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In Africa, What Does It Take To Be A Country? Washingtonpost.com USA 02 January, 2004
    At least a small part of the future of Africa is being played out in
    Somaliland, the northwest portion of Somalia that declared its independence
    in 1991. In its bustling but impoverished capital of Hargeysa, the most
    striking contrast with most African cities is the sense of order. Police --
    who, given their salaries, are almost volunteers -- stand in the hot sun
    and direct obedient drivers. Money-changers sit on the side of the street
    with huge piles of cash visible, waiting for customers.
    
    Order is supposed to be the defining characteristic of a state, but
    Somaliland is recognized by no country in the world as a sovereign entity.
    Instead, the world insists on clinging to the fiction that Somalia has a
    government that rules over a united territory. Understanding why the world
    pretends that Somaliland does not exist tells us much about the foibles of
    the international politics of recognition.
    
    Somaliland was a British protectorate during the colonial period. In 1960,
    during the rush to decolonization, Somaliland was independent for five days
    before joining with former Italian Somaliland to create the Somali
    Republic. In 1989 the government of thug-President Mohamed Siad Barre
    declared war on Somaliland because of fears that the Somalilanders wanted
    to go it alone. Government fighters, taking off from the Hargeysa airport,
    systematically bombed the city, destroying just about every building. In an
    event all but unnoticed by the international community, 50,000 people were
    killed and approximately 500,000 of the population of 2 million became
    refugees in neighboring Ethiopia.
    
    For several years, strife and conflict continued, but Somaliland
    persevered. Order was gradually restored and a government formed; the
    refugees returned and embarked on a long process of rebuilding. In 2001, 98
    percent of voters opted in a free and fair election for a new constitution
    that boldly proclaimed the case for independence. Somaliland then had
    successful, internationally monitored, local council elections in 2002 and
    a free and fair presidential election in April 2003. The presidential
    election was most notable because the ruling UDUB party, led by President
    Dahir Rayale Kahin, won by only 217 votes out of almost 500,000 cast. The
    opposition party KULMIYE challenged the tally but, in a moment of
    extraordinary responsibility given Somalia's history of having weapons
    resolve almost every conflict, eventually accepted the results. Somaliland
    is planning parliamentary elections this year (the legislature is currently
    appointed). At that point, it will have a far more impressive democracy
    than most African countries.
    
    One would think that the natural response of the outside world to the
    extraordinary accomplishments of the Somalilanders would be respect and
    recognition, especially because Somalia still does not have a government
    and is still in absolute ruins a decade after one of the most expensive
    humanitarian interventions in history. That is not the logic of the Horn of
    Africa. About the only thing that the southern Somalis can agree on is that
    they do not want Somaliland to secede. The rest of Africa has not been of
    any more help. One of the decisions that African leaders took at
    independence was to retain the irrational boundaries they had received from
    colonialists, because they could not think of anything better and because
    they thought that any credence given to self-determination would cause the
    continent to descend into chaos. The permanence of boundaries has become a
    major asset for African leaders who do not have to prove that they control
    their territories or even that they are a legitimate government in order to
    be granted international recognition and sovereign equality.
    
    The Somalilanders made their own peace without the benefit of international
    mediators and conflict resolution experts. Of course, they still face
    extraordinary problems. Literacy may only be 30 percent; education for
    girls is left to Koranic schools; significant parts of the government are
    corrupt; just about all men have weapons at home and a good many of them
    spend much of their income and afternoons chewing kat leaves, an addictive
    stimulant imported from Ethiopia. In addition, the recent killing of an
    Italian nurse and a British couple raised concerns across Somaliland that
    it is still vulnerable to terrorist attacks from those who are determined
    not to let secession go forward.
    
    Nevertheless, recognizing Somaliland would be a strong signal to the rest
    of Africa that performance matters and that sovereignty granted in the
    1960s will not be an excuse to fail forever. Few regions of any African
    country actually want to secede; thus the world could recognize the
    achievements and legal idiosyncrasies of Somaliland without experiencing
    massive disruptions of Africa's map. The Somalilanders, almost unanimously,
    ask what more they can do when the international community continues to
    recognize Liberia, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of the Congo and other
    anarchic, violent places as sovereign units. It is time to give them an
    answer.
    
    Jeffrey Herbst is chairman of the department of politics at Princeton
    University.
    
    
    
     

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