Study of the Misrecognition of Somaliland

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Somaliland, Africa, secessionist region, quasi state, de facto state, de facto regime, parent state Somalia, African democracy, recognition, misrecognition, struggle for recognition

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Johann-Wolfgang Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main

Fachbereich 03 Gesellschaftswissenschaften

Institut für Politikwissenschaft

Wintersemester 2011/2012 

Kleine Hausarbeit zum Seminar: Recognition in International Relations

Essay mit dem Thema: 

How to study the Misrecognition of Somaliland

Leitung des Seminars:

Dr. Anna Geis 

Vorgelegt von:

Margarita Apyestina

B 5, 5

68159 Mannheim

Lehramt für Haupt- und Realschule (L2)

Fächer: PoWi, Englisch

Matrikelnr.: 3790096

Misrecognition of Somaliland

     Somaliland is a secessionist region of its parent sate Somalia which is considered a failed sate. Klosto (2006: 725) generalizes the relationship of quasi-states and their parent sates as follows: “they are quite often found on the same territory and relate to each other as parent state and secessionist region” and according to his opinion the parent state is mostly a failed state. Klosto (2006:724) names two reasons for misrecognition of a state and defines what region can be called a quasi-state.

     First of all, international misrecognition can be a result of internal deficiencies that often manifest in the failure to control one’s own territory politically which is thus controlled by pirates or terrorist and a lack of social services such as welfare and medical care, i.e. a substantial lack of internal sovereignty which can be found in the internationally recognized parent state Somalia. Secondly, Klosto (2006: 724) names the lack of external sovereignty as another reason for misrecognition: the parent state refuses to recognize its secessionist because of the resulting loss of territory. Klosto (2006 ibid.) argues that although both reasons lead to the same result of international misrecognition, they are substantially distinct. As the case of Somaliland shows, the country seeks to maintain a democracy and to support its population whereas the only reason for its misrecognition is the parent state’s refusal along with the resulting hesitation of other states.

      Klosto’s (2006: 725-726) definition of what deserves the title of a quasi-sate is as follows:

Its leadership must be in control of (most of) the territory it lays claim to, and it must have sought but not achieved international recognition as an independent state. Finally, to eliminate a whole spate of ephemeral political contraptions, I exclude those that have persisted in this state of non-recognition for less than two years. 

     Somaliland declared its independence on 18th May 1991 and has existed without international recognition until today. Additionally, the three elements of statehood defined by Jellinek can be applied to Somaliland: territoriality, (internal) sovereignty and nation. Sovereignty means that the state power is in control of the claimed territory which is the case in Somaliland. The fourth modern criterion of democracy can also be found there although not in the same sense of a European modern democracy.

How misrecognition of Somaliland can be studied 
An important factor in the study of recognition or misrecognition is the sense of self of a quasi-state and its self-portrayal to the public. In order to study Somaliland’s political identity it is important to examine its polity by studying its constitution. In Article 1 of the constitution it is written that the country “shall hereby and in accordance with this Constitution become a sovereign and independent country known as ‘The Republic of Somaliland’” (
Somaliland Const. art. 1, § 1). As a consequence, the state’s “[s]overeignty resides in the people who shall exercise it in accordance with the Constitution and other laws” (Somaliland Const. art. 1, § 2). This formulation sounds modern and truly democratic, even rather exceptional regarding the fact that northern Africa is a rather unstable and turbulent region.   

      Although Somaliland claims to be a democratic republic, freedom of religion is neither designated nor anchored in the constitution. On the contrary, religious freedom is a breach with the constitution: “Islam is the religion of the Somaliland state, and the promotion of any religion […] other than Islam, is prohibited” (Somaliland Const. art. 5, § 1.). The separation of church and state is typical for modern democracies especially in Europe but in contrast to these, Somaliland’s political leadership considers ensuring of the Sharia one of its political tasks as it is fixed in the constitution: “The laws of the nation shall be grounded on and shall not be contrary to Islamic Sharia” (Somaliland Const. art. 5, § 2.) and “[t]he state shall promote religious tenets […] and shall fulfil Sharia principles […]” (Somaliland Const. art. 5, § 3.). 
 A typical feature of modern democracies is the support of human rights such as human dignity and psychic and physical inviolability in their constitutions. In contrast to that, the Sharia supports physical punishment and in worst cases even death penalty. A forth modern criterion or prerequisite for recognition is democracy which opens the necessity of a clear definition of democracy. If freedom of thought and religion is not granted in all areas of human life by a government then this government cannot be considered a full democracy in a modern sense. Besides that, it is questionable whether the order of Sharia can be adapted to a democratic system at all since it has remained at one and the same level for hundreds of years since it is considered infallible; from a realistic point of view, it might be considered out-dated in some areas of life – especially concerning public and political issues – and therefore it might not be able to regulate a state placed within the ever changing modern world.

      The article on foreign relations states that the “Republic of Somaliland recognises and shall act in conformity with the United Nations Charter […] and shall respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (Somaliland Const. art. 10, § 2.) which stands in contradiction to article 5 that allows only Islam as for religious beliefs. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (art. 18) clearly recognizes freedom of religion and thought as a basic human right:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. 

     Another article in Somaliland’s constitution can be regarded as limiting for democratic structures, namely the limitation “of political parties in the Republic of Somaliland [that] shall not exceed three” (Somaliland Const. art. 9, § 2.). The constitutional articles presented above show that Somaliland’s leadership does not recognize democratic principles to their full extent compared to modern democracies in Europe. Therefore, democratic limitations anchored in Somaliland’s constitution may be a serious reason for the international community to misrecognize the region’s statehood. On the other hand, Somaliland is not Somalia since the latter is a failed state without any stable political system.

     Consequently, it can be asserted that Somaliland’s constitutional articles to respect some democratic principles and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are a diplomatic strategy to gain recognition of the United Nations. On the other hand, although not all human rights are secured to their full extent, Somaliland is one of the most stable states in the troubled region at the Horn of Africa. 

     Nevertheless, studying a country’s constitution is not sufficient to make a statement about the reasons for its misrecognition and to forecast and outcome. The interests of the international community must be considered as well. There are many questions to be raised which cannot be answered directly. For instance, one could suppose that the international community denies recognition for Somaliland because it fears terror attacks by the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab. Al-Shabab is a powerful and wealthy terror organization that will not be detained by Somali Transitional Federal Government without further help. If the international community does not expect attacks on their own territory it might want to avoid terrorist activities in Somaliland. Another unsolved question is whether recognition is denied in order to prevent other African regions from secession.

     It is not possible to predict whether or when Somaliland could achieve international recognition. There is not enough information on how Somaliland negotiates with other countries on their issue of misrecognition. Some newspaper articles take up the issue and are worth a closer examination since newspapers provide the newest information in contrast to most academic publications. Nevertheless, most newspaper articles include only speeches and uttered hopes by politicians on the issue of misrecognition and flowery appeals to finally recognize the country. The article “Kenya to recognize Somaliland” informs about Kenyan Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Richard Onyonka’s speech in which he stated

that his government will encourage the African Union and Igad to finally accept Somaliland as a sovereign state, which has been described recently as one of few democracies in an otherwise the turbulent region (Jama 2011). 


      The article explains that Somaliland’s recognition would bring advantages to Kenya and Ethiopia since they are threatened by “Somalia’s expansionism dreams into Kenya and Ethiopia’s eastern regions with Somali ethnic populations” and in this regard “Somaliland would help stabilize the region” (Jama 2011). Again, there is not enough background information about the consequences of the realization of this fact.

      Other interests of the international community related to Somaliland’s recognition are of economical nature. Klosto (2006: 235) argues that “[f]oreign firms are wary of investing in a quasi-state since legal contracts might not be internationally binding there”. Along with this might Great Britain’s interest in recognizing the secessionist go.

Sources close to the British Government indicate that should various key African nations declare their willingness to fully recognise Somaliland it would be well disposed to follow suit (Jama 2011). 

Jama (ibid.) informs that “leading international companies with the likes of Coca Cola and Western Union [are] already establishing franchises” in Somaliland which would bring further international trust and investments. 

     On the one hand, the information provided by the available article is really helpful to detect current and even future tendencies on the issue of Somaliland’s recognition but on the other hand, the article presents opinions that could change and paraphrases utterances that are not binding for the speakers. There many articles that inform about international tendencies such as those of Israel to recognize Somaliland because of Israel’s interest in the strait along the Red Sea (Hussein 2010).

     The article (Hussein ibid.) illustrates that Al Qaeda spokesman al-Shihri explained that the sea pass Bab El-Mandeb – which is located in front of Somaliland’s neighbor Djibouti and has a length of 20 miles – is the US supply sea route for Israel. The spokesman radically explains Al Qaeda’s interests in the sea strait as follows: “taking control of Bab El-Mandeb, will constitute an escalating victory: the Jews will be crushed in a vise” (Hussein ibid.). Somali terrorist organization Al-Shabaab is ideologically connected to Al Qaeda but the only explanation or prediction one could provide by the means of this information would be speculation. Somaliland’s former president Mr. Ibrahim Haji Egal was aware of the “threat of Islamic fundamentalism and the importance of Bab El-Mandeb” and expressed his concern: “we, in the Horn of Africa, are being threatened by a more sinister and pernicious enemy in the form of encroaching Islamic influence” (Hussein ibid.).

     As a consequence, the international community would be affected by these confusing circumstances at the least if Al Qaeda along with Al-Shabaab takes over any kind of US related sea vessels underway to Israel. Yet it has not become clear what strategy is better (recognition or the quasi state ‘tradition’) and what interests underlie the issue of Somaliland’s misrecognition: how probable is the threat of the terror organizations in the case of either recognition or misrecognition? What interests prevail and how strong are the economic and strategic interests that rather seek Somaliland’s recognition or misrecognition? These are open questions that can be answered with a certain degree of probability describing certain tendencies. Additionally, not all interests and conflicts related to this issue are available on the media and without a complete set of information on this issue it is even more difficult to explain the status quo or even to forecast the outcome.

     Another source for studying the issue of Somaliland’s misrecognition is the webpage of the lobbying organization SIRAG (Somaliland International Recognition Action Group). It informs about international tendencies on the issue of Somaliland’s recognition and about developments in the region. Its aims and activities are described as follows:  
SIRAG is a non profit lobbying organisation for the recognition of Somaliland. SIRAG also educates the International community about Somaliland's developmental needs scarred by war as a result of an illegal union with Ex-Somalia for 31 years. SIRAG represents the voice of those Somalilanders whose voice can not be heard (Kabissa Team 2005).

A cooperation partner of this organization is Somaliland Society of Australia whose internet platform provides articles and field reports about Somaliland’s achievements to portray the country as peaceful ad secure place worthy of international recognition.

Limits and pitfalls of the chosen methods to study recognition

     Studying the reasons of misrecognition of a quasi state and trying to forecast an outcome by the means of internet sources such as articles and legal documents is a vague venture since one cannot access the whole truth related to the issue. Information illustrated by the media may be manipulated and incomplete especially in politically unstable regions such as the African continent. The different motivations and interests to recognize Somaliland are remarkable since they differ from state to state. It is important not to adopt the point of view of one state and to neglect the interests of the others. Additionally, it remains cryptical why Somaliland does not get international recognition not even by its neighbor states who confirm Somaliland’s stability and who are interested in its help against terrorist organizations. One is disposed to assume that some cryptical agents hold Somaliland’s recognition in their hands and are not willing to give in as long as they gain some sort of profit from its de facto status.

This is pure speculation and there is no information about such agents on the media – but exactly this is another pitfall: the lack of hand-tight information and the ‘foggy cloud’ around the whole issue encourages speculations and suspicions. 



- General Assembly of the United Nations. “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” Paris 1948.  8 Jan. 2012 <>.

- Hussein, Qualinle. "
Israel says ready to recognize Somaliland." Somaliland Press 11 Feb. 2010. 08 Jan. 2012 <>.

- International Relations and Security Network. "Constitution of The Republic of Somaliland" ISN ETH Zurich. 2001. 8 Jan. 2012 <>.

- Jama, Ahmed. "Kenya to recognize Somaliland." Somaliland Press 22 May 2011. 08 Jan. 2012 <>.

- Kolstø, Pål: The Sustainability and Future of Unrecognized Quasi-States. In: Journal of Peace Research 43 (2006), S. 723-740

- Somaliland International Recognition Action Group (SIRAG). (n.d.).  8 Jan. 2012 

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