Somaliland: A Land in Limbo (Part I)

It's a disconcerting experience to report from a place that doesn't exist. 18-years ago Somaliland broke away from Somalia, its bigger, nastier neighbor. While that benighted nation has continued its descent into chaos, death and mayhem Somaliland has kept the peace and built a likeness of democracy.

But as Somalia's anarchy is showered with money Somaliland is diligently ignored. In April donor nations pledged another $213-million to the besieged Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu, that's roughly seven times the annual budget of Somaliland's entire government.

The reason is that Somaliland is unrecognized. It has most of the trappings of the modern nation-state: army, government bureaucracy, parliament and (limited) multi-party political system, legal system and functioning economy.

But not a single country in the world accepts Somaliland's existence. The question constantly asked by politicians, businessmen, civil society activists, street traders and school children alike is, "Why?"

In the mean time Somaliland struggles on, isolated from the international financial institutions that could help transform the lives of its dirt poor people.

Part of the problem is that this chunk of stultifying semi-desert squeezed between Djibouti, Ethiopia, northern Somalia and the Gulf of Aden has little to offer the world: there are lots of sheep and goats, and maybe a little oil and some minerals but nothing much else.

In the absence of valuable resources Somaliland has to fall back on moral arguments – we are good neighbors, we are a stable country in a notoriously tough region, we are trying to be a good democracy, they say.

But moral arguments don't carry much weight in the world of global realpolitik: Somalilanders (as they call themselves) can expect to be waiting a good while longer before the world accepts that they exist.