One consequence of the collapse of the Somali nation-state was the creation of political fiefdoms under the tutelage of powerful militias and warlords. Some of these entities unilaterally declared independence, while others claimed to be, at least in theory, to be part of Somalia. One such entity that claimed to be part of Somalia is the self-styled “Puntland State”.

The creation of Puntland eleven years ago, just like Somaliland a few years earlier, was the result of the never-ending scramble and partition of Somalia. While many people did not welcome another creation of a micro-state in Somalia, the founding of Puntland was a noble idea for various reasons. First of all, it stressed the concept of one Somalia and never advocated for secessionism in one form or another. Second, it acted as a catalyst or a bulwark against the secessionist creation of Somaliland. The founding of Puntland has without doubt put into disarray Somaliland’s ambition of receiving a speedy recognition. For better or worse, Puntland added an extra layer of complication to the geopolitical landscape in Somalia. Third, the creation of Puntland at the height of the Somali civil war should have made life easier for Somalis everywhere who were looking for a safe, stable, peaceful, and prosperous place to settle or invest. Fourth, the creation of Puntland at a time of brutal clan warfare should have been the harbinger of clan harmony and the peaceful co-existence of Somali clans and sub-clans. In addition, it should have heralded the revival of Somali patriotism and nationhood.

While I was on the process of writing this essay, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) released a damning report on Puntland, titled, “Somalia: The Trouble with Puntland”. The report largely centers on the issues of insecurity, piracy, and governance. The report states, in part, ‘Puntland’s founding a decade ago was an ambitious experiment to create from the bottom up a polity that might ultimately offer a template for replication in the rest of the country, especially the war-scarred south. But Puntland is no longer a shining example, and its regime is in dire straits, with most of the blame resting squarely on the political leadership. In a major shift from the traditional unionist position officially adopted in 1998, an important segment of the Majerten elite is pushing for secession. If a wide variety of grievances are not urgently tackled in a comprehensive manner, the consequences could be severe for the whole of Somalia and the Horn of Africa”.

While some of the things mentioned in the report are things that should concern every Somali, most of the report misses the mark. The ICG’s expectations of Puntland or its recommendations are ambitious, and in fact, unrealistic. For example, does the ICG really expect free and fair elections in Puntland anytime soon? Do they really expect an independent judiciary, an independent electoral commission, or an independent anti-corruption authority competent to investigate and prosecute officials? Do they really expect an accountable and graft-free system in Puntland? Tell that to Kenya or Nigeria. Kenya and Nigeria are just two examples of countries in Africa that after nearly half a century of self-rule are still reeling from corruption, dictatorship, cronyism, nepotism, favoritism, tribalism, and so on and so forth.

While the aforementioned are scourges that afflict the entire African continent, they are not things to be proud of or to be excused. The point I am trying to make is that the trouble with Puntland are much bigger or deeper than those mentioned by the ICG or those that affect other parts of Africa. The main trouble with Puntland is the lack of political recognition and territorial integrity, coincidentally, the same predicaments faced by their brethren in Somaliland. Some might see Puntland as a reality on the ground, to others it is just an imagination of the mind. I will come back to the issues of recognition and border disputes later. First I want to address as to how Puntland went astray from the original ideals I mentioned earlier.

First, Puntland is endangering the concept of one Somalia. While in previous years the leaders and officials in Puntland never wavered from the concept of a unified “federal” Somalia, nowadays there are whispers or even threats of secessionism. In addition, while Puntland claims to be a “State” within a Federal Republic of Somalia, modeled on the likes of the United States and Australia, in reality, it acts as if it were an independent country. For instance, have you ever wondered, if Puntland is a province or a state within Somalia, why does it have a “president”? Also, aren’t immigration, foreign affairs, and defense portfolios reserved for a Federal Government? Does Puntland realize that a Federal constitution supersedes a state constitution? Then why does Puntland deal with these issues and draft a constitution that seems to undermine a future Somali constitution or contradict the concept of Federalism?

I know some people will claim that since there is no strong Federal Government in Somalia, Puntland is forced to deal with these issues for political survival. While that may be a legitimate claim, Puntland is not putting any effort, at least publicly, to strengthen the feeble federal government that exists today. In fact, it seems Puntland is trying to sabotage the weak government in Mogadishu. For example, does Puntland have the right to enter treaties and agreements with other nations, or oil concessions and contracts with international companies without the knowledge or approval of a Federal government? In recent years, the Puntland authorities tried to give oil concessions without even the consent of the local population. This kind of greed and arrogance creates animosities and mistrusts among various clans and sub-clans and fuels the next clan warfare. The second reason as to why Puntland is deviating from its original ideal is closely related to the first. Puntland was supposed to act as a catalyst to a secessionist Somaliland, now it is more like a counterpart to Somaliland. The same reasons that made Somaliland a pariah amongst most Somalis, is being stealthily treaded by Puntland.

Thirdly, the creation of Puntland did not make life any easier for Somalis who wanted a safe, stable, peaceful, and prosperous place to settle and invest. Puntland, for the most part of its existence, failed to live to this ideal. Puntland, while relatively calm compared to the chaotic South, never enjoyed long term stability, and is not safe, peaceful or prosperous. Almost everyday, there are political assassinations, clan inspired killings, and other unexplained murders. Gangs and unregulated militias roam the towns and villages unabated. At the same time, brazen criminals hit their targets with almost certain impunity. Just recently, a senior government minister was assassinated and within days a group of Pakistani preachers were massacred inside a mosque in Galkayo. The contemptuous disregard for the rule of law has strengthened the clan allegiance. Put it another way: the loyalty for clan rather than state has weakened every law on the books. The lack of safety and security is made even more pronounced by the chronic unemployment, the ubiquitous economic recession, and the near-permanent hyperinflation. The fourth deviation from the ideal in the creation of Puntland is that rather than creating an atmosphere of unity and co-existence with the rest of Somalia, the policies and the administrative system created a wedge among Somalis. The politics of clan identity is more apparent in Puntland than anywhere else in Somalia. In Puntland, it is not “What you know” rather it is “What clan or sub-clan you belong to”.

Another issue that has created a rift among Somalis is the practice of Puntland authorities and their counterparts in Somaliland of handing political refugees and economic migrants to Ethiopia. These individuals are mostly Somalis who will be certainly jailed, tortured, or even killed. Are they not aware that it is against international law to forcibly return refugees to country of origin especially when it is certain that they will face persecution or death? Even if the individuals returned are suspects of crime, there is no extradition treaty between Somalia and Ethiopia. Puntland or Somaliland for that matter is not, as far as I know, an Ethiopian protectorate.

In reality, Puntland is a state without territory, borders, or political identity. While Somaliland claims its borders are based on colonial era British protectorate, the Puntland borders are even more precarious since they are entirely based on clan identity. These claims of Puntland have created a political impasse and strange phenomena of divided regions and towns in Somalia. For example, parts of Sool, Sanaag, and Togdheer are claimed by both Puntland and Somaliland. Similarly, one part of Mudug is claimed by Puntland while the other part is claimed by a clan. The weirdest of all, is the divided city of Galkayo.

If Puntland wants to become a viable State in Somalia, it has to abandon the idea of clan-based politics. For example, any Somali citizen of any clan or sub-clan whether born in Bosaso, Berbera, Boston, Bonn, or Bujumbura should be able to become a leader. In the United States, for example, it is very common to see individuals who were born in one state becoming a governor in another. Only short term residency is required. In fact, in some cases, individuals who were born in another country are elected governors as long as they are citizens of the country and a resident of the state. A good example is here in California, where the governor was born in Austria. Another example is the current governor of Michigan who was born in Canada. I know there is more democracy in the U.S and a two hundred year history of political maturity. The point is that if Puntland wants to become a State within a Federal Somalia, it has to act like one. Puntland is not even recognized by most Somalis let alone the international community. The best way for Puntland to garner the trust of the Somali people everywhere and gain the confidence of the outside world is to change not only its ways of doing business but also its ways of thinking.


Zakaria Farah


  1. Somali(land) should stop the illusion that they are a country, puntland atleast does not claim to be a country, what ever their short comings. So the best advice to the so called Somali(land) is to stop dream and should know they are and will remain part of Somalia.

  2. Somalia and Somaliland are 2 separate States, Puntland is a State inside Somalia. So, Somaliland si a new State and other Nations should be recognize it.

  3. I think the author of this report is lacking the objectivity of his opinion and the subject itself, as he has gone far away from the reality of background of the kind of people whom he is talking about. He must dreaming, for us "Somalis" it's a great achievement that part of a war torn country could survive and rule at least themselves traditionally and inspire a bright future with all difficulties.

    And I wonder where the writer coming from to make such a fuss!

  4. "majerteenland and issaqland are the true trouble makers and the source where all somalis hate for each-other comes from" thats true who ever said that

  5. Puntland has made considerable changes in the right direction in my mind. For one the clan based system appears to be less adhered to, despite the previous completely clan based system; they are now atleast trying to post suitably educated men in each government position. True these men and women are all from the majority clan of Puntland, however we can all agree this is a step in the right direction. It is unlikely that Somalis in Puntland will forego clannish politics this year, or that Somalis from other regions and clans would jump at the opportunity to a job opportunity or residency in Puntland as they indeed hold their own clan affiliations. However next year might just be that next step in the right direction once again lets hope!

    Somalia is a complex situation.

  6. This is how i see the future…

    Somaliland – gain independence
    Puntland – open the political gates and allow all somali tribes in their goverment preferably make Siranyo of the Kulmiye party their president.
    Moqodishu- Elect Faisa Ali warabe of the Ucid party as their president

    Then let us talk about a federal union inclusive of Ogadania, NFD, Socotra islands and Jbooti…

    I laugh when ever i see someone waving the blue flag with 5 stars — does anyone know that is originally the SNM secret flag???