Somaliland: breakaway region trading sea access for recognitionTue, 02 Jan 2024 16:46:15 GMT

The breakaway Somali territory of Somaliland has grabbed headlines by agreeing to give landlocked Ethiopia, a traditional rival of Somalia, access to the Red Sea.The move, which has infuriated Mogadishu, is part of Somaliland’s three-decade-old campaign to win support for its independence claim.Somaliland president Muse Bihi Abdi said that in return for sea access, Ethiopia would become the first nation to “extend international recognition for our country”, although this has not been confirmed by Addis Ababa.Here is some background about the former British protectorate of around 4.5 million people which lies in the Horn of Africa on the Gulf of Aden.- Breakaway republic -Days after gaining independence from Britain in 1960, Somaliland became part of the larger neighbouring former Italian colony of Somalia.But in 1991, the territory about the size of England and Wales broke away from Somalia after the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre following years of civil war.Mogadishu fiercely opposed the secessionist move, which went unrecognised internationally, but the Republic of Somaliland’s inhabitants overwhelmingly backed independence in a referendum in 2001.The territory has its own constitution, security forces, government, currency (the shilling) and green, white and red flag.- Exports on the hoof – Somaliland is one of the poorest regions in the world in per-capita GDP terms but benefits from its strategic position on one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, at the entrance to the Bab-al-Mandeb strait which controls access to the Red Sea.Duties from the port of Berbera, a regional shipping centre, constitute one of the government’s main sources of income. One of its main exports are sheep and goats, which are shipped live through Berbera to Gulf countries for slaughter ahead of the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha.In 2018, Ethiopia took a 19-percent stake in the port — operated and majority owned by Dubai’s DP World — although the deal has since lapsed.- Relatively stable -Somaliland has for years been seen as a beacon of stability in a chaotic region, a counterpoint to Somalia which has been plagued by civil war and an Islamist insurgency since 2007.But in the past two years, political tensions have risen.Several opposition supporters were killed during demonstrations in 2022 over the government’s failure to organise new presidential elections as Abdi’s five-year term drew to a close.His mandate was later extended until late 2024 by a non-elected gathering of clan elders.The territory has repeatedly clashed with the adjacent Somali region of Puntland, which is self-governed but does not aspire to independence.In February 2023, scores of people were killed in clashes between government forces and clan militia loyal to Somalia in Las Anod, a city claimed by both Somaliland and Puntland.Deadly fighting also erupted in August between Somaliland troops and clan militias.- Rock art -Some of the oldest and the best-preserved rock paintings in Africa are to be found at Laas Geel, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Somaliland’s capital Hargeisa.The galaxy of colourful animal and human sketches was drawn between 3,500 and 2,500 BC, with Laas Geel meaning “camel watering hole” in the Somali language.