What is it like to live in a country that is not recognised by the rest of the world? What do you lose or gain?

By Faustine Ngilaell

Well, maybe you need to travel to Somaliland to have an experiential point of view. Probably, you know that it’s a different country from Somalia but you’ve never had the opportunity to comprehend the disparity.

In the Horn of Africa country, about 3.5 million people live, work and pray in actuality, but legally they don’t exist!

Now, a new book authored by French academic and historian Dr Gerard Prunier who specialises in the Horn of Africa and African Great Lakes region, has been launched and expounds on every single detail on Somaliland.

The book, ‘The Country That Does Not Exist: A History of Somaliland’, takes you through the history of Somalia over the years, the Somali people, pre-colonisation and post-colonisation civil wars, clearly highlighting why Somaliland seceded.

With 11 chapters, the book recounts an African success story where the peace so widely acclaimed by the international community has had no reward but its own lonely achievement.

Civil war

The collapse of parliamentary democracy in 1969 and the resulting army and dictatorship that followed led to a civil war in the ‘perfect’ national state. It lasted fourteen years in the “British” North and is still raging today in the ‘Italian’ South.

Somaliland ‘re-birthed’ itself through an enormous solo effort but the viable nation so recreated within its former colonial borders was never internationally recognised and still struggles to exist economically and diplomatically.

In 1960, former British Somaliland became independent for five days before joining the former Italian Somaliland to create the Somali Republic. But persecuted by southerners, Somaliland seceded after a civil war, reverting in 1991 to the boundaries drawn by the Brits.

It established a constitution in 2001 but cultural distinctions remain a key element to understanding the separation from Somalia, in what the author calls ‘clanism’.

However, Somaliland has all the hallmarks of a fully-fledged country, with its own parliament, currency, car registrations and even biometric passports.

Yet it remains unrecognised by any other state, with the United Nations only acknowledging Somalia’s statehood.

Although the definition of a country is open to interpretation, under International Law, a state needs to have a permanent population, a defined territory and border controls, the ability to govern itself independently and relate with other countries.

The author has over the years studied Somalia and Somaliland, and in an article he wrote for the Le Monde Diplomatique, he says that nobody believed in the viability of Somaliland, and explains how it survived.

Guerrilla movements

“The early years (1991-95) were hard. As in the regions of the south, the country was torn apart by struggles in which leaders of the former guerrilla movements manipulated their clan membership to pillage and try to seize any vestige of power. Somaliland managed to wear them down by organising ever-larger clan meetings.”

The new book begins with a chapter on ‘A Nation in Search of a State: The Somali Mystique of Unity’, expounding on the fundamental issues that have led to the current stateless position, with the rest of the chapters following chronologically from the 1960s upto now.

The last chapter, ‘From Survival to Globalisation: What is the Need for a Nation-State in Somaliland?’, the author uses his understanding of Africa and global geopolitics to exhibit Somaliland’s quest to join the rest of the world on international affairs.

The country still has clan disputes and non-western ideas about the treatment of women and girls, it has been silently committed to joining the globalised world in search of identity.

Will Reno, Professor of Political Science, the Program of African Studies, Northwestern University says that ‘The Country That Does Not Exist’ is a book on how a post-nation-state world order may unfold.

 “A breath of fresh air, it is a must-read for academics and policy experts alike, showing the elusiveness, and futility of conventional approaches to rebuilding states,” he observes.

For Jutta Bakonyi, Associate Professor of Development and Conflict, University of Durham, and author of Country without a State: Economy and Society in Wars, the Example of Somalia, Dr Prunier provides an insightful and comprehensive analysis of the formation of the Republic of Somaliland.

Global developments

 “He manages to connect local details to regional and global developments, and delivers a timely and highly accessible interpretation of the turbulent history of the region.”

Christopher Clapham of the Centre of African Studies at the University of Cambridge says the book is compulsively readable, filled with eyewitness testimonies, and tells the story of the birth of still-unrecognised Somaliland from the wreckage of the collapsed Somali state.

 “It provides an unrivalled guide to how governance among Somalis can, and cannot, be created,” he notes.

Author of ‘Becoming Somaliland’ and Executive Director of the Rift Valley Institute Mark Bradbury says that Gerard Prunier’s work is a very readable history of the enigma that is Somaliland — a country that does not exist in the eyes of other nations, but whose people crafted a political settlement that has endured for decades.

“Prunier describes Somaliland’s remarkable story, but also the risks of young Somalilanders living in their parents’ “frozen dreams,” he remarks.

Dr Prunier is a renowned historian of contemporary Africa, author of The Rwanda CrisisHistory of a Genocide and editor of Understanding Contemporary Ethiopia.