Amid the lawless bloodbath that is Somalia, the northern state of Somaliland remains a rare example of functioning democracy in the Muslim world.
Unlike the rest of Somalia, Somaliland has maintained relative stability and peace despite occasional border conflicts with the semi-autonomous Somali province of Puntland. Since its unilateral referendum on independence in 2001, Somaliland has remained dedicated to free democratic elections, as demonstrated by the presidential elections in 2003 and 2010 as well as parliamentary and local elections.
Furthermore, Somaliland has been a major partner in combating regional piracy. In 2010, Somaliland built a maximum security prison (with the help of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime) to relieve the burden of regional partners lacking the capacity and/or will to incarcerate pirates.
Despite its dedication to democracy and the rule of law, Somaliland’s independence is not internationally recognized. Though the U.S. has recognized the need for a stable area to serve as a bulwark against terrorism and an ally in fighting piracy, the Obama Administration currently follows the position of the African Union by refusing to acknowledge Somaliland’s independence, reluctant to encourage further portioning of African nations.
The presidents of Somalia and Somaliland have met in Dubai and London to discuss Somaliland’s future relations with Somalia. According to Somalia’s new constitution, Somaliland is recognized as part of Somalia, thus voiding its independence. This is a non-starter for Somaliland, as a coerced reunification would likely bring chaos rather than opportunities for growth and stability.
Recognizing Somaliland’s independence, or at least establishing some form of official representation there, would allow the U.S. to expand cooperation with Somaliland in fighting piracy, both through increased military and intelligence coordination and through increased economic development in the area, which could provide would-be pirates with legitimate employment.
Somaliland can provide a model for a stable working democracy in the region and a sign that the future in the larger area of the Horn of Africa is not without hope.
Alexander Macdonald is an intern in the Davis Policy Center at The Heritage Foundation.