by Mohamoud Abdullahi Roble
Sunday, May 30, 2021
Somaliland Situated along the Red sea in East Africa, Somaliland has an estimated population of 4 million people. The country is known to have great stability among the African countries. Somaliland is admired all over the globe for its democratic practices over the past 30 years. The country restored its independence in 1991 after the military regime of Somalia collapsed. The regime had ruled for two decades. Following this, it is vital to create awareness of Somaliland’s democratic process.
The restoration of Somaliland’s independence led to the creation of the country’s first government, which was based on Somali’s national movement’s (SNM’s) organizational structure. SNM central committee functioned as the nation’s first parliament and was tasked with a two-year mandate. This was later followed by the major clan conference done in Borama in 1993. The conference resulted in the production of a national charter that created government structures and illustrated how powers were to be separated during a transactional period of two years, after which the constitution would have been adopted. The national charter entailed creating a bicameral parliament with the upper house made of Guurti and the lower house containing the elected representatives. This political system was named shirbeeleed, which means a community or a clan reconciliation. The system was aimed at being in operation for only three years but ended up being in operation for a decade.
The government then employed a Sudanese lawyer to write Somaliland’s constitution. This move made the House of Representatives think that the draft by the government would give the executive branch excess powers leading them to draft an alternative version of the constitution (Shukri, 2021). In 1996 a deliberation on how the two documents would be reconciled resulted in a unified draft being made the interim constitution. The constitution had an implementation period of 3 years leading up to a referendum. The constitution was later revised, and a final draft approved in 2000.
Somaliland’s Parliamentary Electoral System and Local Government
The referendum created a way for the undertaking of popular elections. The country undertook its first national and municipal elections in the period between 2002 and 2005. A novice electoral commission did the elections with very minimal financial and international technical support. It also did not have most of the accouterments in the modern elections, such as comprehensive voter registers, census, and voter education. Despite the problems encountered, the elections were considered free and fair, credible, and the outcome received great acceptance .The constitution created a new political system for the country, which entailed a multi-party system and a democratic system where the district council, members of parliament, and the head of state were elected using the secret ballot rather than the use of the Electoral College of elders. Within two years, Somaliland passed the formation of political parties, the definition of the local government and its structure and definition of citizenship, and laydown of the electoral processes. After the 2005 elections, there was an agreement by the political stakeholders authorizing the creation of the first voter registry. The passing of the law followed this in 2007 to oversee the entire process. Voter registration ensued in 2008.
2010 Presidential Elections
With the expiration of President Kahin’s term in 2008, the country decided to use the voter registration exercise in the presidential and municipal elections. This was, however, not a smooth process since the polls underwent various delays due to the fights among the high political circles, notably within the president, parliament, and the opposition leaders. The president demanded an extension of his term, which was approved as provided by the constitution (Mesfin, 2009). There was also a later extension granted following a request by the NEC to undertake the preparation of the polls since the country was facing economic problems, political situations, and technical issues.
Local Council Elections in 2012
Despite the challenges facing the presidential elections, President Dahir Rayale Kahin succeeded to held the elections in 2012. The elections faced various challenges, such as being contested by UCID, UDUB, and Kulmiye, but a large number of voters showed up and participated all across the country leading to successful elections. Kulmiye leader Silanyo received more votes, and his swearing-in ceremony was attended by delegations from all over East Africa, including those from Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti. That was another peaceful transferring power in Somaliland.
The country also performed local government elections during the same year to identify the national political parties that would have the mandate to contest the national elections during the following decade. The elections faced some disputes, but the election's outcome was accepted, with UCID, Kulmiye, and Wadani being chosen to be the national political parties.
2017 Presidential Elections
The third presidential elections were conducted in 2017 following Silanyo’s step down. Kulmiye’s Muse Bihi Abdi received the win following a 55% vote (Soliman, 2017). His term is another historical one since it started a tradition of presidents undertaking peaceful handovers, which was rare in Africa. Later in 2020, Somaliland began preparations for the delayed municipal and parliamentary elections that were to be done towards the end of May 2021.
Challenges and Successes in the Country’s Democratization Process
The country’s constitution contains central principles that strengthen its citizen’s freedom and rights. The constitution places great emphasis on the transition to a multi-party democracy from the clan-based political processes. However, the transition process is faced with various challenges since the political parties are still lacking behind in the transformation of their vision, structure, and strategy. In that, rather than being the vehicles driving the constitutional principles, they are the ones derailing it and following the clan-oriented methods to help them get more votes (Shukri, 2021).
Somaliland’s Democracy and Political Heteromorphic Nature
The country’s society is viewed to be monolingual, ethnically homogenous, and singularly Islamic. The society consists of a deep-rooted and paternal clan system. They consist of interrelated communities and ones that have a common ancestral origin. The clan is found at the core of their political culture. From 1964, clan groups gained a foundation in the political parties, especially during the parliamentary elections. This shows that right from the onset, the country’s political parties have had a strong clan consciousness.
Dangers of Somaliland’s Democratic and Political Initiatives
The omnipresent danger of the country’s democratic and political initiatives are clannism, patronage, and nepotism. Following the clan-based political system in the country, the Somaliland government needs to have a powerful and robust institution. The country’s governance should also place great emphasis on meritocracy over nepotism, clannism, and patronage.
The number of registered voters in the country has grown to 1.3 million registered voters. This amounts to 30% of the country’s entire population. Two hundred forty-six candidates are vying for the 82 seats in parliament and 966 gunning for the 249 seats in the district municipality. The elections are expected to be the most competitive ever witnessed in the country. The government is expected to cater for 80% of the NEC’s budget, and the rest being covered by international partners (Soliman, 2017).
The late elections, Somaliland employed advanced iris-scanning and now Somaliland is also anticipated to incorporate technological advancements in the 2021 elections, with the NEC informing the application of the biometric voter registration and voting system. University students are equipped with training on how operate the devices and polling stations. This will help ensure minimal disruptions, technical errors, and smooth operations. With the elections being held on 31st May, the day has great and historic significance since it is the country’s 30th anniversary of its independence together with its 20th anniversary of multiparty democracy.
Way Forward for Somaliland
Progress and lasting of the country’s democratic transition require very strict and regulated behaviors by the political parties. There is also a need to evaluate the composition, structure, size, and competence of the National Election Commission. This is possible by making its membership independent of that of political parties.
In conclusion, 30 years since the country received its independence, it has been able to undertake five successful presidential elections. Four of the five elections involved peaceful and smooth transfer of power. It is a great transformation with the government currently being able to freely air the election campaigns for all the parties on Somaliland National TV. That is very rare in Africa. The country is also seen to have undergone great transformations especially noting that most Arab and African countries are not ready for such ripe democracy portrayed by Somaliland. The transformation is evident with an East African expert stating that “Somaliland is the only example of fully functioning democratic in whole Africa continent.” The country also strives to portray independence and growth in the election’s undertakings, with the president HE Muse Bihi Abdi stating that Somaliland taxpayers will be the financial sources for the elections anticipated to be held on 31st May 2021. As it did before the earlier elections, the country has even gone ahead to invite election observers around the globe, including the UK, USA, EU, and African Union, to observe the process.
Mesfin, B. (2009). The Political Development of Somaliland and its Conflict with Puntland. Media africa portal. https://media.africaportal.org/documents/P200.pdf
Shukri, S. (2021). Unrecognized Vote: Somaliland’s Democratic Journey. The elephant, 1-7. https://www.theelephant.info/long-reads/2021/05/03/unrecognized-vote-somalilands-democratic-journey/?print=pdf
Soliman, A. (2017). Is Democracy Emerging in Somalia? Chatham house. https://www.chathamhouse.org/2017/02/democracy-emerging-somalia
Mohamoud Abdullahi Roble