Following a bloody civil war, South Sudan declared independence from Sudan after a referendum, an independence which is widely recognised but which was followed by another civil war.

Somalia has been described as a failed state for a while, marred by ongoing civil wars. The breakaway republic of Somaliland is relatively peaceful, but its independence is not recognised by the international community.

Why is it that the international community cooperates with South Sudanese independence, but does not wish to acknowledge the same for Somaliland?

One could also consider internationally controversial breakaway republics in the comparison, such as Kosovo.

  • Clicking through your links, I wonder if it has anything to do with the dispute with Puntland, Khatumo State, and Awdalland over territory. Another issue is that the Sudan civil war started in 1983 and the referendum occurred 28 years later in 2011. The Somali civil war started in 1991. If it's on the same schedule, it should have a referendum around 2019.
    – Brythan
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 15:15

3 Answers 3


The immediate reason is that South Sudan's referendum happened within the context of an internationally-sanctioned negotiated peace process so with some level of consent from the other parties in the civil war and the state it was seceding from (they ultimately formally agreed to it, even if reluctantly).

Somaliland independence is just a de facto/unilateral situation like many others. Other countries and international organisations typically do not like that (Kosovo being of course the big exception because it enjoys wide - but not universal - recognition while having seceded very much against Serbia's will.)

Of course, this begs the question of why such a process was possible in this case but I am not sure there is a simple answer to that.


Three reasons:

  • The government of Sudan has a decades-long history of opposing the United States and its allies. It even hosted bases for militants who tried to attack Westerners. Thus, the Western powers were willing to take steps to weaken Sudan (such as by providing assistance to rebels in South Sudan, and later carving out territory for South Sudan.)
    Whereas by the time Somaliland became de facto independent, the central government of Somalia had ceased to exist.
  • The peoples of South Sudan welcomed Christian missionaries. The missionaries were successful enough at converting people to Christianity that many American Evangelical Protestants felt strong sympathy with them during the first decade of this century. (This was a decade during which the U.S. happened to have an Evangelical Protestant as President.) The Evangelical Protestants convinced the U.S. government to work to achieve independence for South Sudan.
    Whereas Somaliland is Muslim.
  • In its early years of independence, Somaliland gained a reputation for hosting pirate bases.

No need to overthink this. When the secession happens "lawfully" with the blessing (or at least acquiescence) of the central government, then there is no reason for the rest of the world not to recognize the new country. Simple as that.

The Wikipedia article Foreign relations of South Sudan states in the first paragraph: "South Sudan's former parent country Sudan became the first state in the world to recognize South Sudan."

Similarly for Eritrea. A new Ethiopian government recognized the right of the Eritreans to hold a referendum on independence. (Wikipedia)

But in the case of Somalia, the Mogadishu government opposes the secession of Somaliland.

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