Explainer: Is Somaliland a republic?

Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi is in Kenya for a three-day state visit, and there is much controversy around the question of whether Somaliland- an autonomous region in northern Somalia- that has been seeking statehood for close to three decades is a self-declared republic.

Well, to put the matter into context- after a civil war, north-west Somalia broke away from the rest of the country and declared itself independent 29 years ago and called itself Somaliland.

Here is an explainer.

Somalia and Somaliland Independence

For a week it fully recognised by the international community, including the UN.

According to an article in The Guardian in 2018, On June n26, 1960, the former Protectorate of Somaliland became fully independent from British rule. Its independence was recognised by 35 countries, including the US.

The next day, its new legislature passed a law approving a union with the south. On 1 July, Somalia became independent from Italy, and the two were joined together. It is a decision Somaliland has regretted almost ever since.

Separation from Somalia

Difficulties emerged almost immediately, and just a year after independence, voters in the north rejected a new constitution. The marriage was off to a rocky start. Things would go from bad to worse in 1969 when an officers’ coup brought a general named Siad Barre to power.

Somaliland declared its independence from the failed state of Somalia in 1991, but the world continues to ignore the declaration.

Somalia’s position on Somaliland is that there is only Somalia and that Somaliland is a federal state under the Federal Government of Somalia, many Somalilanders disagree- they consider themselves an independent republic.

With a population of more than 3.5 million Somalilanders, the breakaway, semi-desert territory has a working political system, government institutions, a police force and its own currency.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and His Excellency Musa Bihi Abdi, President of Somaliland hold bilateral talks between Kenya and Somaliland at State House, Nairobi. on December 14, 2020. Angered by Kenya's cooperation with Somaliland, Somalia, which doesn't recognise Somaliland's sovereignty, has severed her diplomatic ties with Kenya. [PSCU, Standard]

Peace Stability and Economy

Worth noting- Somaliland has peace and relative stability. BBC Africa editor Mary Harper in 2016, as a frequent visitor said that you can’t compare Hargeisa and Mogadishu, the latter is worse.

‘’As a western journalist, I cannot move without six heavily-armed bodyguards, racing around in a two-vehicle convoy, hidden behind blacked-out windows. When I am in Mogadishu, there are often suicide bombings, mortar raids and grenade attacks,’’ explained Harper in an article.

She further adds, in Hargeisa- the capital of Somaliland, I walk around on my own, even at night.

On matters economy, Somaliland largely relies on primary production such as livestock and agriculture. The break-away territory has a gross domestic product (GDP) of about US$2 billion as of 2019, most of which it receives remittances from Somalilanders working abroad.

Somaliland modern Berbera port positions the self-declared republic as a major regional trade hub servicing the Horn of Africa.

Somaliland operates its own currency, the Somaliland shilling, which cannot easily be exchanged outside Somaliland on account of the nation’s lack of recognition.


Somaliland has held several peaceful elections in which losing sides have handed over power.

The break-away state transitioned to multi-party democracy in 2002. Muse Bihi Abdi is the current President; he came to power in 2017, the president is the head of the executive. Legislative power is held by a bicameral parliament- upper and lower house while the Judiciary is divided into district courts, regional courts, regional appeal courts and the supreme court.

A Somaliland map by Google.

Foreign Relations and International recognition

Somaliland is not recognized and does not receive much outside help. But it has built itself up from the devastation of civil war.

Hargeisa is not eligible for loans that the World Bank makes to the poor nations because it is not officially recognized as a country.

And as Somaliland continues to be tarnished by its former partners' woes, Hargeisa continues to increase its bid for international recognition, much to the humiliation of Mogadishu.

Somaliland enjoys a cordial relationship with the Horn of Africa countries like Ethiopia and Djibouti.

It has established diplomatic missions with diplomats in the western nations and Africa.

A recent development from Kenya after President Uhuru Kenyatta held talks with his Somaliland counterpart Muse Bihi is that Nairobi will establish a consulate in Hargeisa by March 2021.

Along with the United Nations, the African Union also does not recognize Somaliland as a state.