The Netherlands/USA

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Ghost Republic Somaliland:

democracy against all odds (2012)

ABOUT THE ARTWORK: A constitution, an elected government, an operational justice system, a head of state, a national flag, currency, passports – at first glance, these republican pillars could describe any well-established democracy in the world. Nothing strikes you as unusual, until you realize the democratic system in question is Somaliland. Very few people have heard of Somaliland. Situated in the Horn of Africa, the nation – and its 3.5 million inhabitants – borders Somalia, Djibouti and Ethiopia. A former British protectorate, Somaliland was independent for a few days in 1960, before uniting with former Italian Somaliland to form the Somali Republic. After seizing power through a military coup in 1969, the Somali dictator Siad Barre embarked on two decades of massacres against the people of Somaliland, killing more than 50,000. When the Somali central government collapsed in 1991 the local Somaliland government, led by the Somali National Movement (SNM), declared independence from the rest of Somalia and started to build a fragile democracy within the world’s most volatile region. It has been fighting for international recognition ever since.

ABOUT THE ARTIST: Photographer Chantal Heijnen’s fascination with Somaliland started when she and her Somaliland born friend Fatma Ali traveled to this democratic enigma. They focused on Somalilanders who are organizing, maintaining and governing a nation that is effectively cut off from the rest of the world. Left in legal limbo, it is a ghost republic, a pseudo-state with no official claims to any title – a democracy against all odds.


Chantal Heijnen is a Dutch born documentary photographer and an educator for the community programs at International Center of Photography (ICP) & Lantern Community Services in NYC. She passes on her passion for photography to teenagers and uses photography as a tool to work with New Yorkers in shelters who are impacted by or threatened with homelessness. Her former career as a social worker influences her photography – it’s intimate and socially engaged. She’s passionate about her long-term personal projects, creating portraits – through people and landscapes – of rarely seen communities. Her work has been exhibited at Photoville, Bronx Documentary Center, Andrew Freedman Home, LagosPhoto Festival, FotoFestival Naarden, FOAM, and has been published in international newspapers and magazines like The New York Times, NYT LensBlog, Washington Post, Stern Magazine, Vrij Nederland among others.