Despite being home to 3.5 million people and the ancient cities of Berbera and Zeila, the nation of Somaliland technically doesn’t exist. Since declaring independence in 1991, the northernmost corner of war-torn Somalia has operated as an unrecognized state. While its neighbors in East Africa struggle with autocracy or are outright failed states, Somaliland has built decades of political stability. Now, development in Somaliland is progressing.
Somaliland held presidential elections on Nov. 13, a vote delayed two years due to a crippling drought made worse by the absence of international aid. Unlike the restricted elections held in neighboring Somalia earlier this year, Somaliland has held fully democratic elections since the early 2000s. Development in Somaliland extends to the electoral system: this year the country unveiled the world’s first-ever biometric voting system, using iris scanning technology to identify voters and avoid duplicate ballots.
Hargeisa, Somaliland’s bustling capital, is attracting small businesses from the diaspora as well as large corporations to spur development in the country. Companies including Coca-Cola and Dubai-based DP World are spurring development in Somaliland, announcing deals worth a combined $460 million to build a port in the coastal city of Berbera and a bottling plant outside the capital.
“It is clear that investors will play a critical part in the next chapter of Somaliland’s story, helping this dynamic economy to thrive and prosper and bolstering our bid for recognition,” wrote Somaliland’s Foreign Minister Dr. Saad Ali Shire in the Financial Times.
The East African country’s international status remains a significant hurdle to further economic development in Somaliland, home to a young and fast-growing population. While international partners still do not recognize Somaliland’s independence, organizations including the World Bank are investing in development projects in the country. The World Bank’s Somaliland Business Fund has provided over $20 million in grants and matching funds to private businesses, supporting development in Somaliland and its agriculture, manufacturing and renewable energy industries.
Still unrecognized and facing delays in its elections, Somaliland is by no means perfect. But its ongoing political stability and efforts to attract domestic and foreign investment are putting it on a path of steady economic development.
– Giacomo Tognini