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High spirits as Somaliland prepares to vote

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Young supporters of Waddani (Somaliland National Party) – many under 16 and therefore not yet old enough to vote – gather in Freedom Park in Somaliland’s capital city, Hargeisa. An estimated 70 percent of the population are under 30. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA

KATE STANWORTH

High spirits and a celebratory atmosphere have characterised the political campaign rallies in the run-up to a long-awaited presidential election in the self-declared state of Somaliland, which is due to take place on November 13.

This is Somaliland’s first presidential election since 2010, and the stakes are high. Three candidates – Faysal Ali Warabe of UCID party, Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi of Waddani party and Muse Bihi Abdi, of the ruling Kulmiye party – are vying to replace Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud “Silanyo”, the current head of state.

The contest was delayed for more than two years due to voter registration issues, lack of funding and a devastating drought.

The process will be witnessed by international election observers funded by the UK government, as well as a team of over 600 domestic observers who will be reporting on polling day using SMS.

It is hoped that a hi-tech voter registration system using iris-recognition software will guard against electoral fraud.

In the past, there have been allegations that competing clans encouraged their members to register multiple times to increase their political influence. 

Since Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991 following a bloody civil war, the region has held five largely peaceful elections and one constitutional referendum, forging a political system that combines traditional leadership with modern representative democracy.

The fact that it is not officially recognised by any other country means that Somaliland’s political situation is complex, and the Somali Federal Government in Mogadishu still lays claim to its territory.

A boy on his way to join an UCID (Justice and Welfare Party) rally in Hargeisa. Young people in Somaliland have shown a strong interest in politics. ‘The youth have energy, and for them politics is new,’ says Abdirashid Aliahi Farah, a 26-year-old domestic election observer. ‘Some are seeing their first election. In order to get their votes, all the parties say they have youth programmes and that they care about the young.’ KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA

Supporters of Kulmiye (Peace, Unity and Development Party), the current ruling party, drive through the streets of Hargeisa displaying party colours and blaring party-promoting music on their way to a rally. Each day only one designated party can campaign, a rule created to avoid potential conflict and security issues. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA

UCID presidential candidate, Faysal Ali Warabe, takes a photo with a child before addressing supporters at a rally in Hargeisa. The Somaliland constitution, approved via popular referendum in 2001, allows for only three parties to exist, a ruling designed to separate party politics from clan affiliations. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA

When asked why she supports UCID, Fardus, 48, replies: ‘This is the party without tribalism. It stands for religion and justice.’ Women turned out in large numbers to the city’s campaign rallies. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA

A Kulmiye party supporter at a rally in Hargeisa. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA

A woman speaks during a training session for female party campaigners in Guleid Hotel. ‘We want people to vote for us without nepotism, and to campaign about positive change,’ says Xakun Cali Daahir. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA

A boy chants ‘bedaluu’, an elaboration of the word ‘bedal’ meaning ‘change’, at a Waddani party political rally in Hargeisa. Word play, phrases and songs capture the popular imagination in a culture with a strong oral tradition. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA

Ahmed Iman Warsame, leader of one of the groups representing so-called ‘occupational castes’ – leatherworkers, metalworkers and haircutters collectively known as the Gabooye – joins a Waddani rally on horseback. Waddani have made the support of minority groups a focus of their campaign. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA

Waddani presidential candidate Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi, known as ‘Irro’ waits to address the party faithful at the last rally before polling day. This is the first presidential election in which the Waddani party has participated. Whoever wins the presidency will have to manage a fragile economy that is heavily dependent on diaspora contributions.KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA

The face of presidential candidate, Muse Bihi Abdi, of the ruling Kulmiye party, on women’s shawls at a rally in Hargeisa. Bihi is a former soldier who fought for the Somali National Movement against the Mogadishu government of Siyaad Barre. ‘He has been a war veteran for the country and its people, therefore he can make the country safe in terms of security,’ says Farah, a 45 year old Kulmiye supporter at a rally in Hargeisa. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA

A woman holds up a campaign leaflet in the form of a polling card at a Kulmiye party rally in Hargeisa. Polling cards will include the party symbols to cater for voters who are illiterate. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA

Domestic election observers during a training session in Hargeisa. They will be part of a team of over 600 observers who will be reporting on polling day using SMS. ‘Because we are an emerging country, the world can see our democracy, so it’s important to show our process is fair and transparent,’ says 21-year-old observer and student, Isir Guleid Hussein. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA

Traditional Somali dancers perform at a Waddani rally in Freedom Park, Hargeisa. Religious leaders expressed concern to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) about what they consider to be ‘un-Islamic behaviour’ during the campaigns, with the playing of music and men and women dancing together. The NEC however, let the rallies go ahead, arguing that the right to campaign is written into the constitution. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA

Women chanting and singing joyfully as they wait for their leader’s address at an UCID rally in Hargeisa. KATE STANWORTH/SAFERWORLD/AL JAZEERA

Humanitarian Watch

Nomadic communities suffer most as drought stalks Somaliland

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By Corrie Butler, IFRC — Driving through the rural landscapes of Somaliland, the views are breathtaking – towering blue mountains cutting the glaring sky over dry, thorn-bushed desert. Small dome-like temporary houses, known as ‘aqals’, dot the arid terrain.

These belong to nomads who have survived in these harsh conditions for generations, but for the first time, they are facing an uncertain future.

Years of consecutive drought have spiralled Somaliland’s nomadic communities into a devastating food crisis. Their ability to pack up and move livestock to better grazing pastures would normally give them a major advantage over other farmers. But the unprecedented drought has caused most – if not all – of their camels, sheep and goats to die and, with them, their livelihoods.

The Somali Red Crescent Society, in partnership with the IFRC, is present throughout Somaliland and Puntland, helping communities to respond to the growing challenges that vulnerable groups, including nomadic communities, face.

Dorothy Francis, Operations Manager of IFRC’s Somalia Complex Emergency Appeal, explained: “The nomads are the ones that are suffering the most because their livelihoods have always been based on livestock and that’s based on access to water.

“Because the crisis has deepened, there hasn’t been the rain we expected, so we see coping strategies becoming more negative. They are selling everything. They are leaving home to go further and further away to work so families are being broken up.”

Signs of malnutrition

Hinda Adan, a nomad and mother of four, visited a Red Crescent mobile health clinic in Lamadhadher village, south of Burao, Somaliland, to have her children screened to determine signs of malnutrition. Before the drought, her and her husband were successful livestock herders, owning 120 sheep, goats and camels. They had everything they needed. But the drought has killed almost all their livestock – only ten goats remain.

“Our life depends now on these ten goats,” said Hinda. “We have one to two meals a day. We prioritize our children – to feed them first.”

However, Hinda still feels luckier than others, including her neighbours: “The family had to split up three of their children among relatives. It affected their entire home. It is affecting our entire community,” she says.

Bringing humanitarian assistance to nomadic communities is one of the biggest challenges the Red Crescent faces, as their regular movement means it is often difficult to reach them reliably.

“Often, we arrive in a community to find that [the nomads] have gone to the next area,” explained Hussein Mohamed Osman, Berbera branch secretary for the Red Crescent in the Sahil region. “It also proves to be very costly to travel long distances to reach them.”

One of Somali Red Crescent’s flagship services is its mobile clinics, which are able to travel off-road to remote villages to provide health care services, particularly to nomadic communities who need it most. Built to adapt to the needs on the ground, the mobile clinics can spend half a day or multiple days in one village.

As drought conditions have worsened, the Red Crescent has increased the number of skilled health care workers in each team to prioritize the rising cases of malnutrition among children and expectant mothers.

Understanding local needs

IFRC is supporting the Somali Red Crescent in supplementing their urgent needs over the next three months, including emergency cash for food and other items. All humanitarian assistance is carefully considered to meet the teams’ needs and allow them to remain mobile: jerry cans and aqua tabs to ensure water is clear, and shelter products to keep them warm in the cool desert evenings, including blankets, sleeping mats and tarpaulins.

Although IFRC and the Red Crescent are helping to ensure short-term emergency needs are being met, efforts to implement longer-term interventions have started, which helps communities become more resilient to future emergencies. This includes rehabilitating 95 berkeds – or small dams – in the densely populated areas that have no access to water; rehabilitating wells and other water points; and, where some rain has come, providing villagers with the means to plough their farmland.

“What we are trying to do is cover an entire community with everything so we’ll have a cleaner, safer, healthier community – providing them with food, providing them with water, providing them with shelter,” explained Dorothy.

“It is a huge task but IFRC is working with a very strong Red Crescent society. We are managing to reach the most vulnerable people. We are doing the best we can.”

Fatima Mohamed Yusuf, a nomad in Togdheer region, is one of the community members who received much-needed health care in a Somali Red Crescent mobile clinic close to her temporary settlement. The drought came at a devastating cost to her and her family, who lost 270 sheep and goats.

“If there is no rain, I worry for my remaining livestock and I worry for myself and family. Allah only knows when the rains will come,” said Fatima.

Vital partnerships to tackle drought

IFRC is working closely with the Somali Red Crescent and global partners to continue supporting the needs of the most vulnerable people, but the fight to prevent famine is not over. Somaliland is currently categorized as a stage four emergency (crisis) and could easily descend into famine. It was only six years ago that Somalia experienced a famine that killed a quarter of a million people. IFRC will help to ensure Somalia never has to experience famine again.

Thanks to the generous support of the global community through the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, seven million Swiss francs has been donated to the IFRC Emergency Food Crisis Appeal in Somalia, which will help to bring life-saving support to 353,000 people in some of the most isolated, vulnerable and hard-to-reach communities.

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Ethiopia

Ethiopian PM says they will continue to develop Berbera Port so Ethiopia and Somaliland can benefit

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Somaliland

Rapists in Somaliland will no longer be allowed to marry victims under new law

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By Lizzie Dearden

The self-declared state of Somaliland has introduced a bill to outlaw rape and other violent sexual crimes for the first time in its history, which would see rapists imprisoned for up to 30 years.

Under the new law, all forms of sexual offences would be criminalised, including rape, gang rape, sexual assault, child marriage and trafficking.

And Africa News reports that rapists who infect their victims with HIV would be handed life sentences.
In the past, a rape victim’s family could force them to marry their rapist to avoid being shamed.

The bill has already been agreed in the lower house of Somaliland’s parliament but still needs approval from the upper house.

It is hoped the bill will be signed into law by President Musa Bihi Adbi on 1 March.

“The bill had been languishing for some years and the newly elected government, which is very serious about tackling violence against women, saw it as a priority to bring it before parliament,” Ayan Mahamoud, Somaliland’s representative in Britain, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“It is however possible that it will face resistance when it comes before the House of Elders in the coming weeks, as members in the upper house tend to be more traditional.”
Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991 after a civil war.

It has a population of around four million but is not recognised internationally as a country.

Currently, Somalia does not have any laws or legislation against violent sexual crimes.

President Abdi’s government was said to be shocked by the number of reported gang rapes after he came to power in November and pledged to take action.

Although the bill is an important milestone, the United Nations said that more still needed to be done.

“Once it is signed into law, there is need to develop the capacities of the national justice and security actors, non-state actors and service providers to create awareness among the public,” said Fadumo Dayib, head of UN Women in Somalia.

“Every woman and girl has the right to live her life without the threat and fear of violence.
“This law will make a substantial contribution in curtailing sexual violence against women and girls.”

However the law does not specifically cover domestic violence or female genital mutilation, and it would require victims to prove the use of “force, intimidation or threat”.

Countries such as Greece, Iraq, Libya, Kuwait, Thailand and Russia have certain laws in place which mean a rapist can escape prosecution if he or she marries their victim, or in some cases if the victim forgives the rapist.

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