WHILE southern and central Somalia have endured civil war and famine during much of the past three years, the self-declared independent northwest has been relatively calm.
Taking the name ``Somaliland'' nearly three years ago, the region today has a central government, an elected president, courts, more than 1,500 police, and has demobilized thousands of its soldiers.
But with the world's attention focused on the south, and particularly warlord Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed, not a single country has given diplomatic recognition to Somaliland. The province's leader, Moha-med Ibrahim Egal, would like more people to pay attention to the accomplishments of the north, and has therefore made peace in the south a priority.
In a flurry of meetings here this week, Mr. Egal and some of his top aides are seeking international recognition and trying to nudge forward the slow peace process in the south. For Somaliland to be recognized internationally, the aides argue, it must be recognized by Somalia first. And that requires a stable government in the south, which so far has eluded all international efforts.
Some Somaliland supporters had hoped to win a statement of support for the north's secession from General Aideed, who was reelected chairman of the powerful Somali National Alliance at a party congress on Tuesday. But such a declaration would be political suicide for any Somali leader outside of Somaliland, given the strong anti-secessionist sentiment in Somalia. The north fought a decade-long war against longtime Somali dictator Maj. Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre, who was ousted in January 1991. The south slid into civil war, and the north claimed its independence.
Aideed has ``never given his blessing to secession,'' says Abdul Latif, the warlord's spokesman here.
Somali military leader Abdullahi Yussef Ahmed, whose militia has fought Aideed's, says bluntly: ``We don't recognize Somaliland Republic.'' Recognition could only come if a majority of voters in all parts of Somalia supported independence in a referendum, he says. ``Otherwise it [secession] will be illegal.''
Egal, a former prime minister of Somalia, has met on three occasions for a total of 12 hours with Aideed, but ``we couldn't agree on anything,'' he said.
African heads of state have long opposed the ``breaking up'' of nations, says a US official, who adds that the United States tends to follow the concensus of African states. But, the official adds, Somaliland has ``avoided a fair amount of anguish and violence'' by maintaining peace in the north, and the idea of recognition may gain support if the rest of Somalia falls back into civil war and famine after most Western troops leave in March.
The Charter of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) does not endorse the principal of recognizeing break-away states. Eritrea, which fought Ethiopia for 30 years for the right to secede, became a de facto independent state when rebels in both Ethiopia and Eritrea won the war in mid-1991. The new Ethiopian government quickly endorsed Eritrea's right to hold a referendum which, last year, passed almost unanimously, resulting in quick international recognition.
If necessary, Somaliland is ready to hold an internationally supervised referendum ``as long as someone foots the bill,'' Egal says. But the West is using a double standard on diplomatic recognition in Africa, he says, citing international recognition of former Soviet and Yugoslav republics.
Not all Somalis in the north back secession. Some members of minority clans in Somaliland, where the Issaq is dominant, oppose the idea, according to Hussein Ali Dualeh, a foreign affairs adviser to Egal. Egal is an Issaq.
Egal says he is in Kenya at the invitation of Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, but one Kenyan spokesman says the government's policy is ``not to encourage disintegration of a country.'' Egal was recently in Ethiopia and met here with several senior Ugandan officials in other bids for recognition of Somalialand.
An official with the US Agency for International Development says Somaliland is well on its way to recovering from the war it fought against General Siad Barre. ``There's a lot of private business going on, a lot of things going in and out of the port'' at Berbera.
Last May, after meeting for several months, 150 elders elected Egal as Somaliland's president, and endorsed a National Charter setting up a judiciary and a two-chamber legislature. The Charter also names Islam as the state religion, and adopts a flag with the words, ``There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his Prophet.''
Northern Somali gained independence from Britain on June 26, 1960, but four days later joined with the south, which gained its independence from Italy.