- Imagine a woman locked into an arranged marriage at an early age. She’s been living for decades with an abusive, unemployed, substance-abusing husband. He beats her and the kids regularly and is pretty much beyond redemption. Common sense would make you want to encourage her to get out of the relationship, move house and start afresh. She could begin a new life, build new friendships and secure her own destiny. Well, not if that woman is Somaliland. Then the neighbours would all be barring the doors and telling her she had to stay because she needed to respect the sanctity of her marriage.
Meanwhile they elected their own presidents and prime ministers. They developed a bicameral legislature based upon a multi-party democracy and a system of courts. Opposition candidates actually win seats and in 2007 the incumbent president was voted out in elections and stepped peacefully down from power. They have established peaceful diplomatic relations with a number of their neighbours, as well as states in Europe and the Indian Ocean rim.
Sounds like just the sort of progressive and stable sort of liberal democracy we are always trying to encourage in the Third World, doesn’t it? But nobody will recognise Somaliland’s independence.
It seems that secession is bad for business or at least a loss of face as far as the world is concerned. To let Somaliland break away from Somalia would be an admission that the latter is beyond help. The international community doesn’t like new borders and so Somaliland is kept wedded to its feckless husband in the hope that he might one day get a job. There’s also the fear that secession is contagious, and that even if a deserving case is permitted, all the rest of the kids will want to run away from home too.
There have been some minor diplomatic victories (such as an official invitation to the opening of the Welsh parliament and a kind of de facto consulate in Ethiopia), but basically nobody wants to make the first move. For some reason it’s OK for places like Montenegro and Slovakia to break away from old unions, but not for an African state.
Perhaps we should wait for the residents of Somaliland to get frustrated, form Islamist guerrilla armies and try to obtain independence via an endless and spiteful civil war?
By Mat Hardy
(Mat Hardy is Lecturer in Middle East Studies at Deakin University)