SNM Executive Committee Memorandum

Somaliland: On the Restoration of Its Sovereignty and Independence


Hassan Essa Jama, SNM Acting Chairman

May 2000



In the checkered history of the old Somali Republic (July 1960-June 1991), two facts need not be forgotten: Somaliland created that Republic and Somaliland brought it to an end.  The former occasion was indeed euphoric, the latter remains written in indelible blood.  On both occasions, Somaliland was well within its rights. Somaliland's ill-started dream of a greater Somalia dates back to the close of the Second World War. As that famous and fateful wind of change began to sweep across Africa, the people of Somaliland found themselves consumed by a vision of a Greater Somalia, i.e. the unity of the five Somali's comprising the British protectorate of Somaliland, ex-Italian trusteeship territory of Somalia, Eastern Ethiopia, Djibouti and North-East Kenya.


As the first Somalia territory to win outright independence in June 1960, Somaliland could hardly wait for the independence of the other Somali territories. The second to gain independence was ex-Italian Somalia on 1st July1960. Somaliland offered them immediate and unconditional unity.  When Somalia appeared hesitant, Somaliland allowed them to take the Presidency, Premiership, the majority of seats in the cabinet and the new Assembly as well as the command of both the army and police. Such profligacy was to prove portentous.


The third Somali territory to gain independence was North-East Kenya in 1961. In a plebiscite held by the British colonial authority, they voted overwhelmingly to join the Somali Republic. It took two international telephone calls between an Emperor, a President and a Premier to put paid to the wishes of these Somalis as well as the career of one British Colonial Secretary. Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia phoned President Kennedy in Washington who in turn dialed his friend, Prime minister Harold Macmillan in London and Ian Macleod, the then British Colonial Secretary who countermanded, and resigned. Somaliland's dream of a Greater Somalia suffered its first external blast.


The fourth Somali territory to achieve statehood was Djibouti in 1977. Djibouti had a good look at the by now dysfunctional unity of the Somali Republic and declined to join it. The fifth attempt towards a greater Somalia came in 1977-78 when the Somali dictator, Mohamed Siad Barre, decided to take Eastern Ethiopia by force and invaded that country. That, too, proved to be a failure. With Somaliland's original vision of a Greater Somalia, geopolitically in tatters, the inner workings of the merger of the ex-Italian Somalia was itself to prove another misadventure. The naivety of the political leaders of Somaliland in allowing the Southerners to occupy almost all the high offices of state inevitably resulted in a political takeover rather than a merger of equals. Soon, Somaliland was treated as an administered province and later as an occupied territory. Thus, Somaliland's grand dream of Somali unity was sunk by the twin currents of external geopolitical offensive re-enforced by the cold war and an internal breakdown of political equity.




The refusal thus far by the international community to recognize the newly reborn Republic of Somaliland is based on a) disreputable politics, and b) a false representation of international law. 




Firstly, the disreputable politics is no secret that many countries in Africa and the Arab World have an inordinate fear of themselves breaking up into separate states. Anyone and anything redolent of secession drives them berserk; they automatically blackball any state remotely resembling a secessionist in case it sets up a precedent.  This deep fear is now being played upon by a number of countries with various axes to grind in the Somali affair. Some African and Arab countries do not see a strong Ethiopia as being in their interest.   They are beholden to the 19th century theory of the balance of the power of states and are obsessed with a united, powerful Somalia providing a deterrent to unbridled Ethiopian options. Even little Djibouti is frantic in its anti-Somaliland campaign under the smoke screen of its so-called Somalia reconciliation conference. Djibouti cannot put up with the prospect of a recognized prosperous Somaliland. They are desperately trying to prevent this from happening by asking the international community to push Somaliland back into the quagmire that is in Mogadishu.


Secondly, false application of international law is evident. Countries with such suspect political motives advance two arguments against Somaliland in terms of international law - unacceptable secession and the inviolability of the borders inherited from colonial rule i.e. inherited territorial integrity. Blinded by unprincipled political motives, these countries forget that neither the concept of secession nor the notion of the inviolability of the colonial boundaries applies in the case of Somaliland.




The concepts of territorial integrity and secession are two sides of a cumbersome legal-cum-political coin. First, you have to be integral to a thing before you can be accused of seceding from it. Somaliland, simply, has never been an integral province of ex-Italian Somalia. Somaliland has been a separate state within its own internationally recognized boundaries before, during and after the colonial period.  Prior to the European colonial stage, Somaliland was aligned with the Ottoman Empire regime. During the European colonial era, the country was known as the British Protectorate of Somaliland.


Upon independence, on 26th June 1960, the country was recognized as the sovereign state of Somaliland. Hence, the current use of the name Somaliland intended to allude to its earlier separate identity. The reason why Somaliland could not be accused of being a secessionist state is because Somaliland had never been part and parcel of ex-Italian Somalia.   For example, Katanga was part and parcel of the Congo during and after the colonial age.  Biafra was part and parcel of Nigeria during and after the colonial period. Somaliland on the contrary, was a separate state before, during or immediately after colonial rule. How could they be dragged together into a binding common territorial integrity? The notion is absurd. Without territorial integrity in place, the question of secession does not arise. You have to have something that is wholly integrated first, before you can complain of a part of it breaking away at a later stage. The present boundaries of Somaliland are the same as on Independence Day, 26th June 1960, therefore, the restoration of the sovereign and statehood of Somaliland is neither in contravention of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) policy of adherence to colonial boundaries, nor is it contrary to any territorial integrity of any relevance.


The relevant precedent for the restoration of the sovereignty and independence of Somaliland is the temporary merger of Syria and Egypt in the sixties. Here, as in the case of Somaliland and Somalia, two sovereign and independent countries decided voluntarily to merge and form a united state with a new name. However, their unity proved unworkable and the two original states re-emerged. Exactly the same thing happened in the case of Somaliland and Somalia. Only in this case, it took a bloody civil war to revert to the status ante.


The unity of Somaliland and Somalia had other major faults. The act of union was never ratified by a joint session of the two legislative assemblies. With the folly of unconditional unity soon apparent to the people of Somaliland, young military officers in the North attempted a coup d'etat the following year. In their subsequent trial, the court acquitted all the officers precisely because of the lack of an act of union joining the two Somali states and because of an oath of allegiance to the new united Republic of Somalia. The same year, a draft constitution of the new Somali Republic was put to a referendum in both states. The people of Somaliland rejected the draft constitution by a No vote of the large majority. But the constitution was adopted and implemented apparently legitimized solely by southern approval.


The concept of the self-determination of nations, put to such powerful effect in the ex-Soviet Union and ex-Yugoslavia, is indirectly relevant. Self-determination is normally directly applicable in a colonial setting or in a situation where there is valid territorial integrity but a province still wants to secede. The Somaliland case is neither.  Nevertheless, the express wishes of the people of Somaliland would have to command respect. Once they decided to restore their sovereignty and independence, that decision precludes anybody else's say in their destiny. The people of Somaliland exercised their right under international law to rebel against a government guilty of exceptionally hideous violations of human rights. The United Nations office on genocide and ethnic cleansing expressed its recognition of the massacre of the population of Somaliland by the old Somalia regime. Therefore, the people of Somaliland are entitled under international law to exercise, inter-alia, their right to determine their destiny. The political reality of the current separation of Somaliland and Somalia and the bitter experience of the decade long national liberation struggle by the population of Somaliland against the totalitarian regime of Somalia clearly rule out any immediate resumption of the unity just demolished.  The intensity of the war of liberation was such that it left no single family in Somaliland unscathed at the height of the cold war. 


The Somali National Movement (SNM) set out to challenge the strongest military force in black Africa and won this decade long national liberation struggle.  It has had two major abiding effects on the population of Somaliland: bitterness against the brutality of Somalia's oppression and overwhelming national confidence engendered by the people's victory over such incredible odds. The masses in Somaliland are not in the mood to allow anyone else to stand in their way, let alone little Djibouti.




According to the 1933 Montevideo convention's classic definition of a state with regard to recognition, a state should possess a permanent population, a defined territory, a government and capacity to enter into relations with other states. Somaliland obviously possesses these qualifications. Once a state satisfies such criteria of statehood, as Somaliland clearly does, there is no question in law that it becomes a subject of international law.  Therefore, it is incumbent on the international community to proceed with the full diplomatic recognition of Somaliland without further delay. Somaliland, on its part, should prepare to hold a plebiscite on the question of the restoration of national sovereignty and independence. The international community would be invited to witness that the referendum is held in a free and fair manner. The result of this plebiscite should be recognized as settling the matter. SNM believes this will result in a resounding national vote in favor of the restoration of sovereignty and independence, Insha Allah. Once Somaliland attains the full diplomatic recognition it deserves, SNM proposes a further step. We recommend to the countries of the Horn of Africa to set up a regional economic cooperation leading to ever-closer political cooperation, along the lines of the European common market and European Union. We believe this will lead to regional economic development and to political harmony not just amongst the Somalis but also for the people of the region as a whole.