HARGEISA, 28 November 2009 (Somalilandpress) – As part of my travel reading on last month’s Horn of Africa expedition, I purchased Mark Bradbury’s Becoming Somaliland. At least in Uganda’s book stores, this appears to be the best comprehensive overview of the new breakaway republic. It is a part of the excellent “African Issues” series, which includes some of my other favorite books on the continent (Paul Richards’s Fighting for the Rainforest: War, Youth & Resources in Sierra Leone and Alex De Waal’s Famine Crimes: Politics & the Disaster Relief Industry in Africa are both must-reads). The book was published in 2008, but Bradbury’s fieldwork seems to have ended in about 2006, already making the book a bit dated in this volatile region of the country.

Overall, the book provides a nice concise history of colonial Somaliland, the brief period of a united Somaliland, the oppressive rule of autocrat Siyad Barre, the succeeding bloody civil war that led to Somaliland’s 1991 declaration of independence, and the territory’s subsequent years of struggle to rebuild and become an internationally recognized democracy (to date, no other country in the world recognizes Somaliland as its own country).

Somalia’s history is heavily rooted in clan identities and politics–both in creating conflicts, and as Bradbury argues, solving conflicts in Somaliland. The book spends a lot of time attempting to delineate relationships and grievances between clans, sub-clans and clan families; I found many of these genealogies distracting. However, the way the clan structure has been melded with democratic governance is one of the most impressive aspects of Somaliland’s development. There is a bicameral legislature with an upper house of clan elders (which actually now has a fascinating website: www.guurti.org; the “About Us section is all in English) and a lower house of publicly elected representatives. A president from a minority clan leads the country and three peaceful elections, including one peaceful transfer of presidential power, demonstrate a remarkable commitment to peace and security.

Peace and security are nothing to sneeze at, but Bradbury notes that it is not enough. Generating revenue, creating a regulated economy and providing social services, including health care and education are essential for a sovereign country to provide. However, in many of the post-conflict settings where I have worked or traveled (Sierra Leone, northern Uganda, Rwanda), international aid has been an essential part of the recovery. Because of the international community’s resistance to accept Somaliland as independent (with visions of someday reuniting a greater Somalia), this aid has not been forthcoming–very few international organizations are providing anything beyond relief work in the country.

Bradbury argues that the lack of aid may initially have helped Somalia to form its own government, generate strong nationalist feelings and create a local commitment to the new nation’s success. This is in stark contrast to Southern Somalia, where more than 15 international piece conferences have been held outside of Somalia, funded by international donors. But while Somaliland has achieved relative stability (the oft-postponed presidential election now due in early 2010 can give plenty of reasons for pause), substantial foreign assistance will be necessary for the territory to improve its human development indicators.

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The greater concern is whether this relatively small and barren new nation has the potential to become economically self-sufficient at some point in the future (especially if remittances, which currently provide a major source of national income, diminish over time). Bradbury argues that it is possible, but predicates that argument on the country receiving international recognition so that foreign investors can confidently explore natural resource and industrial opportunities and the country’s deep water port can become a Free Trade Zone. This is an important question–it would be terrible to create an independent country that could never have the capacity for self subsistence–but I was struck by the entrepreneurial spirit I observed in Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa. It doesn’t seem far-fetched to think that with sustained investment, industry, animal husbandry and even tourism could become viable economic sectors.

Bradbury is a strong advocate of Somaliland independence and this agenda shows. For example, he takes pains to minimize the influence of radical Islam within Somaliland, claiming that despite noting that an Islamic revival is present, “the influence of political and reformist Islamist groups has, to date, been very limited.” Perhaps the Islamic revival is just very powerful, but the society I saw was a very conservative society. Though people in the streets vehemently eschewed jihad, the influence of Islam is almost overwhelming. Women are required to be covered at all times, Western music and dancing are illegal, alcohol is strictly banned in the country, shari’a law is taught at the government universities. Though I heard about a number of Somalilanders who were opposed to the increasingly strict religious practices, no one would publicly admit such a thing. Despite the peace and security, Somaliland is the only place in Africa where I have been readily told on the street several times that I would go to hell unless I converted to Islam.

One observation Bradbury makes repeatedly is how strongly Somalilanders feel about their nationalist identity. I readily agree with this statement–I’ve never seen such vehement nationalist sentiment. This bodes well for national unity, but the universally expressed mixture of disgust and hatred with the rest of Somalia also strikes me as problematic. Such feelings are perhaps understandable from the generation that lived through the civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of northern Somalis. However, raising today’s youth to hold the same beliefs can hardly be constructive. Some day the chaos of Mogadishu and Southern Somalia will end, and if Somaliland hopes to enjoy long-term success, they will have to learn to cooperate with their much larger neighbors.

Somaliland, in creating a peaceful and stable territory surrounded by instability, developing a functioning democratic government with enforced rule of law and beginning to resurrect an economy and basic social services, has doubtlessly come a long way. Especially given that the chances of reuniting with Somalia are almost zero in the near future and that forcing the issue could prevent any functional cooperation between the nations, Somaliland has probably earned the right to be internationally recognized as an independent state. But it would behoove the nascent country to remember that while nationalism is a strong tool to propel development, raising youth with beliefs of unquestioned superiority of the state, unquestioned devotion to Islam, and no strong education system to teach about the world outside of Somaliland is likely to create a radicalized, isolated and permanently impoverished country–far from the visions that both youth and elders elucidate for their country.

Written by;
David Fiocco
Source: Mzungu Musings


  1. I have read and re-read this article, and I can't get Mr.Fiocco's point. Is he blaming Somaliland for being a success? Is he blaming the author for advocating Somaliland's cause?Is he blaming the youth of Somaliland for being nationalistic and patriotic to their nation? Is he blaming Somaliland for enduring 18 years of peace and progress?..What is the author main thesis?

    It is right and proper that Somaliland should be held to a higher standard that the basket case that is Somalia, but, I don't have time for "pseudo" intellectuals like Mr.Fiocco getting all their facts mixed up and without a valid point to make.

    I humbly suggest to the editorial staff at Somalilandpress that they read these kinds of article for coherence, insight and purpose before foisting it upon their readers. Just because it is in English does not mean you have publish it.

  2. belief in hell fire is there in christianity and islam this is what people belief whether they are in a rich progressive city like dudai or poor country like somaliland but how rude of those people to tell it to you to your face ? im sure if didnt keep asking them that question they would only done the islamic thing and welcomed you as the quran says there is no compulsion in religion ( i think that was your experience) .Your point would have been valid if it was some islamic milia you were probing not hoest folks who were giving you a basic fact about a basic tenent in both islam and christianity. Nice try