To most Americans, anarchy, intervention, and the Black Hawk Down fiasco define Somalia. By any reasonable metric, the country has not improved much since. Somalia has had the dubious honor to be crowned the world’s most corrupt country by Transparency International for 14 years running. Terrorism is a weekly occurrence, and perhaps even a tool for some Somali politicians
Somalia largely deserves its reputation. A generation of Somali politicians and clan leaders have siphoned off the billions of dollars which the U.S. government and other outside powers have invested in the country. The national Somali military, built to supplant the country’s patchwork of militias, exists largely on paper. In recent weeks, Somali elders, soldiers, and politicians have lined up to apologize to and swear allegiance to al Shabaab, an extremist group responsible for terrorism both inside and outside Somalia.
Somaliland, the northern third of the country and a former British protectorate, however, is a happy exception. It gained its independence (and U.S. recognition) in 1960, only to forfeit it days later when it entered into a union with the rest of Somalia. It was an unhappy marriage marked by dictatorship in Mogadishu and later genocide against the Somaliland population. Finally, in 1991, Somaliland left the union and reasserted its independence. Today, it is peaceful, stable, and even without international recognition, one of the most democratic countries in Africa. It is the first country in the world, for example, to use biometric iris scans for voter registration.
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