Stabilizing the Horn

STRASBOURG – After almost two decades as a failed state torn by civil war, perhaps the world should begin to admit that Somalia – as it is currently constructed – is beyond repair.

Some of the country, however, can meet at least a basic standard of governance. The northernmost region, Somaliland, situated strategically at the opening to the Red Sea and home to roughly 3.5 million of Somalia’s 10 million people, is more or less autonomous and stable. But this stability fuels fears that Somaliland’s people will activate the declaration of independence they adopted in 1991.

At the end of September, Somaliland will hold its third presidential election, the previous two having been open and competitive. Unlike many developing countries, it will welcome foreign observers to oversee the elections, though, unfortunately, most Western countries and agencies will stay away, lest their presence be seen as legitimizing Somaliland’s de facto government.

But Somaliland’s strategic position near the world’s major oil-transport routes, now plagued by piracy, and chaos in the country’s south, mean that independence should no longer be dismissed out of hand. Indeed, following a fact-finding mission in 2007, a consensus is emerging within the EU that an African Union country should be the first to recognize Somaliland’s independence. A 2005 report by Patrick Mazimhaka, a former AU deputy chairman, provides some leeway for this, as Mazimhaka pointed out that the union in 1960 between Somaliland and Somalia, following the withdrawal of the colonial powers (Britain and Italy), was never formally ratified.