A caption from the report : Somaliland National Referendum - May 31, 2001
(IRI)- Like other African countries today, Somaliland is a product of a combination of forces at play in Africa over the last two centuries: an underdeveloped vestige of the European colonial system – at times a casualty of despots and superpowers during the Cold War – and a victim of civil wars and autocratic military regimes. Formerly the British Protectorate of Somaliland, today’s Somaliland Republic is a nation that unilaterally declared its independence ten years ago, after fighting with rival clan factions from southern Somalia who had bombed and destroyed its main cities and killed thousands of its people.
Although it has been peaceful for the past several years – while Somalia, particularly in the capital Mogadishu, continues to erupt in daily fighting between rival clans and warlords – Somaliland has yet to receive international recognition of its withdrawal from its union with Somalia. The United Nations, fellow African countries, and others within the international community have been reluctant to recognize Somaliland’s independence.
Similar in geographic size to the American state of Florida, Somaliland is located on the strategic Horn of East Africa just north of Somalia. It’s on the eastern border of Ethiopia and to the south of the Gulf of Aden. Its official language is Somali, though English is increasingly spoken among its educated population. Despite regional clan differences, the overwhelming majority of Somaliland’s population has Cushitic ethnic origins, and is united by Sunni Islam with its adherence to Sharia Islamic law. Although the ethnic composition of Somaliland is almost entirely indigenous Somali people, the population stretches across several patrilineal clans, including the Isaaq, the largest in
Somaliland, and the Gadabuursi, Ciise, Dhulbahante, and Warsangeli clans, all of which have fiercely defended their regional territories and interests over the years. Somaliland is moving away from its long tradition of a hierarchical society of competing clans that were often susceptible to political disharmony. The country is moving towards a more representative – one man one vote system – dominated by national political parties that cut across clan and regional loyalties.
The eastern part of Somaliland consists of a hot, arid coastal salt plain that receives less than four inches of rain annually. Due to its location off of the Indian Ocean, it has remained quite susceptible to the monsoon season in the wetter spring and the contrasting drought devastation that occurs every few years during the summer. With limited precipitation, nomadic pastoralism dominates the central and northern part of Somaliland, with agricultural farming predominant on the southern plateau and foothills where rainfall more regularly averages 20 to 30 inches per year. The capital of Somaliland is Hargeisa, with a population of approximately 400,000. Other major cities include Burco in the country’s center, Berbera, the country’s main oceanic port, the university town of Boorame, and the cities of Gabiley, Ceerigaabo, and Lass Cannood.
With a population between 3 million and 3.5 million people, the precise population of Somaliland is still unknown. There has never been a census. The best source for generally recognized statistics is “Somaliland in Figures,” published by the government’s Ministry of National Planning and Coordination in 1997, and revised in 1999. The constantly changing and itinerant nomadic population compounds the lack of an accurate census. About 55 percent of the people are nomad herders who drift freely across unmarked borders. The population estimate in 1997 was approximately 3 million.
Life expectancy is between 45 to 50 years, with a birth rate of 4.46 percent and a death rate of 1.32 percent. With an estimated population growth rate of 3.1 percent, these numbers yield a 2001 population of approximately 3,390,000 people in Somaliland.
Of the 3,390,000 people, any male or female over 18 years of age, and who is not certified as insane or serving time in prison, may vote in Somaliland. However, there are no written birth records, and few know the actual date or year of their birth. The United Nations, in cooperation with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, estimates that 45 percent of Somaliland’s population is under 15 years of age, and approximately 47 percent of the population is over 18. Matt Bryden, a Canadian contracting with the Somaliland Centre for Peace and Development and an acknowledged Somaliland expert,
estimates the over-18 population at roughly 60 percent. Giving equal weight to both estimates yields an approximate eligible voting population of 1,814,000. Thus, with 1,187,833 voting in the referendum (according to the certified vote tally approved by the Somaliland Supreme Court on June 14, 2001), the approximate voter turnout of the eligible population was 66 percent, slightly higher than the 60 percent turnout the government expected.
During the European colonial rush to expand their influence in Africa, Somaliland came under British colonial rule in 1886 through a series of British treaties with different ethnic clans giving them protectorate status under the British crown. Britain’s primary interest in the area was in big game hunting and the livestock trade to provide meat to their forces stationed in Yemen and throughout the Gulf of Aden. In their 86 years of colonial control, the British fought against internal uprisings in the Dervish Movement from 1899 to 1920, and Italian fascist occupation from Ethiopia upon Britain’s retreat from Somaliland during World War II. Hundreds of Somaliland people fought on behalf of the British in the Pacific theater during World War II. Despite decades of British rule, the British left Somaliland with little in the way of administrative, educational and economic structure compared to other British colonies.
As the anti-colonial movement grew after World War II, Britain began to prepare Somaliland for its independence by instituting universal suffrage in 1958 under separate ethnic electorates from different regional clan groups. As a result of the Arabian oil boom in the 1950s, demand for Somali livestock skyrocketed, with the cities of Berbera,
Hargeisa and Burco becoming hubs of this unprecedented livestock trade. Nomadic pastoralism – particularly goat, sheep, cow and camel herding – supports 70 percent of Somaliland’s population, but agriculture has proven to be widely unpredictable over time. The country possesses significant mineral deposits, particularly near the salt plains, and is considered by some to rest on developable supplies of oil and natural gas similar in size to those of Yemen. However, because the rights to oil and gas leases were last negotiated during the 1980’s under the previous Mogadishu regime,
Somaliland has had difficulty convincing oil companies to enter into leases with it, largely as a result of a lack of international recognition and the uncertainty of the legal enforceability of leases with an unrecognized state. Today, Somaliland’s oil and gas reserves, if any, remain unexplored.
During the Cold War, Britain proposed the unification of all Somali people under one country from the five different countries that Somali people lived in at the time,
uniting them with Somalis from British Kenya, Italian Somalia, French Djibouti and Ethiopia. Because both the French and Soviets viewed this as amassing a Somali nation under British influence in the strategic Horn of Africa – despite the potential of uniting all Somali people under one flag – they bitterly opposed Britain’s idea of Somali unification.
Instead, on June 26, 1960, British Somaliland gained its independence. Conversely, it lasted for only six days. On July 1, the former British protectorate officially joined with Italian Somalia, under European encouragement, to form the united Republic of Somalia. Although it unified two of the five Somali regions in the area, the union was established much to Somaliland’s detriment. Italian Somalia (in the south) procured most of the senior executive positions in the new government that was centered in the southern capital, Mogadishu, and greatly outweighed British Somaliland in
parliamentary seats, 99 to 33. Although more than 60 percent of Somalis in Somaliland voted against the referendum held in 1961 to ratify this proposed union and its constitution, the more populous southern majority carried the vote, muffling Somaliland’s discontent.
What ensued was a 30-year period marked largely by political and economic unrest, much of which occurred during the two decades of brutal rule by Siad Barré’s Mogadishu-based regime. Rising to power via a military coup in 1969, Barré organized a militant administration under his Somali Revolutionary Socialist party that extended its grip over neighboring areas in Djibouti and Ethiopia where related Somali clans lived.
With the help of the Soviet Union, Barré built up one of the largest and best-equipped armies in sub-Saharan Africa. Full-scale war with Ethiopia broke out in 1977, but the Soviet Union eventually turned on Barré and sided with Ethiopia, leading to the ultimate rout of the Somali army and forcing Barré to capitulate.
Due to the war with Ethiopia, a massive human influx of refugees poured into Somalia, most of them ethnic Somalis, and by 1981 approximately 400,000 Ogaden Somali refugees had settled in the north, in Somaliland. Related to southern Somali clans, these refugees over-burdened the north’s resources and eventually began to receive most of the choice state patronage positions from their ethnically related Somalis from the south, causing northern Somalis in Somaliland to lose jobs and preferential
government contracts and licenses to refugees from Ethiopia. With so many refugees, international aid that would otherwise have benefited natives from Somaliland was diverted to handle the flood of refugees, further straining Somaliland’s limited resources.
Compounding the refugee problem, Barré placed growing restrictions on livestock exports critical to the economic health of northern Somalis. But in 1981, Barré’s government arrested a group of Hargeisa intellectuals on trumped up charges of subversion, pushing separatist groups in the north – led by the influential Isaaq clan – to coalesce into the Somali Nationalist Movement (SNM). Protesting years of death sentences, torture and other serious human rights abuses throughout the 1980s, the SNM eventually launched their first armed opposition against Barré’s regime in 1988, killing several government officials. The Mogadishu-based regime, comprised largely of the
Daarood clan, responded brutally with ground and aerial attacks on the north that killed more than 50,000 Somalis and sent another 500,000 fleeing to Ethiopia. Many of the largest northern cities and villages were completely destroyed, famine swept through the country, and Barré had the north strewn with hundreds of thousands of landmines. The SNM regrouped with guerrilla forces in Ethiopia to recapture northern cities in Somaliland, overthrowing the government and forcing Barré into exile.
With famine sweeping the country and international food aid disrupted by the civil war, President Bush sent American troops to Mogadishu in December 1992 in a military relief effort known as Operation Restore Hope. Along with troops from other United Nations countries, American marines ensured that food reached the starving and helped stabilize parts of southern Somalia, particularly in Mogadishu where rival clans and warlords were openly fighting. Eventually, the American presence included more than 26,000 troops stationed throughout Mogadishu and the southern part of the country, and food distribution was restored and the famine subsided. None of the international
troops, however, were stationed in Somaliland. But by the time American troops pulled out of Somalia fifteen months later in March 1994, Somali warlords and their factions had killed 17 American soldiers.
Representatives of the communities of the north convened in Burco in early 1991 in a conference that declared independence from Somalia, and agreed upon the following:
• Reconciliation of the warring parties to the conflict;
• Disbanding the 1960 Act of Union with Somalia;
• Establishment of a transitional two-year rule by the SNM, and accommodation of the non-Isaaq clans into the government structure;
• Initiation of a separate reconciliation process for the Sanaag region.
Despite a promise of peace and reconciliation, clan clashes continued throughout Somaliland and Somalia as a result of the depletion of natural resources, a lack of international aid, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of refugees. A 1992 cease-fire lasted until tensions erupted into further civil conflict in 1994 in Somaliland. Sporadic fighting lasted until a final peace accord was reached in Hargeisa in February 1997, whereupon a conference achieved the following:
• Cessation of all hostilities and military demobilization;
• An interim constitution to be valid during a three-year transition period;
• Re-election of President Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, with a new vice president, Dahir
Riyaale Kahin, for a five-year term;
• An accommodation of Somaliland’s minority clans with increased political representation in the House of Parliament.
Since the 1997 national conference in Hargeisa, peace has flourished throughout Somaliland while clan and rival warlord factions continue to destabilize Somalia and Mogadishu. President Egal’s administration has fostered economic development of the regional livestock trade and agriculture in Somaliland’s southern mesa. Despite internal debt and inflation, reforms have liberalized the economy and reduced state intervention in the growing free-market economy. International oil companies, which explored for oil and gas in the mid-1980s, have renewed their interest in the Somaliland coastal regions and offshore leases, given the topographical similarities with oil-rich Arab nations across the Gulf of Aden.
Because past clashes have been deep-seated in clan controversy, the national conference strove to make changes in the government more accommodating to clan interests including dissolving the national assembly, increasing regional bodies and drafting a new constitution. Despite regional contention in Somaliland, a parliamentary system was agreed upon with a declaration of human rights and a system legalizing the creation of political parties. President Egal restructured his cabinet, continuing the devolution of power to the clan regions and guaranteeing the individual rights of liberty, freedom of the press, and protection against arbitrary search.
In August 2000, President Egal’s government distributed thousands of copies of the proposed constitution throughout Somaliland for consideration and review by the people. One critical clause of the 130 individual articles of the constitution would ratify Somaliland's self-declared independence and final separation from Somalia, restoring the nation's independence for the first time since 1960. In late March 2001, President Egal set the date for the referendum on the Constitution for May 31, 2001.