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Somaliland: Africa’s Horn Breakaway State

The would-be independent state of Somaliland strikes a contrast with Somalia as a place of relative stability, and despite its lack of international recognition, Somaliland continues to push its own foreign policy. Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991, but no country has recognized its sovereignty in the decades since. Despite its lack of international legitimacy, the coastal territory has a relatively stable democracy and is attracting major foreign investors. Tensions between Somaliland and Somalia have grown in recent years as the breakaway region pursues its own investment deals and asserts its sovereignty claims.


Somaliland has been a self-governing region of Somalia for more than three decades, but its claim of independence is not recognized by Mogadishu or any foreign government. While this has limited Somaliland‘s access to international markets, it has not prevented the breakaway state from making steady democratic gains. Some analysts say Somaliland, which has a distinct history and remains more stable than the rest of Somalia, has a strong case for independence. Others fear that international recognition would encourage other secessionist movements in Africa. In recent years, Somaliland has unilaterally struck major port investment deals with foreign powers, including Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), raising tensions with Somalia and further provoking frictions in the broader Horn of Africa region.

Where is Somaliland?

Somaliland is part of Somalia and the larger Horn of Africa region. It has hundreds of miles of coastline along the Gulf of Aden to the north, and it borders Ethiopia to the south and west and Djibouti to the northwest. Puntland, a semiautonomous state of Somalia that lies due east, disputes some of Somaliland‘s territorial claims.

What is its political status?

Somaliland broke ties with Somalia’s government in Mogadishu after declaring independence in 1991, and has sought international recognition as an independent state since then. No foreign government recognizes its sovereignty, but many effectively acknowledge the region as separate from Somalia. It has held its own democratic elections since 2003, and in 2010 it saw a largely peaceful transfer of power to the opposition Peace, Unity, and Development Party. The United States, France, the United Kingdom, and the European Union (EU) sent delegations to observe Somaliland‘s 2017 presidential election. Somaliland postponed its 2022 election and extended President Muse Bihi Abdi’s term by two years, citing financial constraints; its next vote is currently set for November 13, 2024.


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