The tension in the air was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Neither the parade of red, white and green flags, nor the ululating women nor the presidential fanfare could mask the bitterness of Somaliland’s 25th independence celebrations on Wednesday.
Small, self-proclaimed Somaliland in the Horn of Africa declared itself independent from Somalia in 1991 but marked its silver jubilee this week to the complete indifference of an international community that has diligently ignored its claims of independence.
There was not a single foreign dignitary present in the capital Hargeisa to hear President Ahmed Silanyo’s declaration of autonomy.
“Don’t lie to yourself. The land and the people of Somaliland are not going back with Somalia. So let’s be two separate countries and peaceful neighbours,” he said.
The trappings of statehood were on full display, with the judiciary, police and army parading past the presidential palace.
“We really have been doing a good job for 25 years,” said Abdelsalam Ahmed, a young man with a Somaliland flag tied around his neck. “We’re calling the world to eyewitness the progress that Somaliland has reached.”
More than two-thirds of Somalilanders are, like Ahmed, under 25 years old and have never seen Somalia.
“We are not Somalia. Our name is Somaliland! We need to be recognised,” said Ashira, a young woman standing close to where a war memorial is topped with a Soviet-era MiG fighter jet to remind residents of the bombing of Hargeisa by Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1988.
The bombing left tens of thousands dead, levelled the city and sowed the seeds for separation and enduring anger.
“I don’t even want to go to Mogadishu. When I listen to the news, I see bombings, al-Shabaab, I’m scared. Here we have peace,” said Mohamed Fawzi, an employee of Dahabshiil, a Somaliland-based money transfer company.
Foreign minister Saad Ali Shire said the lack of international recognition is “absolutely unfair”.
“If we were recognised, which we deserved, we’d be able to access international credit, to get development aid, to attract foreign investors. Now we can’t do any of that, simply because we are not recognised.”
On May 18, 1991, Somaliland declared its independence from Somalia. Twenty-five years on, it still has not received legal recognition from the international community. After the civil war at the end of the 1980s left much of Hargeisa in ruins and its population scattered – many in refugee camps in neighbouring Ethiopia – Somaliland rebuilt itself in “extraordinary isolation.
Somaliland has demonstrated that rarest of things: self-generated post-conflict reconstruction resulting in peace, democracy and good governance without international intervention.
Since 2003, Somaliland has held a series of democratic elections resulting in orderly transfers of power, exhibiting a level of political maturity that has eluded many recognised states.
But as another anniversary passes, it seems Somaliland cannot rely on its 25-year track record to gain what it so sorely desires.