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Why Somaliland is East Africa’s strongest democracy

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DROP a pin on a map of eastern Africa and chances are it will not land on a healthy democracy. Somalia and South Sudan are failed states. Sudan is a dictatorship, as are the police states of Eritrea, Rwanda and Ethiopia.

President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda has ruled uninterrupted since 1986, and plans to remove a constitutional age limit so he can cling on longer.

Elections in Tanzania have never ousted the Party of the Revolution (and its predecessor), which has governed since independence in 1961. Even Kenya, once the region’s most vibrant and competitive democracy, is struggling. Last month Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected president with 98% of a preposterously flawed vote. In this context tiny Somaliland stands out.

On November 13th citizens of this internationally unrecognised state will elect a president in what is expected to be its sixth peaceful, competitive and relatively clean vote since 2001. This unparalleled record makes it the strongest democracy in the region. How has this happened?

A peculiar history helps. Somaliland was a British protectorate, before it merged with Italian Somalia in 1960 to form a unified Somalia. It broke away in 1991, and now has a strong sense of national identity.
It was one of the few entities carved up by European colonists that actually made some sense. Somaliland is more socially homogeneous than Somalia or indeed most other African states (and greater homogeneity tends to mean higher levels of trust between citizens).

A decade of war against the regime of Siad Barre in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, reduced Somaliland’s two largest cities to rubble, yet produced a flinty patriotic spirit. And the Somali National Movement (SNM), which led the fighting, cultivated an internal culture of democracy. Its leadership changed five times in nine years, and transferred power to a civilian administration within two years of victory.

But it is the absence of international recognition that may matter most. Muhammad Haji Ibrahim Egal, the president of Somaliland from 1993 to 2002, argued in 1999 that recognition would be dependent on the country’s pursuit of democracy. He proceeded to devise a constitution that was put to a popular referendum in 2001.

For fear of encouraging other separatist movements in the region, the international community, following the African Union, has never obliged. But rather than stunting democracy in Somaliland, this response ensured that democratisation moved from the bottom up.

Donors often impose democratic reforms on African countries as a condition of financial aid. Since unrecognised Somaliland is cut off from most external assistance, the social contract between government and citizens has become unusually strong.

Democracy evolved out of a series of mass public consultations—clan conferences—which endowed it with an unusual degree of legitimacy. The system’s most striking feature is the upper house of clan elders, known as the “Guurti”, which ensures broadly representative government and underpins much of the country’s consensual political culture.

Somaliland’s democracy is by no means spotless. Corruption is endemic, and the media are seldom critical. The influence of the clans has been muted but not eradicated. And elections are repeatedly delayed. The vote on November 13th was overdue by more than two years, and all branches of government have now outlived their mandates.

The lower house has sat for 12 years and counting; the Guurti has sat unelected since it was formed in 1993. And there may be even bigger challenges in the future. In the past year Somaliland has signed agreements with the United Arab Emirates to build a new port and a military base at the coastal town of Berbera.

The former, valued at over $400m, is the country’s largest-ever investment deal. Nation-building on a shoestring helped keep Somaliland’s politicians relatively accountable, and helped to keep the delicate balance between clans. But this may not be the case for much longer.

Somaliland

Protests in Somaliland As Opposition Claim Election Fraud

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Wadani Party supporters took to the streets of various opposition strongholds to protest what they claim to be election irregularities.

In Burco police used live bullets to disperse protestors.

Riots erupted hours after senior Wadani officials held a press conference on Thursday morning, accusing the ruling party of purchasing and using ballot papers forged with NEC’s official stamp.

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Somaliland

British MP praises Somaliland Elections at the House of Commons

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“With recent events in Zimbabwe and total election chaos in Kenya will the Prime Minister join me in celebrating the hugely successful election this week in Somaliland with direct help from this country” Zac Goldsmith British Member of Parliament

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Somaliland

Vote Counting Under Way in Somaliland Presidential Election

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WASHINGTON/HARGEISA — Vote counting is underway in Somaliland after the breakaway republic held its presidential election.

Three candidates are competing to replace President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud, who opted not to seek re-election.

The three candidates, Muse Bihi Abdi of the ruling Kulmiye party, Faysal Ali Warabe of UCID and Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi of the Waddani party, cast their votes Monday in Hargeisa, the capital.
Somaliland’s electoral commission said voting was peaceful in all of the republic’s six regions. It said it recorded an incident in Togdher region where at least one person was injured after a soldier’s gun accidentally discharged.

Of the more than 1,600 polling stations, only a few had people in line when voting ended at 6 p.m. Electoral officials closed the stations, but allowed those in line to cast their ballots.

Final results are not expected for several days. Under the vote-counting system, polling stations send their results to regional offices, who will pass them on to the electoral commission.
Voting was watched by a total of 60 election observers from 27 countries whose salaries were paid by Britain.

The observers said they heard reports of some problems, but not many.

“I’m referring to isolated instances, with one of the more serious being in Hargeisa where a polling station was closed down because of a disturbance.

That prevented or delayed the closing of the polling station and the count. We’re not sure of details yet,” said the observer, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“There were also some complaints from parties of voters being prevented from voting, though again, we didn’t hear of anything that seemed systematic or widespread.”

More than 700,000 people were expected to vote. Turnout was thought to be high, but the commission says it was too early to give figures.

Somaliland, a former British colony, broke away from the rest of Somalia in 1991. The territory has run its own affairs since, but has never been recognized as an independent country.

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