10 April, 2009

Phantom Countries: Puntland

Even by the standards of phantom countries, Puntland is a funny place. Like Somaliland, It sits on part of the territory of the internationally recognised country of Somalia, with Puntland occupying the Somali corner. Unlike Somaliland it is not a secessionist entity as such. Although Puntland has its own administration and has left the chaotic south of Somalia to its own devices, the leaders of Puntland have not declared independence and have not sought international recognition. Rather, they have just set up their own semi-functional administration, and declared a willingness to reintegrate into the rest of Somalia once there is a Somali state to reintegrate with.

Given the disorganised nature of the rest of Somalia, the likelihood is that Puntland will be left to its own devices for some time to come. This may be just the way its leaders like it. My understanding is that Puntland is the main base for the notorious Somali pirates, and its anomalous status makes it easy for the pirates to go about their business. In some respects, therefore, Puntland is like a giant Port Royal, with the leaders of the territory using the pirates as a handy source of foreign exchange. Perhaps in the future the leaders of Puntland, with their experience of actual administration, may stage some kind of reverse takeover of the rest of Somalia, but for the moment they will have their little kingdom to themselves.

The territory administered by Puntland's government overlaps the former border between the British and Italian Somali colonies. This is problematic for Somaliland, as part of its independence claim is based on it being a withdrawal by the former British Somaliland from unified Somalia. That claim becomes somewhat fanciful if the Somaliland government does not actually administer all the territory of the former British colony. Somaliland does nevertheless claim sovereignty over all of British Somaliland, so it finds itself claiming territory occupied by Puntland. I don't know if either Somaliland or Puntland have much in the way of armed forces, but it would be a bit ironic if the two semi-functional bits of Somalia were to find themselves locked into a border war.

Image source


Leeman Tarpley Kessler said...

As international forces, especially China and Russia get more involved in hunting piracy in this region, do you think there is a chance that Puntland could see itself targeted as a haven and what fallout would you predict from such a course of action? -leeman

ian said...

To be honest, your guess is as good as mine. I suspect that Somali piracy is not amenable to a military solution, at least in the long-term. Maybe the world powers will eventually come to a similar conclusion and look seriously at some kind of reconstruction of Somalia. That would be likely to see Puntland's reabsorption into the rest of the country. What would happen to Somaliland could be a bit more interesting.