History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

The modern country of Somalia is pretty much universally considered a failed state. Within Somalia itself, however, is the de facto state of Somaliland, which if I remember correctly is almost exactly coterminus with the former colony of British Somalia. The failed portions are almost entirely in the former Italian holdings.

Making things even better, Somaliland was an independent state for a week before joining in federation with Italian Somalia

Now, politically, I understand that the U.S. has certain allies in the region that would not like it to be an independent country, but I'm not clear on those geopolitics. Furthermore, its not like the U.S. is the only country that recognize other countries!

What I'd like to understand is what these historical animosities are, and what the present geopolitical ramifications would be of recognition. In short, why don't most countries recognize Somaliland?

share|improve this question
The impression I have is that most of the concern is with further blowing up the "failed" portion. I'm not sure what you meant by "certain allies" of the US - seeing how the population is mostly Sunny Muslim, Saudi Arabia would likely not object; and Ethiopia seems to actively work towards recognition. – DVK Jan 3 '12 at 23:24
If I remember correctly, Eritrea is strongly opposed - probably for the reason that Ethopia likes it :) I'm not sure, but Kenya may be in the same boat... – Affable Geek Jan 4 '12 at 13:33
I'm even more confused now. You can "strongly oppose" for it to join the UN, but you don't need anyone else to recognise it: you can just do it yourself. So why doesn't Ethiopia, for instance, "just recognise it"? – o0'. Jan 4 '12 at 13:50
@AffableGeek - Erithrea is generally against Ethiopia (up to and including having fought couple of wars with them). But unless I missed something newsworthy in the last 5 years, Ethiopia is a lot more of a US ally than Erithrea. Kenya I'm not sure. – DVK Jan 4 '12 at 21:02
I'm from Somaliland and trust me it is a country. Just beacuse Somalia is a fail state it does not mean Somaliland is too – user3094 Nov 1 '13 at 20:55
up vote 18 down vote accepted

This isn't really so much about any US allies not wanting it to happen as much as it is about the African Union not wanting it to happen. In January of 2008, the US State Department issued this statement:

"While the United States does not recognize Somaliland as an independent state, and we continue to believe that the question of Somaliland's independence should be resolved by the African Union, we continue regularly to engage with Somaliland as a regional administration."

This essentially states that the US is willing to concede the recognition of African countries to the African Union and is therefore following their lead. The primary reason that the African Union has given for not recognizing them is that they viewed Somalilands's claim as just another enclave seeking separation, and apparently this violates the principles of the African Union.

The African Union itself does not favour rearranging the borders of African countries, especially where there is no agreement. It feels that, rightly or wrongly, the colonial borders were fixed and that changing them would open up too much uncertainty.

The fact that Somalia refuses to recognize the existence of Somaliland is a significant factor in this. The matter is further complicated by the fact that there is another separationist movement in a tract of land called Puntland which joins these two regions. As long as this instability exists, it is unlikely that the African Union will recognize any country other than Somalia, so Somaliland and Puntland are both left out in the cold. Until the African Union decides to recognize these regions as separate countries, it is unlikely that any other major country will do so.

Somaliland's 'path to recognition'

BTW - The week of independence that you mentioned occured back in 1960. Since Somaliland has essentially been a part of Somalia for over fifty years, it is easier to understand why the African Union sees them as just another separationist movement.

share|improve this answer
the "no rearranging the colonial borders" principle is a long standing one, but there has apparently been a change in the last few years. South Sudan and Eritrea. So why not Somaliland? And Somalia's objections are surely no greater than Original Sudan's and Ethiopia's were to South Sudan and Eritrea. – Tea Drinker Feb 18 '13 at 21:29
@TeaDrinker but, as far as I understand, both Sudan and Ethiopia ultimately agreed, while Somalia doesn't, and this makes all the difference. – o0'. May 13 '15 at 8:36
@Lohoris I feel sure Sudan and Ethiopia were "encouraged" to agree by overwhelming pressure, i wonder why the same hasn't happened in Somalia – Tea Drinker May 13 '15 at 17:59
@TeaDrinker we should post something like this as a question – o0'. May 13 '15 at 18:05

It seems to me that in recent times (20-30 years), the international community doesn't really recognize anything until the de-facto groundwork has already been completed.

The best example I can think of is the new Republic of South Sudan. It wasn't recognized internationally until after the results of its own referendum were verified, and until it managed to work out a transitional process and final dates with the Sudan government, from which it was seceding.

Basically, the international community doesn't like to take sides, in case it chooses unwisely. Therefore, it will wait until the results are clear and then recognize those results. That last part is just opinion, though.

share|improve this answer

Somaliland was called British Somalia before gaining independence from the UK as Somaliland. Then, due to the promise of a united Somalia, they join with the newly independent Italian Somalia to form what is now known as Somalia. The dictator regime of Siad Barre fought the people of Somaliland in a brutal civil war. After the regime collapse, the Somaliland decided that enough is enough and they prefer to go it alone. The very fact that they were an independent state prior to Somalia must be recognised. And also the fact that they are relatively peaceful and had a functioning government vis a vis that of Somalia must also be recognised. If South Sudan or Kosovo which were never an independent entity prior to their current status can gain sovereignty, why the double standard with Somaliland?

share|improve this answer
I agree with you but this is more of an opinion and comment than an answer. – Lennart Regebro Nov 20 '13 at 9:19

Some Arab countries oppose Somaliland recognition: they prefer unified Somalia to counter Ethiopia ...

Plus some American oil companies have gained digging rights from the old Somali regime and would like for things to be the same rather than losing thier rights if Somaliland got recognition.

share|improve this answer
Any references for any of these claims? – DVK Jan 4 '12 at 21:02
An interesting theory. But as it stands Somalia isn't countering anything but themselves. – T.E.D. May 31 '12 at 17:09

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.