Original Union Inadequate to Bind Somalia & Somaliland

Excerpt from “Somaliland: Shackled to a failed state by Brad Poore”

Somalia lacks the basic characteristics that define a state in the international community, whereas the de facto state of Somaliland has emerged from the rubble of the civil war.

Somaliland has its own democratic government, police force, army, financial system, and currency. It was even briefly recognized as an independent country in 1960. Somaliland’s calls for international political recognition as an autonomous nation State, however, are being ignored. In the words of British Parliamentarian Tony Worthington, the international community has consistently placed “the interests of the wrongdoers in the south ahead of those peace-builders in the north.

Unfortunately, stability is unlikely to be maintained in the face of the many obstacles that Somaliland faces. Some of these obstacles reflect Somaliland’s status as one of the most impoverished countries in the world, while others are symptomatic of its lack of political recognition

Even a hypothetically peaceful “reunification of two largely incompatible system – Somaliland’s embryonic democracy on the one hand, and Somalia’s fragile transitional structure on the other-would run the risk of destabilizing both.

The two halves of Somalia have distinct histories. According to a United States Government report:
“Although officially unified as a single nation at independence, the former Italian colony and trust territory in the south and the former British protectorate in the north were, from an institutional standpoint, two separate countries. Italy and Britain had left them with separate administrative, legal and education systems where affairs were conducted according to different procedures and in different languages. Police, taxes, and the exchange rates of their separate currencies were also different. The orientations of their educated elites were divergent, and economic contacts between the two regions were virtually
nonexistent.” Somalia: A Country Study, USA, Department of Army, by Harold D. Nelson, 1981

The particular colonial, historical, and socioeconomic paths forged distinctive national identities in the north and south and were critical in the emergence of the de facto sovereign state of Somaliland.

One obstacle to recognition inherent in the international law on state recognition is that states can extend de facto recognition to Somaliland while denying meaningful political recognition. Article 74 of the Vienna Convention, for example, specifically states: “the severance or absence of diplomatic or consular relations between two or more States does not prevent the conclusion of treaties between those States. This provision allows the international community to benefit from the peace and stability achieved by

Somaliland,'” but de facto recognition without political recognition becomes a form of neocolonialism. Somaliland is left unrewarded. Qualified recognition, such as awarding both parties observer status in various international organizations (Such as the U.N., A.U. and I.G.A.D.), would help to level the playing field and provide an incentive for both sides to come to the table.

Concluding that the political recognition of Somaliland as a sovereign state is warranted in the first instance because the original “union” between Somalia and Somaliland was inadequate to bind the two countries. Even accepting the legitimacy of the original unification, Somaliland has a right to unilateral remedial secession because Somalilanders have been denied their right to internal self-determination, and there is no means for recourse.

A more promising option than Ethiopia would be for Somaliland to concentrate its diplomatic efforts towards the African Union (A.U.). A report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (C.S.I.S.) encourages Somaliland to “focus its efforts on convincing several key African countries to support it within the African Union. Important countries like South Africa, Algeria, and Senegal, if convinced of the merits of Somaliland’s case, could make an enormous difference.” The South African Department of Foreign Affairs, for instance, found that “Somaliland does indeed qualify for statehood, and it is incumbent upon the international community to recognize it.” Support has also come from Kenya, and the A.U. has been generally receptive.

In 1964, the original members of the Organization of African Unity (a precursor to the A.U.) adopted a resolution declaring that “all the member states undertake to respect their existing boundaries at the moment they acceded to independence.” This declaration demonstrated the Organization’s commitment to the territorial integrity of states, arguably including Somaliland since it only subsequently joined with Somalia. The challenge is in convincing the A.U. not to automatically dismiss it because some members see secession as a potential “Pandora’s box.”

Beginning in 1885, the British began securing Somaliland as a Protectorate territory through a series of agreements with traditional elders. These treaties guaranteed military support in the event of armed aggression by surrounding territories ruled by other nations. Clan elders accepted and ratified the treaties, establishing the British Somaliland Protectorate and securing trade routes for Great Britain. The British officially notified the signatory powers to the Berlin Conference of 1885, on July 20, 1887, that a

British protectorate had been formed and participated in the demarcation of borders between Ethiopia, Djibouti (French Somaliland), Somaliland (British Somaliland), Somalia (Italian Somaliland), and Kenya.34 The southeastern border followed the mountain peaks, but in most cases there was no discernible reason why the colonial powers needed to demarcate borders that divided the Somali population so abruptly.

During the early twentieth century, the British worked to solidify their control and build infrastructure throughout Somaliland. Although the Italians temporarily occupied British Somaliland during World War II, British forces quickly reclaimed the area and took control of all the Somali territories except Djibouti. A full protectorate was reinstated in British Somaliland in 1948, and the next year the Bevin-Sforza Plan emerged for Italian U.N. trusteeship of Italian Somaliland.

On December 2, 1950, the United Nations General Assembly officially adopted the plan for an initial ten-year period. The Ethiopians and Italians, however, opposed Bevin’s proposal that British and Italian Somaliland eventually be unified. In Somaliland, the colonial authorities continued to exercise control “through a system of indirect rule that relied upon traditional leadership structures …. Very little political activity was either permitted or encouraged. It has been too easily forgotten that, “for more than 80 years, British Somaliland was either a British protectorate or colony.

As independence approached, Somalilanders were caught up in a frenzy of nationalist sentiment. Many Somalis saw the unification of all Somalis within a “Greater Somalia” as a way to overcome the inferiority implicit in colonial domination and exploitation. Somaliland won its independence on June 26, 1960. At the time, Somaliland “possessed only a handful of university graduates and a single secondary school. Not a single sealed road linked the major towns. The principle natural resource of the territory was its livestock, and an industrial base was non-existent. Parties like the Somali National League (SNL), the National Unified Front (NUF), and the United Somali Party (USP) served their limited purpose in securing independence and for the most part disappeared soon thereafter. However, pro-unification sentiment was high, and the majority of Somalilanders clung to the illusion that a “Greater Somalia” would be attainable. This tide of emotion, a reflex response to independence, carried Somaliland into the next chapter of its history.

Only five days after gaining its independence, Somaliland unified with Somalia. The unification between Somaliland and Somalia arguably happened too fast and was poorly planned. Provisions laid out by Somali representatives from both territories at meetings held in Mogadishu in April 1960 were never even satisfied. The new republic, for example, was not “unitary, democratic, and parliamentary,” and no genuine coalition government was formed. Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia claimed it was a “thinly-disguised move for the seizure of Ethiopian territories”

The Legislative Assembly of Somaliland passed the Union of Somaliland and Somalia Law on June 27, 1960, but the document was never signed by authorized representatives in southern Somalia and remained without force. The legislature of southern Somalia also approved, in principal, a similar law on June 30, 1960. However, this law, the Atto di Unione,” was significantly different from the one passed in Somaliland and therefore did not come into force because the Somaliland legislature had “insisted that the two governments agree to the text of a single act of union to be presented for the approval of the joint legislatures.

The President of the Legislative Assembly (acting as provisional President of the Somali Republic), Adan Abdulle Osman, proclaimed the independence of Somalia on July 1, 1960 despite the absence of a valid Act of Union and the fact that Italian Somaliland was still technically under U.N. trusteeship. Therefore, whether Adan Abdulle Osman had the authority and legal capacity to declare the independence of the Republic of Somalia without popular mandate remains at best a contentious issue. An impartial analysis of Somaliland’s claims for international recognition should not blindly accept the premise that there exists a legally enforceable union between Somaliland and Somalia.

The new constitution made ominous claims on Djibouti, the Frontier District of Kenya, and the Somali region of Ethiopia. In fact, it was not until January 31, 1961 that the Legislative Assembly attempted to rectify its blunder with regards to the missing Act of Union. It proclaimed, at that time, a new Act of Union that would be retroactive from July 1, but the accompanying repeal of the Union of Somaliland and Somalia law was not effective in all of Somalia.

No single, universally determinative Act of Union was ever taken, and “a presidential decree entitled the ‘Law of Union of the State of Somaliland and Somalia’ submitted to the combined legislatures failed to win their approval.  “It was not promulgated since it had not been passed by the National Assembly,” and was ultimately referred for a referendum to be held in June 1961.

Dissatisfaction with the unfavorable balance of power caused one of the major parties in Somaliland, the Somali National League (SNL), to boycott the referendum on the constitution in June 1961. In fact, “of the 100,000 recorded voters in Somaliland, over 60% opposed the constitution, 72% in Hargeisa, 69% in Berbera, 66% in Burro and 69% in Arigavo.” 5 The fact that Somalilanders constituted only 100,000 votes, out of a total of 1,952,660, ‘ however, meant that there was something of a “southern veto.

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Prepared by Ahmed J Yassin for SII Hub Education