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?

  • 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
    Commented Jan 3, 2012 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... Commented Jan 4, 2012 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'.
    Commented Jan 4, 2012 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
    Commented Jan 4, 2012 at 21:02
  • 3
    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
    Commented Nov 1, 2013 at 20:55

5 Answers 5


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.

  • 1
    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. Commented Feb 18, 2013 at 21:29
  • 1
    @TeaDrinker but, as far as I understand, both Sudan and Ethiopia ultimately agreed, while Somalia doesn't, and this makes all the difference.
    – o0'.
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 8:36
  • 2
    @Lohoris I feel sure Sudan and Ethiopia were "encouraged" to agree by overwhelming pressure, i wonder why the same hasn't happened in Somalia Commented May 13, 2015 at 17:59
  • @TeaDrinker we should post something like this as a question
    – o0'.
    Commented May 13, 2015 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.


Which countries' independence is internationally recognised and which is not, especially by Western countries, seems to me to based on principles that are only comprehensible to people in foreign ministries and professors of international law, and make no practical, logical or ethical sense to anyone else.

Why did the West support the right of mainly Albanian speaking Kosovo to proclaim independent from mainly Slavic speaking Serbia, but oppose it when mainly Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine try to do the same?

Why was it OK for the United States to declare independence from Britain long ago but wrong for Biafra to declare independence from Nigeria in more recent history?

Why was it OK for India to demand independence from Britain but wrong for Kashmir to demand independence from India?

I am sure the 'experts' can put forward rationalisations for all this but I suspect rationalisations are what they mostly are. I think there is a large amount of foreign policy establishment 'group think' that seen from the outside can seem hypocritical, pedantic or plain silly.

If the people of Somaliland can create a reasonably successful and functioning state while the rest of Somalia is a disaster it seems common sense and justice that they should be supported.

If the leaders of the rest of Somalia object to that, then let them first create a sufficiently peaceful, prosperous and functioning country of their own that the people of Somaliland might reasonably want to join it.


Somaliland was not called British Somalia but it was British Somaliland before gaining independence from the UK. the "no rearranging the colonial borders" principle is not applying to Somaliland case becouse claiming its colonial borders as the AU charter said so Somaliland has very strong case which is reclaiming its indepence after Somalia unfairly took everything...

  • I'm not sure what you're trying to say in the final sentence.
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 6:07
  • what i meant was they dont get fair share from the power and the prosperity of the country from day one of the union so their is no point for them to remain in the union with Somalia...
    – ben Isaac
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 18:01
  • what i meant was they(Somaliland) don't get fair share from the power(Goverment) and the prosperity of the country from day one of the union so there is no point for them to remain in the union with Somalia...
    – ben Isaac
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 18:07

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.

  • 5
    Any references for any of these claims?
    – DVK
    Commented Jan 4, 2012 at 21:02
  • 4
    An interesting theory. But as it stands Somalia isn't countering anything but themselves.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 31, 2012 at 17:09

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