The Safe Haven Next Door
Somaliland was once part of chaotic Somalia. Today it's a thriving oasis of peace.
The Horn of Africa has endured decades of violent repression, civil war, terrorism, and piracy. But after a period of neglect, the international community has taken preliminary steps to restore political stability in the region.
This new approach is evident in Somalia, where a new government, with support from the United States and others, is making a concerted effort to move forward. There are signs of progress. Expatriate technocrats are returning to help rebuild. Piracy off the coast of Somalia has diminished, with attacks falling from 239 in 2010 to 46 in 2012. The British Embassy recently reopened its long-shuttered doors. Yet the country’s stability remains fragile, as witnessed just days ago when al-Shabab terrorists bombed Mogadishu’s judicial complex, taking the lives of 29 innocent people and injuring more than 40 others.
Ironically, the world has paid much less attention to a nearby model of success. Just north of Somalia, the Republic of Somaliland enjoys starkly different circumstances. Having chosen to unite with Somalia after gaining independence in 1960 — we had been separate colonies under British and Italian rule — our people reasserted their right to self-determination in 1991 as our neighbor descended into chaos. Since that time, Somaliland has been a virtual island of good governance, peace, and security in the Horn of Africa. There is no safe haven for terrorists on our land, no pirates off our coast. Experts around the world have advocated for the diplomatic recognition of our nation, yet support from the United States and others for our independent, sovereign status remains just out of reach.
Our success has come through decades of struggle and suffering. In the 1980s, the Somali regime of Mohamed Siad Barre waged a brutal campaign against Somaliland, killing 50,000 civilians. Like many others who have experienced similar atrocities, we learned an important, tragic lesson: Never again would we allow such a thing to happen to our people.
As Somalia subsequently disintegrated, Somaliland built a functioning, stable, and democratic state. While the international community spent millions trying to save Somalia from itself, we focused on maintaining peace within our borders, building strong state institutions, and creating a sustainable economy. Since 2000, Somaliland has held five peaceful elections and preserved a culture of consultative democracy.
In the last year, Somaliland has taken deliberate efforts to renew dialogue with Somalia’s leadership. Most recently, with the support of the Turkish government, Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and I signed a communiqué in which we affirmed our shared commitment to build trust and improve relations between our governments. Future talks will aim to strengthen cooperation in the fight against terrorism, extremism, piracy, illegal fishing, toxic dumping, and other serious crimes. Most importantly, with international support, the Somaliland-Somalia dialogue process must seek to provide final clarification on the status of our political relationship.
Somalia and Somaliland can and should be equal partners. Yet as we proceed down this track, we hope and expect that those looking to support Somalia’s aspirations will also seek ways to support ours.
Engagement with Mogadishu to sustain its transition to a viable entity and support for Somaliland’s national aspirations need not be mutually exclusive. In this regard, international conferences to address the region’s economic and humanitarian needs are welcome, but must be coupled with steps to address political issues that might otherwise stifle or undermine such support. Likewise, security assistance must be carefully calibrated and aligned with efforts to resolve these same issues so as not to breed renewed instability in the absence of a final political agreement.
U.S. defense officials have called Somaliland "an entity that works," and for good reason. Our government does work, and with proper diplomatic recognition, it will be able to contribute more effectively to a sustainable and prosperous future for the Horn of Africa. To this end, we are building on our new dialogue with Somalia to both expand relations with other governments and pursue observer status in international organizations, starting with our region’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the African Union.
We are not asking others to take a chance on what Somaliland may one day become, but rather to simply recognize what we have already achieved. Somaliland is a fully functioning sovereign entity. From 1960 to 1991 we gave unity within a "Greater Somalia" a chance. It did not work, and we cannot turn back.
In the midst of violence and now a fragile peace, Somaliland’s people have protected — and will continue to advance — our cause of freedom and security because we know their true value. In partnership with our neighbors and with the support of the international community, we can ensure that the entirety of the Horn of Africa will experience the peace and stability that we have in Somaliland.