Somaliland vs Somalia - The History

Somaliland is a self-declared independent republic separate in all but name from the rest of Somalia. The north west region has been a relative haven of peace from the violence and instability that have plagued southern Somalia and its capital Mogadishu. Since announcing independence in May 1991, Somaliland has been searching and in vain for recognition from the international community. Why has it succeeded in creating a functional democracy while mainland Somalia tops the list of failed states? Let’s break down the differences between Somaliland vs Somalia.

The Beginnings of A Civil War

During the colonial period, the Somali people were mainly concentrated into 3 different states. Modern day Djibouti was French Somaliland, the British controlled Somaliland & southern Somalia was Italian Somaliland. After gaining independence, British and Italian Somaliland united to form the Somali Republic in 1960.

In 1969 a coup d’état brought Major General Mohamed Siad Barre to power. In 1977 Barre sought to unite the Somali peoples around the horn of Africa. He invaded the “Ogaden” region of Ethiopia but was spectacularly defeated by a USSR backed Ethiopian regime. Cracks had started to appear in Somali unity.

Somaliland fisherman in Berbera
Somali fish shop in coastal Berbera

A Somali National Movement

The Somali National Movement (SNM) was born out of the North West Isaaq clan. The areas became a stronghold of opposition to Barre’s continued persecution. By 1988 Barre decided to bomb the northern city of Hargeisa due to the increased resistance. The Somali Civil War had begun. There continued a relentless counterinsurgency by the Barre regime against the SNM and a genocide against the Isaaq clan amongst others. Up to 200,000 civilians were killed and another 400,000 displaced to Ethiopia.

Barre perceived every member of the Isaaq clan as a SNM member. He flattened northern cities with relentless bombing campaigns and his death squads went from village to village burying people in mass graves.

Self Recognition

The Barre regime eventually collapsed in January 1991 and people in the north could return and rebuild their homes. Somaliand declared it’s independence on May 15th 1991 from the city of Burao and elected it’s first democratic president years later in 2003. It has it’s own police force, army, border controls and currency. Effectively it is fully independent functioning state, but without international recognition. 

Why is recognition not forthcoming?

A number of reasons. Perhaps Somaliland does not have enough natural resources for it to be important enough. Maybe recognising it would undermine international efforts to form a stable & lasting government in Mogadishu. Or possibly the African Union just doesn’t want to encourage active independence movements in their own countries.

Somaliland girl
Somali girl at a camel market in Hargeisa

Left in the Cold

Somaliland faces many problems due to the lack of recognition by the UN. International aid is routed through Mogadishu, 900 miles to the south. Bilateral aid delivery is almost impossible. The country is cut off from the World Bank which offers desperately needed loans to developing nations. This is the price Somaliland is paying for it’s peace and stability.

While hope for a fully independent Somaliland remains slim, it remains an open, safe & fascinating place for travel.

Rocky Road Travel offers tours there every May for the independence day celebrations. We also offer tours to the Somali capital – Check out our Mogadishu Tour here.

Rocky road travel founder Shane Horan at the DMZ


When Shane is not endlessly writing award winning content for Rocky Road, he’s usually kayaking to and from work along Berlin’s River Spree.