic relationship, it is unknown how successfully Somaliland would function.

The Central Bank of Somaliland only prints the Somaliland Shilling, and also regulates the Somaliland Shilling, which is only recognized in Somaliland - and apparently... Sheffield and... Cardiff. Although, good luck cashing that check anywhere outside of Somaliland - there is no official exchange rate, as the currency is not recognized, because the government is not recognized anywhere in the world, except in Sheffield and Cardiff (sort-of), where the official exchange rate is anywhere between 6,000 and 7,000 for one $US. But you can't exchange Somaliland shillings in Cardiff, because Cardiff is just a city. The UK still uses the pound, and the UK does not recognize Somaliland. Cardiff does, but the UK does not.

Cardiff. And Sheffield. Damn.

Another thing to consider: like most of the Islamic republics in the region, the government's laws consist primarily of those related to the pillars of Islam and Sharia. Which is, for the most part, an alright world to live in. Except for the whole... misogyny... thing. In Somaliland, Men are only allowed to shake hands with men, and women with women. Women must wear headgear in public. Women can't drive. Women are marginalized both in the government and in the private sector. Entire businesses practice the right to refuse the employment of women. These gender problems are not unique to Somaliland, although none of these "laws" are actually laws in Somaliland - only customs. And considering the rest of the Muslim world, women in Somaliland are given a much better step up in society than their counterparts in other Muslim nations. There is even a woman in the Somaliland parliament. Progress comes in many shapes.

In an interview with the Guardian in June of 2014, Edna Adan, a pioneer of women's rights in Somaliland, said that "Violence against women and girls has always been there, no country is immune to it, but this collective cruelty against women is at last gaining the attention of the world – such as this tragedy in Nigeria [the kidnapping of 200 schoolgirls in Chibok], where we have seen young girls used as weapons, it has shocked the entire world. It is time to say enough is enough. Things are getting better, but not on the ground as quickly as I would like to see."

The majority of this nation's internal backwash can be traced back to the Borama Conference, which was held in 1993 as a means to establish what sort of government the new republic would be. More than 2,000 people were in attendance at the event, which was hosted by the Conference of Elders of the Communities of Somaliland. At this conference, a terrible tradition of local governance was born: the government and the state were created and administered by the Clans. And in a nation where every clan can be traced back to just three clan families - Dir, Darood (Harti), and Isaaq - a culture of clanism and tribalism has taken hold to pervert the true definition of a Republic. A true Republic is a government devoid of dynsastism, and especially nepotism. A concept which would be hard won in a region of the world which has misappropriated the definition of "Federalism" to define it as synonymous with "Tribalism."

Mr. Swan writes "Comment:  While relations with Somaliland are improving, the GODJ is proceeding cautiously and remains skeptical of formal recognition of the Hargeisa government."

On the surface, Somaliland has presented itself as a youthful, vibrant Republic ready to embrace the future and open its doors for international investors and developers. There has also been a fully fledged tourism industry since the mid-nineties here, bringing westerners to the cave paintings at Laas Gaal and the capital city of Hargeisa. And the construction of the improved international terminal at the Hargeisa airport in 2012, thanks to a generous donation by Kuwait - $10 million - has succeeded in providing the opportunity for international travelers to fly here directly.

Security here is one of the things that distinguishes Somaliland from other nations in the region - both in Africa and Arabia. The Somaliland Armed Forces consist of an Army, a Navy, and the Air Defence Forces. The Somaliland Police Force are a part of the Somaliland Internal Security Forces and are subordinate to the military. The largest expenditure in Somaliland is on its military. There are between 20,000 and 30,000 military personnel in Somaliland. As of 2010, the Army was reported to be comprised of 12 Divisions; which are broken down to 4 tank brigades, 45 mech and infantry brigades, 4 special forces brigades, a SAM brigade, 3 artilery brigades, 300 field battalions, and an air defense battalion. The Navy was established to combat the spread of piracy from the Horn in Puntland, and has performed relatively well in stemming the tide of piracy in the Indian Ocean, and in collaboration with the MPF and the US Navy, has contained the spread.

Somaliland, as it is still considered to be a part of Somalia by the international community, is held under the same partial arms embargo which was implemented by the UN in 2014. The military equipment is the same equipment which was seized by Somaliland in 1990 after the ouster of Mohammed Said Barre. Tanks, rocket launchers, TOW missles, BTR-50's, and T-34's. All getting well beyond their prime and in desperate need of replacement. On the flip-side of the same coin, a great military is not defined by its equipment, but by its discipline. The security forces of Somaliland are a top-notch group of professionals, and their intelligence gathering capabilities are outmatched in the region. Top-of-the-line video cameras and monitoring stations that look much like the Central Command Complex at Scotland Yard are managed by a highly skilled staff of security specialists. Although, a dozen men with kalashnikovs piled into the back of a toyota hilux is always a disconcerting sight - it doesn't seem organized sometimes.

The same tribalism which has perverted Somaliland's definition of Republic has also been the cause of internal strifes within the government. In 2011, a group of soldiers reportedly joined a rebel group called the SCC, claiming that the Somaliland military targeted and killed members of their clan during a military offensive in the town of Buhodhle.

Civil war, however, has never broken out in Somaliland. This is primarily due to the fact that the nation is more than 90% Sunni. Combined by a common identity, the nation remains at peace.

What makes the case for Somaliland's recognition from an international standpoint is that it has remained pro-western ever since it declared independence in '91. One of the official languages is English. The government sends its students to the UK for formal education.

The reason for the hesitancy? The reason Somaliand has not been recognized is due to an African Union communique which promoted the irrational fear that if Somaliland were to gain recognition and independence from Mogadishu, the region would be plundered into another civil war when Mogadishu would refuse to recognize Jubaland, Puntland, Maakhir, and Sool as independent nations as well. That's it. Democracy has been stifled because of fear.


If it were up to me, I'd say that Jubaland be it's own country - it would probably be reverted quickly back into the Islamic Courts Union, but whatever, let em have it - Puntland is already its own county, and Sool and Maakhir kiss and make up - they're not economically viable to last as independent nations. But if they want it, sure.

That's democracy in action - when the people call for it, it happens. Doesn't matter how stupid it sounds, doesn't matter what the consequences of that action might be - democracy must be upheld.