Hargeisa, Somaliland — The ongoing intervention in Somalia could well be regarded as the United States’ longest war. For nearly twenty-seven years, the United States has been involved in wars in Somalia. This involvement has ebbed and flowed, but it has never ceased. From 2007–16 alone, the United States spent a billion dollars aiding the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Conservatively, the United States has provided Somalia with over six billion dollars in aid since 2006.
What does the United States have to show for these billions of dollars? Not much. Somalia remains the most corrupt country on the planet and the Al Qaeda affiliate, al-Shabaab, is yet again resurgent. The well-funded government of Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as Farmaajo, has consistent control over little more than the presidential palace.
However, in the as yet unrecognized Republic of Somaliland, the situation is very different. Somaliland, a former British Protectorate located in the northernmost part of what was Somalia, declared its independence from Somalia in 1991. Somaliland subsequently formed a government, drafted a constitution, has held parliamentary elections, and has elected three presidents. Despite relatively little aid and no access to international loans, Somaliland has done everything that Somalia has failed to do. It has a functioning government that provides security and some services. Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa, is probably the safest capital city in Africa, where even petty crime is infrequent. Most notably, al-Shabaab has, at least until now, found it difficult to establish itself in Somaliland.
How did Somaliland achieve this when Somalia has consistently failed to provide security and stability for its citizens despite billions of dollars in international aid? This is a question I put to Somaliland’s president, Musa Bihi Abdi, in a recent interview. “The simplest answer to that question is that we have the trust of our people,” he said. “Without that trust we wouldn’t have the security that we have. The second answer is that we are doing things by ourselves, for ourselves and in our own way. We did not have a system of government imposed on us, we developed our own, a process that is still underway.”