In the ‘Scramble for Africa’, Puntland and Somalia were both colonized by the Italians. Somaliland, however, was known as British Somaliland and was a UK protectorate. British Somaliland was briefly independent in 1960 before unifying with Italian Somaliland to form the Somali Republic, better known as Somalia. In the mid-1980’s, the Somali Civil War began and Somalia’s president, Siad Barre, launched a number of military airstrikes in Somaliland. With anarchy and war plaguing the region, Somaliland formally split from Somalia and declared itself an independent state on May 18, 1991.
Today, Somaliland is in an unusual position. To the international community, it is seen as an autonomous region of Somalia and its independence remains unrecognized. Somalilanders, however, see their land as a sovereign country whose independence has been ignored by the rest of the world. Unlike war-torn Somalia, Somaliland has rebuilt and now has a remarkably stable political system that held peaceful elections in 2010. Without formal recognition, the economy has been forced to develop without much foreign aid and diaspora remittances have kept it afloat. The country is still extremely underdeveloped and its relative peace and security have been marred by threats and attacks by al-Shabaab, the Al-Qaeda linked Islamic extremist group operating out of southern Somalia. Overall, Somaliland is making significant strides as a young, unrecognized state in the Horn of Africa, arguably the most tumultuous region on the planet.
The population of Somaliland is about 3.5 million and the official languages are Somali, Arabic, and English. The majority of Somalilanders are Sunni Muslims. The clan system is extremely important in Somaliland and most people can trace their clan lineage back over many generations. As an unrecognized state, Somaliland has contacts with a number of countries, but there is no US or UK diplomatic presence in the country.