Five years ago, Somaliland – the self-proclaimed independent republic on the horn of Afirca – made the transition to multi-party democracy. The country broke away from Somalia after the collapse of central government and the destruction of most of the civic, economic and political infrustructure during the all-in/all-out civil war.

Despite the reconstruction of civil society in this region (the 2002 multi-party elections – in which six parties participated – having been declared “the most peaceful in Africa for twenty years” by international observers, no one in the international community even recognises the state of Somaliland.

While Islamic courts in Somalia impose sentences of flogging, amputation and execution, Somaliland – also a majority-Muslim country – strove to be different. As an Amnesty International report from 1998 notes, Somaliland adopted a constitution which “maintains the independence of Somaliland and contains a number of human rights provisions relating to the independence of the judiciary and protection against arbitrary imprisonment.”

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. In 2004, Amnesty International expressed concern over allegations by two defendents charged with attempting to assassinate Vice-President, Ahmed Yusuf Yasin of rape and beatings while in prison. A few human rights campaigners were detained – but later released without charge – when they protested this. Amnesty stated that the trial of the two accused had “fallen far short of international standards of fairness”.

Only a fortnight ago, Reporters sans Frontières condemned mayor Hussein Mohamoud Ji’ir of Hargeisa, the capital who slapped journalist Abdirahman Musse Omar several times in the face and then had him arrested. The journalist had apparently asked uncomfortable questions about recent police behaviour. He was, however, freed two days lated.

These incidents aside, the country has nevertheless escaped the chaos and human misery associated with the clashes between government, warlords and Islamist militias in neihbouring Somalia, and the uncomparibly horrific human rights abuses and brutality that accompanied that.

Peter Tatchell says he thinks Somaliland is “a Muslim and African success story”. He says “Somaliland is an African and Muslim nation that is embracing peace, democracy, human rights and economic development”. Despite a lack of international recognition and aid, says Tatchell, “Somaliland is an oasis of peace, stability and progress”.

His comments follow his interview on his 18 Doughty Street show ‘Talking With Tatchell’ with Dr Mohamed-Aar A Mohamed of the Somaliland Research Society UK and Lulu Farah of the Somaliland Forum UK.

Tatchell concludes:

“Isn’t it time the world recognised, celebrated and supported this great African and Muslim success story?”

While I dislike the notion of a “Mulsim success story” (is South Africa a “Christian success story” because it is predominantly Christian? And it is not a success because it is Muslim) I think that he is right to combat the idea that a majority-Muslim country necessarily has to be a caricature of Sharia barbarity. It is possible to separate Mosque and State.

What certainly ought to be uncontroversial, however, is that the country deserves international recognition and support.