Somaliland: What does it take to create a new country?


Secessionist movements across three continents are vying to form new, independent states.

From Catalonia to Taiwan, separatists are increasingly mounting pressure on national governments who face the possibility of new breakups.

CNBC looks at what it takes to make a country from scratch.

Who gets to form a state?

The number of countries in the United Nations has grown from 51 recognized states in 1945 to 193 states today.

There are no official international rules, but guidelines are on hand for separatist movements.

The Montevideo Convention held in Uruguay in 1933 said that a region must meet four requirements to become a state; a permanent population, a defined territory, a government and the ability to form relations with other nation states.

Other conditions must be met, including clear evidence that a majority of people have freely chosen independence, that minorities are welcome and respected. A state must also be able to agree divorce terms mutually with the country it breaks away from.

In practice, many have found it difficult to meet all the guidelines.

Why is it so difficult to meet?

National governments almost always oppose secession.

Taiwan is a democratic state in almost everything but name. It has had its own constitution since 1947 and has functioned as an autonomous state since 1950. Unlike mainland China, Taiwan has democratically-elected leaders and was the first place in Asia to rule in favor of gay marriage.

However, China President Xi JinPing regards Taiwan as a province and has put pressure on countries to have no diplomatic relations with them. Only 19 countries, along with the Vatican, officially recognize Taiwan.

Many in Greenland see its future as independent from DenmarkRitzau Scanpix/Christian Klindt Soelbeck/via REUTERS. Many in Greenland see its future as independent from Denmark


Who wants to break away?

Catalonia declared independence from Spain in October 2017 following a historic referendum. Spain’s government dismissed it as illegal and said politicians leading the rebellion could be jailed. The Basque Country in northern Spain also lays claim to independence. Militant group Eta issued an apology Monday to those it killed during its armed struggle for Basque independence.

The autonomous region of Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, held a referendum in September last year but the results were strongly opposed by Iraq’s central government in Baghdad and neighboring Turkey, Iran and Syria. Kurdish minorities are spread through Iraq and its neighbors. In response to the referendum, Baghdad seized back Kurdish land.

Scotland held its own referendum on whether to break away from the U.K. in 2014, but a majority of Scots voted to remain in a union with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

In the Arctic Circle, Greenland remains under Denmark’s control despite having its own government. Voters elected a new president Wednesday and will now eye up the long-term goal of full independence, despite some estimates that doing so could relegate it to being Europe’s poorest nation.

Scott Peterson / Getty Images

Can independence cause instability?

Near the Gulf of Aden, Somaliland declared itself independent from Somalia in 1991.

It has its own government, police force and currency but no government recognizes Somaliland. Doing so could put further pressure on Somalia’s weak national government, as it fears further splits from factions wanting a new state called Puntland, on the northeastern coast.

Eritrea declared independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Today, poverty is rife in the country and it is ruled by a despotic government. The United Nations has accused the government of crimes against humanity and press freedom is the worst compared to all other African nations, according to the World Press Freedom Index.

South Sudan is the world’s youngest state after it broke away from Sudan in 2011. The country is plagued by violence and hyperinflation.

Other places that lay claim to an independence movement include French speaking Quebec in Canada, Bavaria, North Cyprus, Belize, Kashmir, and Tibet.

By Shafi Musaddique


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