As Somaliland’s Presidential Election edges ever closer the excitement is palpable. For one this is a national exercise that reaffirms the locals belief in shaping their own destiny, to others the vote is a fascinating opportunity to see African democracy in action. Official and unofficial observers are already at work, and for a short while at least, Somaliland will be subject to the type of scrutiny that is as rare as it can be a trifle unnerving.
To non-Somalis the election is a veritable test bed, an opportunity to see how iris recognition technology works and helps bolster trust. To Somalilanders what is underway is all part of their struggle for self-determination and the continuing the national journey. Passions are running high, and for some the sakes are even higher. Politics being politics means that some will always seek to play on fear and uncertainty, whilst others claim the moral high ground. The reality invariably rests somewhere in the middle, with those seeking election busy straining every sinew in order to secure not only their core vote, but those who may or may not be undecided. Herein lies another challenge, the very dynamic, one that in Somaliland to some means that everyone’s loyalty is already spoken for. There is an assumption in many quarters that old loyalties will prevail, and that the electorate will blindly follow those whom their elders endorse, in truth this is a far too simplistic a reading of the situation. Over recent years a subtle shift has been underway, and there is a growing move towards a more inclusive, less tribal politics. The live television debates have encourage a far greater scrutiny of individual capabilities, as well as policies for the short and medium term. That said, there is every expectation that over the last few days of electioneering appeals will be made that fall in line with the traditional narrative.
Whilst in some respects the Somaliland electorate has become more sophisticated, traditional rivalries, resentments and divisions are likely to be visible. Add to these the fear of the hidden and not so hidden hand of Mogadishu, then one appreciates why this election is being so closely followed. To those NGO-wallahs and others who set up camp in Hargeisa there will be all the excitement of being at the centre of the political drama. That said, there is likely to be possibly more drama in Sool and Sanaag, especially in view of the decidedly obstreperous approach taken by Puntland at this time. Equally, seasoned observers find Awdal an area of interest, especially as the region harbours a feeling of resentment over perceived neglect by the powers that be in Hargeisa.
As in all elections, there are bound to be some who endeavour to stoke fear and resentment. Losing parties may well cry foul, whilst the victors would do well to be magnanimous and remember that they have been elected to serve Somaliland, not merely those who voted for them. Who ever wins, the challenges will remain: rising unemployment, under-employment, regional inequality, corruption, porous borders, a near total absence of effective water capture and management measures, a rising birth rate, a weak health infrastructure and the scourge of FGM, to name but a few. It would be churlish to deny that some progress has been made, but still the task facing the next President is a monumental one. Add to this the international community’s apparent imperviousness to reason and logic when it comes to the issue of recognition, then people begin to appreciate the importance of making the right decision on the 13th November. President Silanyo deserves appreciation for all his hard work, and it is heartening to see continued respect for constitutional process and this has not gone unnoticed outside of Somaliland.
Being given a vote is to be given a say. It is important to exercise particular care when voting. Votes matter, and so does positive change. Every voter needs to take this awesome responsibility seriously, and weigh up the options with care. Whatever the result, it is important that citizens come together to continue the great work of nation building. Much has been achieved in Somaliland, but so much more remains to do. Over the coming days plenty will be written in the media and on social media. It is important that people are measured in what they say, and careful to avoid making libellous or defamatory remarks. There is every likelihood that rumours will be started, and that some will endeavour to make mischief by creating pieces of fake news. No doubt there will be some heated discussions, yet it is important to remember that
differences of opinion are all part of the cut and thrust of a healthy democracy.
Once the incredible theatre of the Election is over, the dust will settle and Somalilanders will get back to living and building a future of peace and prosperity, both for themselves and hopefully for the wider region. Somalis being Somalis, there will be someone somewhere who will compose a piece of poetry to commemorate this particular drama. Who knows, maybe one of the readers of this piece will set to such a task.
Mark T. Jones