For The Somaliland National Team, Recognition Means More Than Acclaim
In representing a country that remains unrecognised by the international community, the Somaliland national team are making a statement both on and off the pitch.
Photos by author
Over on the south side of Dulwich Park, where middle-class couples go on romantic bike rides and young professionals dandle their children as they chatter idly at the Pavilion Cafe, a football match is taking place. Though played to the same backdrop of parkland and dense green foliage, the scene contrasts markedly with the genteel Saturday afternoons being had only a few hundred yards away. Contesting the game are Peckham Town, a non-league outfit who usually play in the Kent County Football League Premier, and a side whose white shirts and green shorts reflect the colours of their national flag. This is the Somaliland national team, and they are here to represent a country that the international community does not recognise.
When Barre’s regime fell owing to pressure from various rebel groups in the south, the brutal treatment of Somaliland at the hands of his forces no doubt helped to foment a desire for independence. While the southern regions of Somalia have subsequently been plagued by further conflict, chaotic government, tribal tensions and fundamentalist terrorism, Somaliland has experienced a sustained period of relative stability and peace. It has its own currency, judiciary, army and police force, a workable state apparatus and a fledgling multi-party democratic system, making it considerably more functional than many of its regional counterparts. Drought conditions and fears of famine have made life in certain parts of Somaliland much more perilous in recent times, but the overall picture since their declaration of independence is considerably more positive than that of Somalia itself.
So why does Somaliland remain unrecognised and without de jure independence, despite its relative success as an autonomous and self-governing state? The answer is essentially that, owing to the precarious situation in Somalia – a country that harbours a whole host of secessionist movements and is criss-crossed with ethnic and tribal faultlines – the global establishment has decided that officially recognising Somaliland could set off a regional powder keg. As with many African countries, the borders of Somalia were drawn arbitrarily by the former colonial powers in the region, and as such they inadequately reflect ethnic demographics on the ground. The African Union, to which the rest of the world tends to acquiesce on such matters, has consistently refused to acknowledge Somaliland because to do so – at least according to their logic – might encourage secessionist states elsewhere.