The History of Somaliland

History of Somaliland

Somaliland has a long and complicated history often involving its own independence. Although unrecognised by the international community as a sovereign state, Somaliland has accomplished many successes throughout its history, significantly after its independence in 1990 through the development of a democratic and peaceful society within a region mostly consumed by conflict and civil unrest. The history of Somaliland is vital to understanding the achievements gained as well as the difficulties this country faces. The modern history of Somaliland is demonstrated in the timeline below beginning with the partitioning of Africa by Europe between 1887 and 1960 and ending so far in 2001 with the creation of the Somaliland Constitution.

1887 – 1960.

As a result of European countries partitioning Africa amongst themselves, this period witnessed the area of Somaliland became the territory of Britain under the British Somaliland Protectorate. A series of agreements between Britain and Somaliland clans to provide protection for Somaliland in a period where European attacks were expected from European owned territory, was a strong incentive for Somaliland to side with Britain rather than the previous occupation of Egypt. Nonetheless, in the beginning of the 1940s, Italy, who occupied Somalia, gained control of Somaliland.


British Somaliland gained independence from Britain and unified with the Italian occupied Somaliland, now known as Somalia, this formed the State of Somaliland. Despite independence and unification, the decision caused much controversy and unhappiness within the territory. In the late 1960s, the government faced a coup d’etat and was consequently replaced by the military with Siad Barre as President.


1981 saw the establishment of the Somali National Movement which in a decade became crucial in gaining Somaliland independence from the State of Somaliland.


Somaliland gained its independence again through the breakdown of the State of Somaliland Government. The SNM was a main factor in gaining independence as a result of its consistent rejection against the military dictatorship which caused large loss of life in the pursuant civil war. Hargeisa was determined to be the capital of the now independent Somaliland.


The Somaliland Constitution was completed after 10 years of creation. Its approval was determined in a referendum which witnessed a 97% majority in favour of the Constitution. Consequently, in 2003, Somaliland’s first President was democratically elected.

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State Sovereignty

Somaliland has had a consistent struggle for international recognition since its independence in 1990. When assessing the details, there is, in a sense, a divide as to whether Somaliland fulfils the criteria for state sovereignty. Based on Article 1 of the 1934 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, ‘a State as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications:

  1. A permanent population

  1. A defined territory

  1. A government; and

  1. The capacity to enter into relations with other states’.

This criterion is the declaratory theory of statehood, if this criterion is fulfilled, the State may declare that by passing the threshold, it now has statehood. On the other hand, a different theory, the constitutive theory, is based on recognition from the international community which is viewed as necessary for statehood due to the political community in which states exist. In relation to the constitutive theory, Somaliland will not be considered as a state due to the lack of international recognition. The reasons behind the lack of international recognition do not appear plentiful, however, there is concern from the African Union of secession which may be considered as influential in preventing international recognition. The refusal to recognise state sovereignty arguably, may affect the economic situation of the country as foreign investment and international aid is difficult to obtain and secure, Consequently, this worsens the low economic status that exists for Somaliland.

Climate Change

Problems arising from climate change add to the difficulties of daily life that Somalilanders already face as a result of a poor economy, human rights issues and the consequences of the lack of international recognition. Severe drought resulting in famine is a major concern for Somaliland. The effects are extreme, severe drought not only directly affects the health and life of Somalilanders but also impacts the livelihoods of many families of whom are reliant on livestock to survive. It is estimated that 80% of livestock was killed by severe droughts in 2016 and 2017, this had a major impact on the region’s economy. Climate change is also the cause of mass displacement of those living in Somaliland, this in turn has a significant impact on the vulnerability of women and girls within the region living in displacement camps. There are initiatives in place to help Somaliland cope with the unpredictable impacts of climate change such as drought warning systems. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that Somaliland is an unfortunate example of the repercussions the world faces due to climate change. Additionally, Somaliland’s situation is worsened by the absence of international recognition and consequently the lack of financial humanitarian aid.