A breakaway, semi-desert territory on the coast of the Gulf of Aden, Somaliland declared independence after the overthrow of Somali military dictator Siad Barre in 1991.
The move followed a secessionist struggle during which Siad Barre's forces pursued rebel guerrillas in the territory. Tens of thousands of people were killed and towns were flattened.
Though not internationally recognised, Somaliland has a working political system, government institutions, a police force and its own currency. The territory has lobbied hard to win support for its claim to be a sovereign state.
The former British protectorate has also escaped much of the chaos and violence that plague Somalia, although attacks on Western aid workers in 2003 raised fears that Islamic militants in the territory were targeting foreigners.
Although there is a thriving private business sector, poverty and unemployment are widespread. The economy is highly dependent on money sent home by members of the diaspora. Duties from Berbera, a port used by landlocked Ethiopia, and livestock exports are important sources of revenue.
The latter have been hit by embargoes on exports, imposed by some Gulf countries to inhibit the spread of Rift Valley Fever.
Somaliland is in dispute with the neighbouring autonomous Somali region of Puntland over the Sanaag and Sool areas, some of whose inhabitants owe their allegiance to Puntland.
Somaliland's leaders have distanced themselves from Somalia's central transitional government, set up in 2004 following long-running talks in Kenya, which they see as a threat to Somaliland's autonomy. In June 2012, however, they agreed to talks in London with the Somali government on settling Somaliland's status, under the aegis of Britain, the European Union and Norway.
Somaliland was independent for a few days in 1960, between the end of British colonial rule and its union with the former Italian colony of Somalia. More than 40 years later voters in the territory overwhelmingly backed its self-declared independence in a 2001 referendum.