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Impact from a distance: Preparing for Diaspora voters
By Liban Obsiye & Sakariye Hussein
Friday, March 17, 2017
The smooth transition of power between the last administration led by Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and the new one by President Farmaajo is rightfully much celebrated. It was peaceful, swift and gracious. However, it does not compensate for the lateness of the elections which ought to have been completed by August last year if all had gone as planned. So, alongside convincing the world that Somalia has embraced democracy and its people are committed to its stability and progress, the elections remind us of the need for immediate planning for the successful execution of the one person one vote elections expected in 2020.
While a great deal of work will need to be done to achieve one person one vote in 2020, it is important that all the enabling elements for the process to be executed effectively and must be in place within the remaining but absolutely limited time. This will include the completion of the Constitutional review process, electoral logistics including voter registration, methods of voting and key locations for the voting to take place. Equally as important, is the need to enact the Political Party laws and empower the Independent Electoral Commission to undertake its duties efficiently and effectively so that the confusion of authority in the last election does not resurface.
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It is important to stress, reiterate and repeat the great importance of getting the foundation for the one person one vote right because, whatever ones view of its fruition and success, it is the measure by which the world will judge Somalia post 2020. Yes, the democratisation process is difficult but the Somali government and people must show that they have collectively learnt from it and are building on these valuable lessons to get 2020 right.
The provisional Somali Constitution, despite its clear weaknesses and contradictions, states that Somali citizens, regardless of whether they have another nationality or not, cannot be deprived of their citizenships and hence the rights that accompany this privilege. The Constitution also recognises that all Somalis are equal before the law. Following on from this, both the Somalis at home and in the Diaspora must be allowed to vote in the 2020 elections.
The Somali Diaspora voting is nothing unusual as across Africa, other countries including Kenya, allow their citizens living abroad to vote in the Presidential elections and in referendums. In addition, the Somali Diaspora already play an enormous political and economic role in Somalia which saw 105 of them in Parliament elect a Somali-American President who in turn selected a Somali-Norwegian Prime Minister, who is likely to appoint a Cabinet with some high profile Diaspora Ministers shortly.
Somalis were among Africa’s first democrats and the spirit and process of democracy is one that is arguably understood well in a clan structured society where all groups seek representation at all levels across society regardless of size. The proposed 2020 elections will provide the first opportunity for universal suffrage whereby all Somali citizens will be able to vote for their Parliamentarians and President, who by then ought to be representing inclusive Political Parties if all goes accordingly, since the 1960’s.
The historical significance of the potential success of the proposed universal suffrage of 2020 in Somalia is felt by all, including the Somali Government, people and the international community. However, while it is arguably easier to arrange the electoral infrastructure at home, the real challenge will be making the Diaspora vote count.
The Somali Diaspora are everywhere. Despite the prevalence of London, Montreal, Malmo and Minneapolis, Somalis live in Karachi, Islamabad, the Middle East, China and even in some of the smallest rural villages across the world. It is important that, as per the provisional constitution, these potential voters be provided a clear avenue to influence the direction their country is taking and who ought to lead it.
Diaspora voting, as important as it is, requires that clear guidelines be developed to determine which elections they can vote in. Legally and logistically, constituency level voting requires that they live in Somalia and will not be possible unless they actually live in a certain geography and are registered to vote. If this is the case, then it is simple, if not it could constitute voter fraud. However, given that the Diaspora almost all have dual nationalities and in the main live in their adopted homes where democracy is the norm, it is best to provide them with the automatic right to vote in Presidential elections and in referendums until a fair mechanism for constituency level voting can be agreed and implemented. Voting is the democratic duty of all Somalis who must redevelop their country together and it must be promoted as widely as possible provided it is legally and logistically coherent and achievable.
Diaspora voting will have many great benefits for Somalia. It will engage all Somalis living across the globe to contribute responsibly and positively to the democratic advancement and development of their country while uniting those of similar political persuasion regardless of clan. Equally as important, Diaspora practical voting requirements will force the Somali Government to upgrade its systems and processes by thinking innovatively about nationality laws and passport provisions as well as voter registration and Diaspora engagement through its Embassies and E-government platforms. If it does not, the Diaspora members who miss out on the vote can potentially bring a constitutional complaint regarding their right to vote and this will only further strengthen accountability and Somali administrative and institutional processes and performance.
The Somali Diaspora have proven that, alongside their brothers and sisters back home, they can and are ready to continue contributing positively to the changes moving Somalia towards a new dawn characterised by hope and progress. Voting in 2020 from wherever they are is just an added constitutional right and obligation that cements their valuable contributions and impact.
Liban Obsiye is a senior adviser to the Somali Foreign Minister and a consultant to Global Somali Diaspora (GSD).
Sakariye Yusuf Hussein is a member of the Senior Management team of Global Somali Diaspora (GSD).
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