SOMALILAND: An African Country Still Seeking Her International Recognition! What Lessons Should it Learn from South Sudan’s History?



Editor’s note: This article was sent to New Sudan Vision on May 24, 2014 and it did not get published until today due to lack of time. And, for that, we apologize to our esteemed columnist, Mr. Rengo Gyyw Rengo,Jr., for the delay in publication! Pictured in the middle of this historic Somaliland photo is South Sudan’s Mr. Rengo Gyyw Rengo, Jr. himself, cutting the independence celebration cake, moments after addressing the occasion as chief guest, an honor he shared with great humility and intellect using his extensive background/knowledge in international relations/regional geopolitics, coupled with the harsh realities and experiences from his own native country, South Sudan, which gained its independence in 2011.


ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Somaliland is a “country” in the horn of Africa that is still struggling to be recognized by the region and the world as an independent country. It has been self-governing since 18th May 1991. On May 18, 2014, this non-recognized non-sovereign African state celebrated her 23rd Anniversary for ‘restoring’ her independence from Somalia in 1991.


This day was celebrated by the Somaliland people and their well-wishers the world over. However, it is not only about celebration of the seminal independence “restoration” but also it was about engaging the international community to accept and recognize them.


There are hundreds of thousands of Somaliland people living in the countries of the Horn especially in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda among others.


In Ethiopia in particular there are tens of thousands of these great people. Ethiopia is home to millions of people with Somali origins and other Cushitic peoples with almost similar cultures with people of the Somaliland. The Somaliland people living in Ethiopia organized and celebrated the 23rd anniversary of the Somaliland’s Independence Restoration Day. Besides having enjoyed an oasis of peace for 23 years in a chaotic neighbour of Somalia, the people of Somaliland are ever keen to use every occasion to put their case before the region and the international community.


Ethiopians, South Sudanese, Djiboutians etc were invited.


However, the honour of gracing the occasion was given to the South Sudanese. Being a representative of my group, I was accorded the privilege to address the gathering in the capacity of the Chief Guest. I was humbled.


As someone educated by a struggle of similar kind in our own context, and with fair understanding of the regional issues, aided by my long-term training in Development issues, International Relations and Diplomacy, and Public Management, I seized the opportunity and spoke about the relationship between Somaliland people and South Sudanese people. For the benefits of the wider audiences, the address is expanded to address Somaliland people’s quest for recognition, understanding the history of Somaliland, role and impacts of South Sudan’s struggles and history on Somaliland, and Africanizing the case of Somaliland.



The Somaliland, not Somalia like South Sudan was a British colony during the colonial era. It is also known geographically as the Northern Somalia. The Southern Somalia where the conflicts rage since the fall of Siad Barre in 1991 was an Italian Colony during the same era of colonization. While the State of Djibouti located at the northeastern part of Somalia, was a French colony or erstwhile known as the French Somalia. The region was competitively and intriguously apportioned among the three colonial powers, British, French and Italians due to various reasons, among which was the craveous hegemony to control the Indian Ocean and Red Sea water routes.


The people in the three regions, despite being Somalis in origin, culture and everything else, they were exposed to the cultures of the occupying powers and grew distinct existence in thinking, behaviors and administrative styles and techniques. Moreover, during the decolonization era, the three powers never sought to unite the three areas into one union. They might have wanted to use them invariably as satellite states which would continue to serve their interests.


The French Somaliland was granted independence and renamed herself “Djibouti” which is now an independent African country in the Horn.

On 26 June, 1960, the presence non-sovereign Somaliland state which is seeking the international recognition was granted her own independence by the British Empire. Five days later, the Italian Somaliland [Southern hemisphere] which had been put under the UN protectorate since the end of the WWII, was granted independence on July 1, 1960. Italy’s alliance with Germany and Japan during the war led to her defeat and deprivation of her African colonies including the Italian Somaliland possession.


The prior Italians campaigns a posterior to the Second World War, led Italy under Benito Mussolini to conquer the British Somaliland in 1940. The region remains part of the Italian East Africa before it was retaken back by the British forces and government in 1941.


From 1941 to 1945, Italy and her Germany and Japanese allies suffered defeats and subsequent vanguishment in the hands of the allies’ governments. The Italian Somaliland was placed under the British administration until it was again put under the a UN trusteeship in 1949, just two years after Southern Sudan was put into union with northern Sudan by the British.


With the British Somaliland’s independence on 26 June 1960 and the Italian Somaliland now under the UN trusteeship’s independence on July 1, 1960, something both the UN and British coordinated with the hope of the ‘Somalis unification’ which was driven locally and in the interests of the Guurti, the Somalilanders’ Council of Elders. Following their separate independences, apart from Djibouti, the British Somaliland and the Italian Somaliland merged their region into the Republic of Somalia one week later in July 1960. Unlike the unity between the Southern Sudan and Northern Sudan which was imposed by the British on the South in 1947, the British never forced the Somalis’ unity on the Somalis nor did she want to unite the colonies before their independences. Somalis’ unity was the work of the Guurti from the Somaliland side despite some mild opposition from the politicians.




“We made a political blunder. After we were granted our independence by the British, we took our independence and handed it over to the southern Somalia without preconditions”, that was the common regrets many Somalilanders during the occasion kept airing out.


However, it appeared the blunder was not basically about the unity per se but about the unfair subsequent political transactions between the North and the South. The homogeneity of the Somalis’ identity, language, culture and lifestyle was the primary driving force behind the unity quest. Being Somalis and a new flag were enough conditions for the unity of the Somalis.


The British Somaliland discovered the blunder in 1969, nine years into unity with the South, following the military coup of Siad Barre and subsequent formation of the post military government, where the entire cabinet of 26 ministers was composed 95% of the Southerners to nearly the exclusion of the northerners who were supposed to be equal partners in the union. Other Somalilanders during the occasion recounted that the South took 25 ministerial posts plus the president of the high court and gave only one cabinet minister to the North. Such a style of political marginalization led South Sudan to mistrust [North] Sudan in the early 1950s when the north assumed all the eight hundred posts left behind by the British during the Sudanization process. Southern Sudan was only given less one percent of the eight hundred post-colonial vacants or posts.


Domination and marginalization of the north by the South is an antithesis of what happened in the Sudan where the North marginalized, oppressed and dominated the Southern Sudan. Although the difficult relationship between the Southern Somalia and the Northern Somalia could not be blamed on the separate colonial legacies they grew in, it was a question of the post-colonial African blunders as the Somalis say. In the case of South Sudan with Sudan, the colonial powers had sown some bad seeds which the north excelled in watering and nurturing. However, still, the model of the locally driven suppression, oppression and marginalization of one area by another were basically African born and the same between Somalia and [the] Sudan.


Seeds of discords were sown between the two Somalis areas with an ace of erstwhile separateness that goes back to numerous Islamic and Somalis kingdoms of the ancient Punt lands and the east African coasts. The socialist military leader Siad Barre instead of addressing the potent imbalance and disparity, embarked on a greater project of the Somali peoples’ unity. He sought to carve out Somalis in Kenya, and in Ethiopia back to Somalia to form a Somalis Republic, leaving a time-bomb at home in the North.


In late 1960s, Somalia government supported the Kenyan Somalis in Shifta War against Kenya seeking to join the other Somalis in Somalia or self-determination to be politically correct.


It did the same with Ethiopia which led to the Ogaden conflict. With assistance of the Cubans, Ethiopia under Mengistu Haile-Mariam fought back the Siad Barre’s forces until some semblance of peace agreement was reached. Kenya and Ethiopia merged forces. Siad Barre’s adventure against neighbours proved impossible as he ignored the political, economic and social grievances of the people of the British Somaliland.


The unsalvageable political position of the Northern Somalia under Siad Barre, dictatorship and war with neighbours led to the people of the British Somaliland to demand for the ‘restoration’ of the their independence from the rest of Somalia. This was met with military repression response from Siad Barre’s government which carried out massacres, bombardments of Hergeisa, Baro and other cities. Many Somalilanders ran to Ethiopia. Ethiopia aggrieved by Siad Barre’s aggression, either explicity or implicity supported the people of Somaliland in their quest for independence’s restoration against the Siad Barre’s government and to hold Ogaden’s rebels supported by Mogadishu in check.


In 1981, fed up enough with the situation, the people of Somaliland formed their movement, the Somaliland National Movement/Army [SNM/A] and launched rebellions against the Somalia under Siad Barre to wrestle their erstwhile independence back. This lasted until when Siad Barre’s regime finally fell in 1991. As the main Somalia descended into perpetual and adinfinitum chaos, the Somaliland, the region between Djibouti, Ethiopia and Puntland declared their independence in what they call up to today “the restoration of their independence”.


The Guurti had learned their lesson and now resolved for total independence away from Somalia. Accepting unity without any preconditions is what the contemporary generations of the Somaliland people called a “political blunder” in their history with Somalia. Unlike the case of South Sudan with Sudan, the South Sudanese though were represented by the traditional chiefs in 1947 Juba Conference where the question of the Union was mooted between the north and the south; first of all, the South Sudanese never sought the union with the northern Sudan. It was Sudan and Egypt that sought the union of the two Sudans. However, when the South Sudanese discovered the British had its own interests on the unity of the two Sudans, the South Sudanese asked for a precondition of a federal system of government with guarantees between the two areas before or after the decolonization and attainment of the country’s independence in 1956. This promised was never kept. Thus, the South Sudan took to arms in August 1955 for the first round of struggle until 1972.


Since 18 May 1991 to 18 May 2014, the nation of Somaliland has existed as a country in the absence of the international recognition.




“All we need is freedom, whether we are recognized or not, it doesn’t matter!” stated an unequivocally one Somaliland lady presenter during the occasion.

Prominent in the program were the political history of Somaliland presented by Assad Mohm’ud and the Somaliland’s Recognition Prospects by the region was presented by Mubarak Abdilahi, an eloquent speaker on Somaliland politics.


Despite their envious existence and stable political survival without much foreign support and in a democratic environment, the Somaliland people are very much aware of the impact of an international recognition. They have been engaging the region and the international community in various diplomatic ways for their acceptance and recognition as an independent African state. It might not be an amicable dissolution of the union because the union was born without terms and conditions and also Somalia might still be opposed to the “secession” of the North. Maybe, the world is waiting for the stability of Somalia for the question of the Somaliland to be settled. This is just a hypothetical assumption.


I knew what was at stake. Just as many other people may be aware of the recent mutual relationship between South Sudan and Somaliland; it is in the same context that I was given the opportunity by this distinguished group of Somaliland people in their occasion to address their people on behalf of my country on an important subject. I recap the speech. I thought it would never benefit both the people of Somaliland and the South Sudanese people if I do not expand it to transmit the full view of what we know and what we desire.


I have quoted only thematic parts in my speech which was appreciated. I began by thanking the Somaliland people for their invitation of the South Sudanese people and who are represented by me and my group, although not in an official capacity since I was not mandated by any government. I told the gathering on a serious note that, “we the South Sudanese people understand you very well. We shared and endured the same struggle. We have been through it. Therefore we know your history. Your current President H.E Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud “Silanyo” visited South Sudan three times since we gained our independence on July 9, 2011. He came to learn lessons, to cherish with us our hard won freedom and independence and to confide with/in our president on your recognition issue. That we are aware. We are also aware that your media group, with a blue jacket written on it the “Somaliland Media Press” came to South Sudan during the Declaration of our independence day in Juba.” There was a heavy applaud.


“There is nothing greater than the free choice of the people based on conviction. Whatever you have chosen is what you are and what you deserve. No one will choose for you. Allow me to take tell you, that our struggle in South Sudan against various foreign powers and slavery began officially in 1821 and it was concluded in 2011 when we declared our independence. That took us one hundred and 190 years of struggle to arrive to where we are today. No matter how long it will take you to be recognized, your recognition shall come to pass, provided you remain focus and firm on your cause!”, heavy applaud and ovation.


I considered this as the heart of my speech. We have conducted the longest African struggle against oppression and one of the longest struggles in the entire world. There are sufficient lessons to be learned from it. The choice and sacrifices of lives of any oppressed or suppressed group of people to be free are borne and flesh of their struggle. The Somaliland people hold the ultimate journey and its destination in their own hands. No one could and can quantify the prices we have paid for our liberty and independence. The late South Sudanese leader, Dr. John Garang was once sentimentally challenged to stop the war by foreign groups since they alleged his people were being depleted by war. He is reported to have said, “When we founded and form our Movement to fight for freedom, we did not say that when three millions or so of our people are killed, then we shall stop the war. That was never our goal. If we get what we set out to achieve without a single life lost, we would stop the war. If it is costs us millions of our people, then they have died or are dying defending the cause that we still pursue. We set out to free our people from slavery and oppression, even if this will cost us the last man and the last woman. Death is better than slavery.”


Citing 190 years through which South Sudan struggled, a struggle whose commencement is a subject of the post diluvium era, is a lesson the Somaliland people were happy to hear and dream of emulating. I also alluded to the last two phases of our wars, 1955-1972 and 1983-2005 which total to 38 years of our recent struggle, and a cost of over five million lives combined in both conflicts. This message was reemphasized by their chairman Mr. Hassan Mohammed, who said if South Sudan could manage to wait while struggling for 190 years, yet theirs is just 23 years old, they would wait for their ultimate recognition for two hundred years provided “we are Somaliland forever!” I knew there was an understanding and tryst here. International politics has to be met with a protracted vision. At the end it is us to mourn our sacrifices and celebrate our victories.


No single state or nation, be it African or Arab or European has ever recognized the Republic of Somaliland since 1991 when it withdrew from a union with Somalia and declared her independence. This is intriguing. There are various reasons that are not normally spoken regarding such scenarios in international politics. One of the reasons is that, the world is always too slow to meddle objectively in countries where they do not have interests, especially the resources interests. Southern Sudan like Somaliland before the discovery of the vast natural resources was a ‘curse land’ in the eyes of the world. This is not the case today. As long as there are no known resources in possession of the Somaliland people, no one will talk about them.


Another reason is that, the degradation of a group of people simply because of their faith. As long as they are Muslims, helping them is almost equated with a zero-sum game. This is a western concept. The world sees the Somaliland as no different from the main Somalia. Recognizing them as an independent state will propagate the same ideology as that one happening in Somalia and other parts of the world. However, the Somaliland state has proven her worth with the manner with which she has conducted herself and her businesses during the last twenty three years. This generalist view puts Muslims in the one basket. They say the Somaliland would be better off as part of the bigger Somalia.


Without levels of importance attached to the enumeration of the reasons, the third view is the African one, which is the idea that, if the West has not recognized you, no African state will recognize you. You can only be accepted when the West gives her approval. And I think there is a catch here. The West is incorrectly believed to have political power, resources and technology to feed Africans with. Why would any African nation without any of the three elements come up to declare independence to a fellow African without guarantees of food? They privately think so. I noted this during the South Sudan’s declaration of independence; not very many African nations had interests or asked to recognize South Sudan. Only the neighbours were ceremoniously made to pronounce a midst a horde of Western diplomats which thought South Sudan should be independent now. Nobody asked why now? After what? That explains why to this day, despite the lost of five millions lives during our struggle, there are many people from without accompanied by local South Sudanese fifth columnists who give credit to America for South Sudan’s liberty and independence without recognizing our sacrifices.


I was keen at challenging the African idiocy towards the African issues. “It is the duty of the African nations and particularly your neighbours including South Sudan to recognize you. We shouldn’t wait on the West to take the lead in recognizing our people and their independence. Our country South Sudan will stand firm with you. We will also play our part individually to lobby and canvass support for your recognition. We need to interact country by country, individual by individual, to solve our issues and create development. Thank you very much.”


The statement “Our country South Sudan will stand firm with you” was too theoretical and naive for me. While it may have gone well with the audience, I had remorse over it afterwards. Even if I meant what it meant, I am certainly no influential person in our system to ensure the implementation of my firm statement. I also doubt whether the South Sudanese leaders are a different breed of people in the African continent. In any case, they are doing poorer than the illiterate leaders of the post-colonial Africa who ran the show in the fifties, sixties and seventies. I simply had my mouth in front and my brain behind in those seconds. However, I regard it as a strategic statement.


All in all, the short address had its penetrative impacts. I was flanked up by another guest, Abdishakur Sheeik Omar Muse Cade, a Somali-Ethiopian, who had represented the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia [FDRE]. He talked before me in all capacities, representing a neighbouring country to Somaliland, a host country and someone with Somali origin who understands the history and Somaliland people. Seated on my right hand, and after I sat, between him and the president of the Somaliland community, he asked me rhetorically that, “You know what the Somali people say? No. I said. He said, “The Somalis believe in their mythology that, their main ancestry “father” was an Arab and the female ancestry “mother” was a South Sudanese!” somehow shocked, I said really! The story might hold some unproven sense. I know majority of my people, like me, would be surprised with such assertion simply because they would say they do not share any ancestry with Muslims and brown or red people. But wait a little bit and think through the statement like I did.


After some careful thought, I said well, “we shouldn’t judge you by your colour, or language or religion. All must have been acquired through the corridors of history. Since you are Cushites, we also claim that we descended from a Cushite origin. We wanted to rename our country South Sudan as “Kush Republic” recently following our independence. Cush was one of the names proposed for the new country before we settled down for “South Sudan” because that discussion was diverting our attention. Maybe in the future, we shall revive the discussion and probably rename the country “the Cush Republic.”’, I concluded my statement. However, there is much to be known about who we are. Are we descendents of Kush? Ham? Punt? And who are others? Who are Africans, black or white or red? When did separation of colours occur? Adoption of religion is explainable. I know many people might be denying their true origin out of ignorance. For example, it is indisputable that the Kush Kingdom was a Nubian Kingdom. If they are Cushites, then they are blacks. If the Afars of Ethiopia, the Somalis of all hues, and the 40 million Oromos in Ethiopia are red Cushites too. Then should we base our arguments on colour alone or religion, that we do not share the same ancestry because of the two subjective aspects? Scientists have not given us proper explanation on the origin of variance on our skins. The case of religion is obvious.


When he heard me having mentioned the word “Cush” or “Cushite” that is when he told me “the Afars, the Oromos, and the Somalis in Ethiopia and Somalis of the neighbouring countries are Cushitic!” I know majority of our people in Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan emigrated from the Ethiopian highlands, ancient puntlands and the Horn into their present homelands.


As I was concluding with him, it was the turn of the Somaliland people’s community president; my host to ask me, “did you study International Relations?” it would have been silly to ask why? That would have seemed the logical answer. However, this nimble and fluent English speaking president did not believe for a single minute that the way I talked, presented issues and somehow informed could have been accidental.   I had to confess, I am a novice diplomat. I admitted to him that I am a diplomat ‘at large’ with a postgraduate training in International Relations and Diplomacy from Nkumba University in Uganda. But I have not worked in the field yet. However, like usually I tell people, I am educated by many situations and environments that no certificate could quantify. I am first and foremost a student of John Garang, then a war student, then an academic student, a refugee and now a free citizen. All those factors have bearings on my character and readiness. I was happy I represented symbolically a position of a South Sudanese sanctioned official who would be in my position to represent the country during this occasion.




“We Are Somaliland Forever.” This sticker message was pinned allover the celebration venue. If you lift up or away the lid, you will find the message, “all we need is freedom, whether we are recognized or not, it doesn’t matter!” These messages are very unequivocal and definitive. The world may ignore them but they aren’t going away.

The Somaliland is recognized internationally as an autonomous and self-governing region of the frailing Somalia. Ask the Somaliland people and they would tell you, that they are an independent African country still seeking an international recognition. If such recognition doesn’t come, they aren’t going to surrender their independence and walk to Somalia to be oppressed, subjugated and enslaved.

Somaliland was once an independent country granted independence on June 26, 1960 by the British which had colonized her. Out of the desire for a common All Somalis Republic [ASR] formed out of social contract, they made a union with the Southern Somalia, which union had no preconditions and abrogated or trampled down upon to the marginalization of the Somaliland people north of the country. Like other people and countries the world over who have had their own independences prior to other subsequent political arrangements, countries such as those that had made up the former USSR, Southern Sudan in the former Sudan, Mauritania, Crimea, Tibet, Taiwan, Eritrea etc, the people of Somaliland are convinced that the union has failed to live to its usefulness. Therefore, they have restored themselves to their 1960’s independence granted to them by the British.


They consider this as a precendented move with live examples elsewhere and everywhere the worldover. However, they are not reclaiming their independence simply because it was done any where; they have genuine fears and concerns in the defunct union with Somalia. Somalia which was the marginalizer, oppressor and belligerent aggressor in the conflict, can not and should not be allowed to use her consent as a precondition for the Somaliland to attain her independence. If the world could recognize Kosovar’s independence from Serbia in 2008 without the latter’s consent, what is wrong with recognizing the Somaliland Republic without the Somalia’s consent?  Crimea has joined Russia, without any international recognition. The case of the Western Sahara whose independence was foiled by Morocco despite recognition and admission to the OAU in 1981 should not repeat itself in the case of the Somaliland.


The Somaliland people in their struggle against Somalia do not blame Southern Somalia for the idea of the Somalis Unification Project [SUP] which has faltered. They blame themselves for the blunder, of conceiving and entering the union without preconditions whatsoever even if it was done in good faith and for the identity of the Somali people. However, they see Siad Barre and people of Southern Somalia as solely responsible for the breakdown and dissolution of the union. Their grievances were compounded by the war atrocities committed against them as northern people, where seven mass graves are now earmarked in Somaliland and indiscriminate destructions of Hergeisa, Baro and Berbera cities through air bombardments and ground attacks from government’s forces dominated by the southern people.

The Somaliland’s democracy since 1991 has been more pragmatic and peaceful than the Kenyan, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Ethiopian political processes. Somaliland has held invariably peaceful, free and fair, and regular elections without any problem since 1991. The country has sustained its development, security and governance for long without any major problems. This non-sovereign African country has depended on its local resources for 23 years without foreign support compared to other independent but unstable countries with resources which have depended on foreign aid, grants and loans to run their local services, development projects and governments. South Sudan should learn from the Somaliland’s government on how to run a locally people’s driven and local resources’ driven African democracy.

This nation peopled by over four million Somalis erstwhile acculturated by the British has met the other three basic elements of the modern statehood namely a permanent population, a defined territory and a stable government. It is ripen for sovereignty. It must be recognized as an independent and sovereign state.

Rengo Gyyw Rengo, Jr., is a South Sudanese national, writer, and a liberal bureaucrat educated in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia in Development Studies, International Relations and Diplomacy, and Public Management. He grew up in the South Sudanese conflict particularly in its army, the SPLA as a member of its junior component, the SPLA Red Army. He contributes opinion articles and analyses on South Sudanese politics, governance, development, foreign policy relations, and gender and human rights issues. He is the author of the upcoming book, “The Journey of No Return: Unaccompanied Minors, Red Army, Lost Boys of Southern Sudan Caught between the Cause and the Refuge.” He is a columnist with the and He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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