Puntland territory in northern Somalia has a long history dating back to the time of the Pharaoh’s Kingdom in Egypt. It was historically known as the “land of aroma” which stretches along northern Somalia’s Gulf of Aden coast and its northeastern Indian Ocean coastline. In ancient Egypt, the Pharaohs used resin from frankincense and myrrh trees for embalming the dead bodies of Egyptian kings and nobility, importing from aromatic trees found in present-day Puntland territory.
During the era for the Scramble for Africa, dating back to the Berlin Conference of 1884-85, the Puntland people were known to fiercely resist against the advance of European colonialism on the Somali-speaking territories of eastern Africa. In the early 20th century, Puntland people were considered among the leading figures in the struggle for the independence of Somalia and they maintained their brotherhood, social cohesion and kinship, which pre-date European colonialism and the subsequent dawn of the modern day Somali nation-state.
On July 1, 1960, the Somali Republic gained independence and the democratically elected national government was in power until 1969, when the 21-year military dictatorship led by former President Maj. Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre seized power in a military coup, following the assassination of then-President Abdirashid Ali Sharmake on October 15, 1969. After more than a decade of armed rebellion, the Barre regime was ultimately violently overthrown by rebel groups in 1991, which plunged the country into decades of civil war, lawlessness and national fragmentation.
During the era of democratic elections (1960-1969), Puntland people were among the leading figures in Somali public and private sectors, and some figures assumed the highest government positions in Somalia. Some Puntland politicians were among the founding fathers of the Somali independence movement, the Somali Youth League (SYL). Puntland native Abdirashid Ali Sharmake became Somalia’s first post-independence Prime Minister and was democratically elected as the country’s second president in 1967.
During the period of military dictatorship in Somalia (1969-1991), the Barre regime imposed political and economic restrictions on the Somali public, particularly marginalizing Puntland communities. This created years of public discontent and uprising, and led to the formation of the first Somali armed rebel group (SSDF) from Puntland community, fighting against the country’s military regime. In response, the military regime launched violent crackdowns on the political elite and communities from Puntland.
During the 30 years when Somalia enjoyed a national government (1960–1991), Puntland territory was neglected in terms of endowment of economic infrastructure, such as airports, ports, roads and other public infrastructure. In the late 1980s, a north-south tarmac highway and a small Port of Bossaso was constructed in Puntland with a grant from the Italian Government, during the last years of the military regime.
Formation of Puntland State
On August 1, 1998, after eight years of failed initiatives to restore a national government for Somalia, the State of Puntland was established following the conclusion of the Garowe Constitutional Convention. The central aim was to pioneer federal system in Somalia, to restore the functions of public institutions, and to facilitate the delivery of public goods, particularly security, provision of basic services, easing trade interaction and ensuring political stability.
Puntland State seeks the reunification of fragmented parts of Somalia under a federal system of government, which remains the only viable reconciliation option to reinstitute a new Somalia.
Puntland Government derives its legitimacy from a series of locally sponsored conferences that led to the Garowe Constitutional Convention of 1998, whereby politicians, intellectuals, military officers, and civil society including traditional elders, collectively played a significant role to establish Puntland under the State Charter of 1998.
Puntland has held four elections – in 1998, in 2005, in 2009, and in 2014—underscoring the State’s democratic political culture.
Geography and Climate
Puntland is geographically located in the northeastern Somalia and it is bordered by Somaliland to the northwest, the Gulf of Aden to the north, the Indian Ocean to the east, the central regions of Somalia to the south, and Ethiopia to the southwest.
Puntland occupies a total land area of 212,510sq. km. Puntland coastline stretches along the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, comprising around 1,300km of coastline.
The climate in Puntland is semi-arid, dry extremes in some regions and hot mild-humid climate in other regions. Hot summers in the northern coast and cool air in the eastern coast define Puntland’s coastal climate.
Rainfall is variable with no particular area of Puntland receiving more than 400mm of rain annually. The four main seasons are as follows:
- Jilaal (or Diraac), from December to February – the harsh dry season of the year;
- Gu, from March to May – the year’s first rainy season;
- Xagaa, from June to August – the second dry season;
- Deyr, from September to November – the year’s second rainy season.
Politics and Demography
Puntland was established as a state government on August 1, 1998. The local clans and communities of Puntland, predominantly home to the northern Darod clan-family, appointed representatives to 66-member House of Representatives (Parliament) allocated among the State’s various constituencies. The Constitutional Convention of 1998 was held in Garowe, which became the capital city of Puntland State of Somalia.
Starting in 2007, Puntland Constitution underwent a review and the Puntland Parliament finally ratified a revised Puntland Constitution on June 15, 2009, which was later adopted by the Puntland Constituent Assembly in Garowe on April 18, 2012.
Col. Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed was elected the first President of Puntland in 1998 (the late Yusuf moved on to become the first President of Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia in 2004).
The first administration of Puntland restored law and order, eased and protected socio-economic activities, and began rebuilding public institutions to better deliver public goods, particularly by synchronizing economic activities at the vital Port of Bossaso, a main revenue source for the Government.
Since 1991, waves of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have fled to the peace and stability of Puntland. In the early 1990s, over 1million natives of Puntland who resided in southern Somalia for centuries, returned to their ancestral home in Puntland (“the returnees”), compelled to flee Mogadishu and other southern towns by a violent rampage, clan persecution, misappropriation of properties, and mass displacement.
Subsequent waves of IDPs comprised of IDP communities fleeing disorder and despair in southern Somalia, and finding refuge in IDP camps in Puntland. Currently, around 300,000 IDPs and economic migrants are scattered around Puntland.
This major demographic shift from southern to northern Somalia reversed centuries of north-south trend of internal migration and prompted rapid urbanization and economic growth mainly of Puntland’s major towns, namely Bossaso, Qardo, Badhan, Garowe, Las Anod, Galkayo, and Buhodle. In part, it was this demographic shift that catapulted Puntland as a major stakeholder in Somali national affairs. Puntland is renowned for its strategic geographical location, its geopolitical importance being at the crossroads between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula countries, and its history of governance, peace, and stability.
Elections and Administrative Structure
The constitutional structure of Puntland State consists of three branches of government: a Legislative body (House of Representatives), an Executive (the Presidency and the Cabinet), and an independent Judiciary. The State does not currently have political parties, although the Puntland Constitution calls for the formation of a multi-party political system.
In 2012, Puntland Government under the leadership of current President H.E. Abdirahman Mohamed Mohamud (Farole) enacted relevant legislations, established the Transitional Puntland Electoral Commission, and permitted the competitive formation of six Registered Political Associations to compete for over 700 seats in Local Council Elections in 37 Districts of Puntland. Puntland Government temporarily suspended implementation of the multi-party system on July 14, 2013, one day ahead of the Local Council elections.
Puntland has had four elected Presidents and Vice Presidents: 1) H.E. President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and H.E. Vice President Mohamed Abdi Hashi (August 1, 1998–October 10, 2004); 2) H.E. President Mohamud Muse Hersi and H.E. Vice President Hassan Dahir Afqura (January 8, 2005–January 8, 2009); 3) H.E. President Abdirahman Mohamed Mohamud and H.E. Vice President Abdisamad Ali Shire (January 8, 2009–January 8, 2014); and 4) H.E. President Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gaas and H.E. Vice President Abdihakim Abdullahi Haji Omar (January 8 2014–present). For a brief transition period, H.E. Mohamed Abdi Hashi—a Puntland Vice President—assumed the position of Puntland President and H.E. Mohamed Ali Yusuf served as his Vice President (October 10, 2004–January 8, 2005) until the 2005 election.
Puntland consists of nine administrative regions: Bari, Nugal, Mudug, Sool, Sanaag, Ayn, Karkar, Haylan, and Gardafui.
Major towns in Puntland include: Bossaso, Garowe, Galkayo, Las Anod, Badhan, Buhodle, Qardo, Dhahar, Alula, Armo, Goldogob, Las Qorey, Beyla, Rako, Burtinle, Eyl, Bargal, and Hafun.
Population, Religion and Language
The estimated population of Puntland is approximately 3.4 million inhabitants, according to survey statistics from Puntland Ministry of Planning. The population of Puntland is about 75% pastoralist communities and approximately 70% of the population is under age 30. In the aftermath of civil war and exodus effect, women constitute a majority of the population.
The dominant religion in Somalia as a whole is Islam and this includes Puntland where the population is predominantly Sunni Muslim. Somali is the national language of Puntland State and Somalia as a whole. Other languages spoken widely include Arabic, Italian and English.
Economy and Commercial Activities
The Puntland economy depends on livestock trade, fisheries, and natural resources. The State has abundant livestock, fisheries, frankincense and natural gums. Historically, the State has commercial ties with the Arabian Peninsula, India, China, and Africa’s eastern and southern coasts.
Livestock trade constitutes around 80% of foreign exchange earnings, 40% of GDP and 60% of employment activities (Data from Second Puntland Five-Year Development Plan). A foreign company and a local company built two animal quarantine centers in Bossaso in 2007 and 2010, respectively, where livestock receive medical treatment and rest before being exported to markets in the Middle East. This quality control of the livestock boosted the export economy.
With a coastline stretching around 1,300km, Puntland has a rich fisheries culture. All three fish-canning factories ever constructed in Somalia are located in Puntland (in the towns of Habo, Las Qorey and Qandala). The fisheries industry provides employment and seasonal income for hundreds of thousands of people. Analysts estimate that Puntland has the capacity to produce 600,000 tons of fish products annually. After the Somali state collapse of 1991, fisheries industry constituted the second largest foreign exchange earnings for Puntland, particularly the valuable crustaceans trade. Unfortunately, this bustling trade was severely disrupted by Illegal Unregulated Unreported Fishing (IUUF) by foreign trawlers spawning Somali maritime piracy, which adversely impacted the livelihoods of coastal communities and the local economy in Puntland to date.
In a 1991 World Bank study to spur development in Africa, Somalia and Sudan were ranked at the top of African countries with the potential for commercial oil activities. Industry experts have agreed that Puntland territory constitutes the highest potential for tapping into Somali oil reserves, because the State is endowed with hydrocarbons and mineral deposits.
The policy of Puntland’s successive administrations has been to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), including oil companies to explore the region’s untapped potential. Currently, Puntland has exploration contracts with a number of companies, including Canadian company Africa Oil Corp. and Australian firms Range Resources, Ltd., and Red Emperor.
The first commercial oil-drilling program in Somalia for the first time since 1991 commenced in Puntland on January 16, 2012, when two exploratory wells were drilled in Puntland’s Dharoor Valley.
Telecommunications and Banking
The telecommunications industry in Puntland provides one of the most advanced and cheapest rates anywhere in Africa. Currently, there are four companies providing services with a wide coverage area in Puntland, namely: Golis Telecommunications Company; Puntland Telecom Company; NationLink Telecommunications Company; and Somafone Telecommunications Company.
The telecommunications industry also provides job opportunities and professional development. The companies provide many services, namely mobile and landline telephony, provision of Internet services including 3G coverage, and even new technologies such as mobile-money transfers.
Two international banks registered in Puntland, namely: Yemen-based CAC International Bank and Djibouti-based Dahabshil Bank.
The Puntland Constitution permits the freedom of the press. Currently, there are nine (9) independent radio stations, seven (7) independent Somali satellite TV stations, and three (3) independent newspapers operating in Puntland. Puntland Government operates its own radio station that operates on shortwave and FM frequencies, and local and satellite TV station.
The Puntland Media Law of 1999 has been revised and drafted in wide consultations with civil society including media sector. The revised law is expected to undergo parliamentary approval in 2014.