Somaliland: An Inspiration of Democracy and Pluralism in Africa
(Dr Hussein Nur)
In comparison with most of Africa, Somaliland has accomplished the principles and tools of good governance and successful pluralistic democracy. Since its withdrawal from union with Somalia in 1991 Somaliland has made significant advances in attaining security and stability until it has earned being called as an ‘oasis of peace’ in a region beleaguered by conflicts and political instability.
Subsequently, elections pushed by principles of democracy have rather become an uncommon ritual. Somaliland hasa good track record of conducting peaceful credible elections and peaceful power transfers.
Generally elections form a core part of the common understanding and practice of democracy. In more than two decades of building democracy, elections have become the most critical action of conferring legitimacy to its government administrations in Somaliland. The democratic processes are never compromised and the credibility and legitimisation of electoral practices in Somaliland form habitual methods and roots of electoral integrity.
As Somaliland declared its sovereignty, independence and voluntarily withdrew from union with Somalia in the grand Buroaconference in May 1991 Abdirahman Ahmed Ali (Tuur) and Hassan EssaJama were elected as interim president and vice president respectively for a term of two years. At the end of President Ali’s term, Mohamed Ibrahim Egal(a veteran politician and statesman) was elected as the second president at the1993 memorableBorama peace and reconciliation conference in a peaceful transfer of power process. The Egal’s administration oversaw the establishment of a model government and the kick start of post-war rehabilitation, reconstruction and development of the country. The SNM liberation front was officially disbanded as a political movement followed by a successful programme of demobilisation of the SNM forces.
In 1997 an indirect non-partisan presidential election contested between Egal (the incumbent president), Suleiman Adan (a veteran politician) and Mohamed HashiElmi (a senior SNM leader/politician) was held in which Egal was re-elected as president by a majority (over 70%).
As political maturity in Somaliland progressed and developed during Egal’s term a significant progress democratisation process were initiated and started with the 2001 constitutional referendum held as a plebiscite for revoking sovereignty from union with Somalia in which 97% of the public voted for. Until 2002 no political associations or national parties existed. An impressive list of polls has been recorded since 2003. The first political party, UDUB (Union of National Democratic Coalition Party) was formed by Egal. On 3rd May 2002 president died and Vice president, DahirRayaleKahin, took over the presidency to complete the term. Rayale chose Ahmed Yusuf Yasin as vice president. President Rayale immediately jumped onto the band wagon of pluralism and multi-party system. According to the constitution only three political parties are allowed to prevail in the country at any one time but it (the constitution) also allows the formation of political associations to be registered and to compete for the top three national parties for a specific period. In line with that six political organisations (UDUB, UCID, ASAD, SAHAN, KULMIYE and HORMOOD) were registered on 15 December 2002 to compete for the top three national parties. UDIB, KULMIYE and UCID were the first three that attracted sufficient support and, hence, became the three national parties.
The first DIRECT presidential election took place on 14 April 2003 and DahirRayaleKahin(the incumbent president) of UDUB party won the race. However, what remarkably earns to mention is that Ahmed MohmaedMohamoudSilanyo, the opposition candidate, was defeated by the slimmest and the narrowest majority (by just 80 votes) and conceded defeat, a phenomenon that has never been observed in the African continent which is an indicative of how politically mature people and committed of Somaliland people are to democratic pluralism.
A parliamentary election, closely observed and monitored by international observers, and contested by the three existing national parties (UDUB, KULMIE and UCID) candidates took place on 25 September 2001 to elect members of the Lower House of the parliament ‘GolahaWakiilada’. The Upper House or House of elders ‘GolahaGuurtida’ stands un-elected.
A second presidential election which was strongly contested was held on 26 June 2010. Ahmed Mohamed MohamoudSilanyo of the opposition party, Kulmiye, won the race by a majority (49.59%). The outgoing president, Rayale, gracefully conceded defeat and officially handed over the power to the newly elected president on 27 July 2010 in a peaceful fashion. This is interestingly rareexperience in Africa. It also made the world envy. So far in mainland Africa only three states (Benin, Senegal and Zambia) had their incumbent presidents stood down after being defeated in elections) without violence or political disagreements.
As pluralistic democracy matured and gathered momentum, multi-party elections continued in Somaliland. In accordance with the 2011 electoral law, new political associations (UMMADDA, DALSAN, RAYS, WADANI and HAQSOOR) were officially registered to compete with the existing three political parties ((KULMIYE, UDUB and UCID) to choose the three top national parties. KULMIYE, WADANI and UCID succeeded to become the three national parties. On 28 November 2012 a local government election was held in which a total of 2,308 candidates from the three parties (including 140 women) contested for 379 seats. The election was witnessed by 50-strong team of international observers coordinated by Steve Kibble (Progressio organisation) and Michael Wallis (Department planning unit, UCL, University of London) together with Somaliland Focus and the international community that worked closely with the National Electoral Commission (NEC) to observe and monitor the elections. The election passed off largely in peace and Somaliland was congratulated for the lively and enthusiastic elections.
Another successful presidential election, the third presidential election (the sixth in a row) has been recently held (on 13 November 2017). This election has been the most dramatic one as it was different from the previous ones in a number of ways. A new technology (iris-recognition biometrics) was introduced replacing the old fingerprint biometrics voter registration system. That made Somaliland the most technologically sophisticated state in the African continent and in the world, to use iris-recognition technology. The technology was chosen because of its reliability, flexibility, and standardization. It also boosted the confidence and trust for its capacity to protect fraud and repeat voting. The election was preceded by a three-week campaign with a series of well-orchestrated rallies taken in turns by the contesting parties. The first ever televised presidential debate in Africa was also held in which the candidates engaged in a town hall-style debate as the event was live–streamed from the capital, Hargeisa whereas the media openly covered and allowed to scrutinise the candidates’ policies and performances.
The election was interesting as it kindled an ecstatic and special attentiveness by the outside world due to the political maturity and the dynamics of democratic processes in the country. The international press and media covered the proceedings extensively to the extent the political pundits described Somaliland as the strongest democracy in Africa in general and in East Africa or the Horn region in particular. The election demonstrated strong commitment, responsibility and political maturity of the institutions, national political parties andthe people of Somaliland. The election has proven mellowness of a vigorous democratic governance at work. The election has been observed by a 60-strong team of international observers from 27 countries together with international partners (UK, Denmark, USA, Belgium, Demark, Finland, the EU, France, Germany, Holland, Norway, Switzerland, and Sweden). On the day of election, a high level delegation from the international community and the international observers visited 350 polling stations in Hargeisa and witnessed the opening, the voting, the closing and the tallying procedures at stations. The Chief Observer and the chairman of the international observers, Michael Wallis, praised and congratulated Somaliland for the smooth conduct of the voting and the peaceful manner in which the people exercised their rights to vote. The NEC has also been commended for their vital responsibility of managing and coordinating a peaceful conduct of the election. Musa Bihi Abdi and AbdirahmanAbdillahiSaylici, won with majority (55.1%) as the president-elect and vice president respectively. The results have been acknowledged and accepted by the opposition candidates.
Elections are means to ends and this election strongly affirmed the consistent pattern in democratisation and exposed Somaliland. the election has been fascinated by the outside world. It has taken a step further close to de jure recognition. For instance, the Scandinavians particularly Sweden, one of the first EU nations to recognise Palestine and one which has also been toying with the recognition of Western Sahara, have emerged with enthusiasm in eying on Somaliland’s independence and recognition in the near future. This election has acted as a major step forward as it has exposed an encouragingly positive signal to the rest of the world and that it could bolster a strong case for international recognition.
The political stance of Somaliland is in stark contrast to those of most African countries and especially with its neighbours. For example, the 2016 INDIRECT presidential election in Somalia has been blemished with controversies, fraught, pervasive corruption, sales of votes, and reliance on abundant external funding and support coupled with instability and insecurity from Al-Shabab. Even the one-person-one-vote principle which was envisaged in 2012 proved to be remote and a day-dream. Using the 4.5 clan code system which undermines the recognised principles of democracy voters for the president were hand-picked and votes were swapped with huge sums of money.
Somalia and South Sudan have been described as failed states; North Sudan as a dictatorship and Eritrea, Rwanda and Ethiopia as police states; Isaias Afwerki, first president of Eritrea came to power in 1993 (the same time as the second president of Somaliland, Egal) is still in power today. In Uganda, Yoweri Museveni is still on the saddle of the power uninterruptedly since January 1986, while Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe has been in power for about 30 years since 1987 as president until he has recently (2017) been forced out of office under pressure. Even Kenya, once the East African region’s most vibrant and competitive democracy, clearly struggled in the last two elections marred with violence, re-election and political disagreements.
In other African countries such as Liberia, Cameroon, Chad, Gambia, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Chad to mention some, elections have been disrupted by flare-up of violence and even with military interventions.
Considering the transfer of power, the 2017 presidential election was interesting. The former president, Ahmed Mohamed MohamoudSilanyo, though he was entitled for a second term for re-election, stood down while in most of Africa this is quite rare. In the year 2017, Robert Mugabe (in his 90s) of Zimbabwe has been ousted by a military who was in power since 1987; Yower Museveni, a 73-year-old, who was in power since 1986 is still insisting ti stay even though according to age he should not be president any more legally; Afwerki in power since 1991 and rather became unremovable while Paul Piya, the 84-year-old president of Cameroon, is standing for re-election; YahyaJammeh of Gambia was not re-elected after 22 years in power; and Jose Dos Santos of Angola who was in power for 38 years has been removed with difficulty. This shows that Somaliland stands out of the pack (of African states). Somaliland currently ranks high in terms of the indices of democratic performance and could act as a model inspiration for East Africa and wider Africa.
The winds of change for Somaliland’s political prospects are now blowing stronger. For instance, two main political parties in Sweden (the Christian Democrats (KD), a centre-right party and the Swedish Democrats have instantly responded with optimism to the news of elections in Somaliland. The KD Party express eagerness in Somaliland’s recognition and that should be done in in cooperation with the other EU member States and that it is teaming up in cooperation with another three national Parties (Moderates, Conservative Democrat, and the Volks Party or Liberal party) to bring about a motion to the parliament whilst the Swedish Democrats Party has taken the extra mile by voicing a radical approach in support of Somaliland’s recognition as it meets all the requirements that a government should have to be a recognised as a country. Additionally, a Swedish journal, ‘VardenIdag’ commented: “Somaliland’s recognition would serve as a good example of what can achieved when conflicts are resolved with dialogues rather than violence”, a Swedish political activist, Michael Torstensson, vehemently articulated that Somaliland’s prowess in fighting terrorism and establishing a functioning and the most peaceful state in East Africa merits recognition while Professor Paul Wrange (University of Stockholm) stresses that there are no logic obstacles to Somaliland’s recognition and independence.
On the other hand, the UK as the strongest partner of Somaliland, acknowledges and supports Somaliland’s efforts in commitment to democratic ideals. UK, a long standing friend of Somaliland, has a major stake in the success of the elections in Somaliland investing a significant contribution to the planning, preparation and delivering the biometric voter registration used in the 2017 election. Jeremy Carver, a British international lawyer voiced that Somaliland satisfies all legal criteria for its independent statehood and how it conducted success of elections make it deserve to be recognised. Another British politician, Zac Goldsmith (the Conservative Party, East Midlands), has recently remarked in the British parliament in tribute to the election: “With recent events in Zimbabwe and total chaos in Kenya now, will the Prime Minister join me in celebrating the hugely successful elections this week in Somaliland.” David Concar, another British politician and diplomat (Ambassador for Somalia and Somaliland) unambiguously pointed to the evidence of Somaliland’s impressive records of democratisation and pluralism and congratulated the people of Somaliland and the president-elect, Musa Bihi Abdi on winning the contest. James Carver (MEP and UKIP party) forcefully remarked on the recognition of Somaliland in a debate at the EU parliament at Brielle’s and indicated that there are precedents [(the dissolution of the UAR between two independent states between Egypt and Syria; the dissolution of the union between Senegal and Gambia (Senegambia)]. “Somaliland has taken the path of democracy”, Edna Aden Ismail adds. Somaliland deserves international recognition.
Somaliland has proven to be a symbol of peace, security and stability in a region affected with political turmoil. This year’s laudable successful election conducted this year offers food for thought for the African continent in general and for East Africa in particular.
This does not mean that there are no challenges for Somaliland. Somaliland’s diplomatic isolation defies it from international recognition and the newly-elected president has no illusions about the complex challenges facing Somaliland (Financial Times, 28th November 2017). The president, Musa Bihi Abdi, vows to serve all Somalilanders alike in justice and pledges to broaden development, strengthen and consolidate peace, security, stability and extend democratisation; improve the economic headwinds and pillars of the economy, resources and endowment; seek foreign direct investments; provide basic needs of the society (health care, education, clean water, youth employment etc.). The centrality of international recognition is high on the agenda. It is important to reform the presently sterile talks and negotiations with Somalia and the need for international community’s neutral witnesses and mediators from the international community. Modalities of the negotiations ought to be changed. (Continued)