The poverty of entitlement (1)
Somaliland yesterday celebrated 20 years of independence from a united Somalia in an explosion of public celebration and popular nationalism. Somaliland’s secession came after the ultimate failure of the wider Somali nation state experiment in the wake of the Cold War, and the political marginalization and military repression perpetrated by the southern based government on the northern former British protectorate. Given this previous colonial cartographic designation Somaliland today talks not of a moment of independence achieved in 1991 but instead of the reclamation of independence which was initially given after decolonization from the British and before the entering into union with Southern (Italian)Somalia.
If that’s the history then the present is defined by the popular sentiment here that Somaliland deserves recognition given its stability and the political, economic achievements which it has made over the last two decades. Unfortunately for Somaliland the gift of international legitimacy from an international community composed of nation states for whom ‘legitimacy’ (whatever that means) was usually not a defining criteria of their formation or maintenance usually has little to do with what is ‘legitimately’ deserved. Democratic systems, law enforcement, foreign investment are nice and all, but are always trumped by the considerations of grim real-politick and geo-strategic interests of the powerful.
South Sudanese independence is now presented as the precedent set for future recognition of Somaliland. The last thing the African Union wants to do with South Sudan is create a precedent – given that that’s the prime reason why petty much all secessionist movements on the African continent have been prevented in the post-colonial era. There are powerful interests at work in the international pressure which has been levied against Khartoum to push for the breakup of Sudan (which is not to say that the people of the South don’t deserve freedom from a repressive and unrepresentative government in the North) and these interests simply don’t exist in relation to little old Somaliland. The eminently sensible argument put forward that recognition ofSomaliland enhances the security of the region (and Western ideological interests) by empowering a ‘moderate’ Islamic democracy in the supremely fragmented and volatile Horn of Africa is so well worn these days that it doesn’t even seem to have much currency any more.