Somalia’s president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed,
and prime minister, Abidweli Mohamed Ali, in London
Then, in 1969 the elected president was killed in a coup d’état led by Mohamed Siad Barre, who replaced its parliament and constitution with a Communist dictatorship as the Somali Democratic Republic. When Selassie was deposed in a Marxist coup in 1974, the Soviet Union found Ethiopia’s new dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam a more ideological and congenial client and shifted its resources and support from Somalia to Ethiopia. This led to Somalia’s unsuccessful war against Ethiopia in 1977 to try to annex the Ogaden, an ethnically Somali landlocked desert region which lies mostly on the Ethiopian side of the border. The 1980s laid the Horn of Africa low with a devastating depression and famine, and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 bled a lot of development money from the region.
Mohamed Siad Barre, hero of the people
1992: the U.S. Marines, welcomed as liberators—or not
The flags of the Republic of Somalia (left) and the Puntland State of Somalia
Approximate area controled by the Sool, Sanaag, and Cyn State of Somalia.
Map of Somalia today—or at least a few months ago.
The emergent Sool, Sanaag, and Cyn State is not shown here.
Kenyan tanks on their way to Somalia last year
Map showing how one Canadian firm plans to carve up the region
Traditionally, I think, the West has feared that formalizing Somaliland’s status might embolden other, less well formed statelets elsewhere in Somalia to seek the same recognition—and some of them may be Islamist regimes that it would be harder to justify saying no to. And attempting to fold Puntland into a more functional federation of self-governing states might bring those different pseudo-states to a state of war if they suddenly have to hammer out a shared government, with their different ethnic, clan, and sectarian values. The West has simply long accepted the fact that Somaliland and Puntland are de facto stable and sovereign but need not be de jure independent, while the rest of Somalia is a basket case where the most one can do is keep al-Qaeda from gaining a foothold. Compared to Somaliland and Puntland, the rest of Somalia has no significant resources anyway—just problems.
But now things have started to change. The establishment of Awdalland has destabilized Somaliland, and now the president of Djibouti, Ismail Omar Gelle, a member of the Issa ethnic group, is retaliating in a water dispute with Somaliland by setting up a rival pseudo-state run by his clan coalition, called the Saylac and Lughaye State of Somalia, in the Awdal vicinity. Military conflicts are erupting in Somaliland’s Buhoodle region, where Ogaden National Liberation Front fighters from Ethiopia are trying to establish a safe haven on the Somaliland side of the border. The Puntland-based Golis Ranges Islamists militia has now allied itself with al-Shabaab—and, thus, with al-Qaeda—with the explicit goal of disrupting Puntland’s ascendant economy. Instability is also growing in the areas controlled by the S.S.C. (some of it described recently in this blog). If these crises grow, then the lucrative oil deals in Somaliland and Puntland, and their ability to keep their waters relatively pirate-free will be under threat. The U.S., U.N., and U.K. have not yet begun to confront this reality. But when the oil and other development firms start complaining that the area has become harder to operate in, believe me: the West will suddenly see stabilizing the north as a priority. That will mean admitting the tack so far has been wrong. I personally think they can manage that.
Informal militias operating in Somalia’s Buhoodle region
Edna Adan Ismail, Somaliland’s foreign minister, with her nation’s flag