Monday, June 28, 2010

Somaliland: An Election Without A Country

What if they held an election, but nobody noticed?

That is the situation faced by Somaliland, which held, by all accounts, a fair and largely peaceful election this past weekend to elect a president for a country, which according to the rest of the world, doesn’t exist.

Like you might guess from the name, Somaliland is part of Somalia (specifically, the northwestern most quarter of the nation); Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 after Somalia’s dictator Siad Barre was overthrown. The circumstances of the two places have diverged widely since then: while Somalia has spent the last two decades being fought over by warlords, pirates, Islamic militants and foreign troops; Somaliland has been relatively peaceful and stable. Somaliland operates its own government, military forces and even issues its own currency – it is a functioning nation in just about every way that matters, except that no nation on Earth recognizes their claim of independence, citing the need to respect Somalia’s “territorial integrity” (two of Somaliland’s neighbors – Djibouti and Eritrea maintain informal relations with the Somaliland government, but have not recognized their independence).

Despite this, Somaliland has continued to hold elections for the office of president, including the one held this past weekend. Three candidates were on the ballot, including current President Dahir Riyale Kahin; the vote tally is not expected for several days, though the results are expected to be close. The International Republican Institute, a US-based organization, provided election monitors who reported few irregularities in Sunday’s voting. There were however, some reports of violence at a few voting stations in a disputed area claimed by both Somaliland and another quasi-independent region of Somalia, Puntland; one incident left four people dead. If the name Puntland sounds familiar, it is because it has been in the news recently for its status as a haven for both Somali pirates and Islamic militant groups like al-Shabab, who were blamed for the attack on the polling station, supposedly in an effort to disrupt the Somaliland election.

But maybe that just furthers the case for actually recognizing Somaliland as an independent nation? After all, shouldn’t the people of Somaliland receive some credit for operating a stable “country” in the midst of the chaos that is Somalia today? It would seem like any stability that can be brought to that region of the world should be encouraged, not ignored in favor of the idea of “territorial integrity” for a nation that in a very real sense doesn’t exist.
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