In this week’s Maphead, Ken Jennings explores a country that existed for just five days or for 50 years, depending on who you ask.
If all goes well, the United States will celebrate its 241st birthday this summer—and that’s young by international standards. Plenty of countries on the map have been around for thousands of years. But what about the shortest-lived nations in world history? The State of Somaliland, in East Africa, is one of the weirdest of the brief candles. It only existed for five days in 1960. Or, depending on whom you ask, it’s still around and functioning pretty well as a nation today.
Britain and Italy take Africa by the horn.
When the European powers carved up Africa in the nineteenth century, modern-day Somalia was still a patchwork of local sultanates dotting the Horn of Africa. In the 1880s, the British cut deals with the sultans on the Gulf of Aden, while the Italians, comparatively late to colonialism, moved in on the Indian Ocean. But by 1960, the age of empire was pretty clearly over, and both Britain and Italy agreed to grant independence to their Somali territories.
This land is your Somaliland, this land is my Somaliland.
In April 1960, leaders from both Somalilands met in Mogadishu. The British agreed to grant British Somaliland independence on June 26, with the understanding that it would merge with Italy’s Trust Territory of Somaliland when it declared independence five days later. But for five days, the Aden coast was a fully independent nation—the State of Somaliland—with its capital at Hargeisa. Then, five days later, it was absorbed into the new Somali Republic.
For one night, the United Arab Emirates were not so united.
There have been a few historical “nations” that lasted even less than five days, but most were disputed territories or failed uprisings. A more interesting case was December 1, 1971, when Britain granted independence to the seven sheikdoms that made up its protectorate of “Trucial States.” Early the following afternoon, six of the sheiks met together and signed a temporary constitution, joining together as the United Arab Emirates. But for a matter of hours, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and the rest were all technically independent countries.
The State of Somaliland was no five-day wonder.
In 1991, after a bloody civil war, the former State of Somaliland declared independence again, and it continues as a self-declared republic today, governed from Hargeisa, with its own currency, passports, flag, president, parliament, army, police force, and legal system. No nation on earth has yet recognized the breakaway country, but it considers itself to be the legal successor of the short-lived Somali state of June 1960.