One is a small, surprisingly successful and relatively democratic country bullied by a larger, dictatorial neighbour which considers it to be part of its own territory. The other is Taiwan. On September 9th Somaliland, a breakaway republic in the north of Somalia, opened a “representative office” in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. It followed the opening in August of a similar Taiwanese office in Hargeisa, Somaliland’s capital.
The exchange of diplomatic relations is a coup for Somaliland, which declared independence in 1991 after the fall of Somalia’s last dictator, Siad Barre. Like Taiwan, it is a country in all but name. It has a government, an army and borders. It holds elections and, unlike the rest of Somalia, has been mostly peaceful for the past 30 years. It issues passports.
Yet Somaliland has struggled for recognition. Barely a dozen countries recognise its passports (a government minister with dual British citizenship confesses that he does not use his Somaliland one: he has less explaining to do when presenting one issued by Her Majesty’s Passport Office). Not one considers it an independent country, and it has no seat at the United Nations. In Mogadishu, the bombed-out capital of Somalia, foreign diplomats studiously ignore Somaliland’s existence lest they upset the squabbling local politicians who consider it part of their country.