Friday, January 07, 2005

Somaliland: Somalia Part II

What is Somaliland? Don't be embarrassed if you don't know. Very few people know, and that is the beginning of the problem.
Richard Rahn, in The Washington Times, provides some great detail on a topic Observantly Observed just two weeks ago. Following a brief history of the region, he raises some important questions:

To this day, Somalia remains a failed state whose government is only recognized by a handful of countries (all African). Anarchy is an apt description of the state of affairs in Somalia.

Meanwhile, Somaliland worked its way toward creating a real government and at least a recognizable (if not perfect) democracy. In 2001, Somaliland held a referendum that approved a constitution and reaffirmed its independence. Ninety-seven percent of the voters approved the constitution, and two-thirds of eligible voters participated....

Here we have a black African, moderate Islamic country with a positive attitude toward the West, that protects women's rights, is willing to help in the war on terrorism, and is slowly building democratic and free market institutions, which is what we say we want. Yet, again it is important to repeat that no country has recognized Somaliland. How ironic....

The problem is geopolitical reality. The U.S. and Britain are reluctant to recognize Somaliland before some of its African neighbors, because it is a breakaway state. Most African rulers are very reluctant to begin changing the borders of African countries because they fear where it might lead, even though they realize most of the borders were created arbitrarily by European colonialists....

Before the colonial period, there was no Somali state, and Somaliland was under British rule for 80 years. They argue their situation is not really all that different from the Baltic States or the now independent countries that made up the former Yugoslavia. Without diplomatic recognition, Somaliland cannot join international trade organizations and has difficulty attracting foreign investment.

Rahn concludes that speedy recognition is necessary to prevent radical Islam from taking advantage of the situation as well as to reward Somaliland for its progress.

The comparison to Yugoslavia is particularly appropriate. When I briefly researched the topic for an international law paper (before turning instead to pirates), I was lead to the conclusion that the essential difference is that Somaliland is not in Europe. That's a bit simple, of course, since the "West" did not recognize every Balkan secession (Krajina, for example) - but geography remains the clearest distinction.

This leaves us with the question of reflexively accepting colonial boundaries. How valid can concerns about "stability" be when applied to countries that have spent much of their independent existence living under dictators or engaged in civil wars? After decades of internal strife, a little instability might even be a good thing.

No comments: