Ulf Terlinden and Mohamed Hassan chart the history of Somaliland’s political development from indigenous grassroots peacebuilding processes in the early 1990s to the development of a democratic political system from 2002. Notwithstanding the contested sovereignty over the eastern regions and the stalled presidential elections in 2009, Somaliland has emerged as one of the most peaceful polities in the Horn of Africa.
Somaliland’s experience illustrates the potential and impressive sustainability that ‘home-grown’ peacemaking and reconciliation can generate.
Ulf Terlinden and Mohamed Hassan
Read full article
The Republic of Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991 after years of war had culminated in the overthrow of the Somali dictator Siyad Barre. Since then Somaliland has proven the most stable entity in the Somali region.
Building peace and forming a state
From the outset the existence of functioning traditional institutions in Somaliland was fundamental. These institutions have survived both British colonial rule and Somali statehood functionally intact, albeit transformed. Revitalised during the resistance against Siyad Barre’s regime, ad hoc councils of elders (guurtiida) instantly took on the role of quasi-administrations, managing militias, mediating disputes, administering justice, interacting with international agencies and raising local revenue in the absence of local administrative structures.
Stabilisation and political reconstruction
Five main characteristics contributed to the process of stabilisation and political reconstruction:
Democratising Somaliland's political institutions
Despite its successes, statebuilding in Somaliland has suffered both challenges and conflict. Two civil wars in the 1990s derailed the rebuilding process and almost shattered Somaliland’s territorial unity. And ironically the strengthening of the central government has also had some destabilising effects. For instance the beel political system was increasingly usurped by the executive, threatening to derail its ability to provide legitimacy and to safeguard clan interests.
Disputed boundaries and Somaliland's unrecognised status
The most serious threat to Somaliland’s stability is currently from militants associated with the (purportedly Islamist) insurgency in south central Somalia. Elements of Al Shabaab and similar groups exist under ground because they do not enjoy popular support. But they have repeatedly engaged in assassinations of aid workers since 2003 as well as in three simultaneous suicide bombings in Hargeisa in October 2008. These groups pursue (Somalia-wide) unionist or even (globally) universalistic agendas against Somaliland’s independence and seek to stall its secular democratisation.
Lessons from Somaliland's experience
Somaliland’s experience illustrates the potential and – especially in the Somali context – impressive sustainability that ‘home-grown’ peacemaking and reconciliation can generate.