Contextual Information

Somaliland is a self-declared state. From 1884 to 1960, Somaliland was a British protectorate that then voluntarily united with the formerly Italian colony of Somalia until its declaration of independence in 1991. Today, Somaliland claims to be the successor state to British Somaliland and is internationally considered to be an autonomous territory of Somalia.

The Somaliland Police is the main provider of security alongside the Somaliland Armed Forces. Somaliland exists in a state of legal pluralism, with three justice systems: the state, which consists of courts and police, religious law, including the sharia courts, and the ethnicity-based clan system. Although all three are respected, they are not interchangeable, such that one cannot switch systems during or after a legal proceeding. Relations between the government and community are regarded as acceptable by Somalilanders, due to the relative stability and security of Somaliland. In general, there is skepticism of cooperating with the state, as historically a system of local councils was devised as a method of managing the clans (and is thus linked to being a method of population control).

The police operate under a militarized culture with a legacy of oppression that can be traced back to authoritarian Mussolini-era Italian law. However, much of control is left to clans, as police may work part-time and be absent in rural, remote, or coastal areas. The police may also refrain from involvement in conflicts that involve divisions between clans, for example conflicts over land and resources. Communities are largely expected to take responsibility of everyday security through informal mechanisms, with elders often acting as intermediaries between state authorities and local populations. Other local initiatives also exist to supplement or fill the gaps left by state-led security provision. For instance, community-funded groups and neighborhood watches provide security for their communities, and ‘guard men’ are hired to minimize theft.

Human Security Concerns

Although Somaliland hasn’t experienced the same degree of insecurity as Somalia, the country remains in a situation where civil society is weak, politicians are unaccountable, radicalization is an issue, and press freedom is limited. 

In Hargeisa, the capital city of Somaliland, a high percentage of its population is subject to physical insecurity, with rampant street crime, frequent disputes over land and buildings, a proliferation of weapons, and increasing youth gang problems. Unemployment and clan-related tensions increase insecurity, and women are vulnerable to robbery and rape. This insecurity is exacerbated by an influx of immigrants to the city including IDPs affected by conflict, individuals fleeing conflict in Yemen, and members of the diaspora returning from abroad. The result of this is that physical security is pursued in a reactive fashion, rather than a preemptive pursuit of human security.

Status of Police Reform and COP

Somaliland’s government received assistance to improve police-community relationships from UNDP in 2011 and the UK’s DFID in 2015. However, these have gained little traction, as they have tended to take place in cycles and tend to focus on broad liberal goals rather than directly addressing issues of police-community relations. Still, these efforts are tolerated, as they tend to supply the police with desirable resources and promote a democratic and professional image internationally. In general, the lack of a conception of any ‘community’ beyond the clan level presents serious challenges for the support of COP in Somaliland.

Finally, although local Somalilanders have access to mobile phones, ICT solutions have not had success, due to the costs of sending messages, low literacy levels, and a tendency toward face-to-face communication, demonstrating that local norms and preferences can negate possible applications of globalized technology. For more information, see ICT4COP’s policy brief ‘Wrong Number’.