Somaliland’s delayed Presidential election is back on track after a period of active foreign interference to manipulate the electoral rolls, and is expected to take place before the end of 2010. The issue has assumed a significantly-increased profile within the US State Department and other foreign governments as security concerns mount in neighboring Somalia and, across the Bab el-Mandeb, in Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula.
The US took the unprecedented step, in March 2010, of inviting a major delegation of Cabinet members and officials from the Republic of Somaliland to Washington for a series of talks on the country’s future. The move was tantamount to de facto recognition of Somaliland’s sovereign status, something which the Egyptian Government and the Arab League, under Secretary-General (and Egyptian Presidential hopeful) Amr Moussa have ensured had not happened through the African Union (AU).
The US step, and the fact that Yemen — which had earlier refused recognition to Somaliland — has now itself opened a discreet diplomatic mission in Hargeisa, are signs that the Egyptian position on Somaliland is beginning to crumble. Significantly, Iranian moves, supported by Egypt, to hint that Somaliland was about to receive diplomatic recognition from Israel have, despite significant publicity, been seen to have been canards to mobilize support for Somaliland’s continued isolation.
Ironically, Egypt’s desire to see all Red Sea access cut to Ethiopian traders — a move designed to somehow weaken Ethiopia and its potential to cut off the headwaters of the Blue Nile, Egypt’s lifeline — has backfired, placing Egypt on the side of Iranian expansion down through the Arabian Peninsula and into the Horn.
The situation was not helped when the Government was forced to postpone the Presidential elections, in large part due to the corruption of voter registration records by an external group, run by international financier George Soros.
Getting the electoral rolls and the election process back on track, and ensuring transparency and credibility for the process, has, as a result, clearly been a priority for the Government, the opposition parties, and the international community spearheaded by the US, the UK, and some European Union (EU) countries.
The election was postponed more than once as a result of lack of preparation on the part of the three national political parties — the ruling party (Unity of Democratic Alliance: UDUB) and the two opposition parties, KULMIYE and UCID — and because of an internationally-financed Voter Registration List which was found to be seriously flawed and unusable.
The international community — mainly the EU, led by the UK — unwittingly initially gave credibility to the opposition because of the delays, blaming the Government, and exerting pressure on the UDUB Government. The US State Department’s Africa Bureau reversed this trend by firmly supporting a realistic locally-determined and reasonable intra-party compromise which postponed the election so that it could be held after a Voter Registration acceptable to the parties could be restored.
However, EU diplomats — and particularly some UK officials, applying discreet pressure while the UK Government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown is distracted by the forthcoming Parliamentary election in the UK — have continued putting pressure on Somaliland’s National Electoral Commission (NEC) to declare an election date while there has been no sign of the emergence of an agreed-on Voter Registration List.
A US observer noted: “It seems that the Europeans are oblivious to the dangers which surround this whole process. It seems that the Europeans have outdone the Americans in demanding ‘democracy’ without looking at the realities of whether democracy could be achieved absent sound voter lists, and without paying any regard for the consequences for stability in the Horn of Africa and Red Sea. This is too significant an area for world trade and security to allow Somaliland to be destabilized at this point; that would be profoundly damaging to regional and global security interests.”
The three parties competing for the presidency have dramatically-varied experience, which has also led to some caution by regional and US observers as to the wisdom of pushing for elections before the proper voter registration and voter education has been undertaken.
• The ruling party, UDUB, was established by the founding president the late Mohamed Ibrahim Egal and now led by his (then) vice-president Dahir Riyale Kahin, who was elected to the Presidency by a popular vote in 2003. The party, known for its liberal tradition and pro-Western posture, has been in power since its establishment and as such is the only political organization in Somaliland which has had practical experience in government.
• The main opposition party, Kulmiye, was created hastily after the death of Pres. Egal so that its leader, Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo, could run for the presidency in 2003. He lost the election, which was deemed fair and free, to Pres. Kahin. The party’s membership is mainly drawn from one of the three major Isaac sub-clans which constitute the majority of the Somaliland population and as such is narrowly-based and lacks wide political support from the non-Isaac clans in the western and eastern regions of the country. Further, because of its relentless quest for popular support, at any price, the party has co-opted a group of known Islamists who came either from political organizations which failed to be recognized as political parties or splintered from other parties and organizations. Of recent however, the party became top heavy with known members of said group. They include:
1. Abdul-Aziz Samaale, the first deputy speaker of the House of Representatives.
2. Dr (of medicine) Mohamed Abdi Gaboose, major political advisor to Mr Silanyo.
3. Eng. Mohamed Hashi Elmi, political advisor.
These men in Kulmiye, and many others who are less visible but hold important policy positions in the party structure, believe that the Somaliland Constitution should be abandoned, and that the nation should be ruled by Qur’anic law. In this regard, Kulmiye is supportive of Islamic extremists such al-Shabaab in neighboring Somalia. Some Kulmiye officials have said that they believe that democracy was a Western conspiracy to destroy the Islamic world. As such they see the US and other Western democracies as the enemy.
One Kulmiye source in Hargeisa told GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs: “Many in the party are marking their time, hoping that Silanyo — who is ageing — will either die soon (preferably if he wins the Presidential election), or will retire after the election if he loses.” Fearing the advent of such a scenario, a seasoned Horn of Africa strategic analyst expressed concern about the possibility of Kilmiye taking power in Hargeisa, with its unpredictable ramifications for Somaliland’s quest for international recognition and for the stability of the region.
Mr Silanyo — who visited Washington, DC, in late 2009 — is known to be a pan-Somalist. In other words, he is known to be against the concept of a sovereign Republic of Somaliland, and in favor of returning Somaliland to the union with the former Italian Somaliland, including Puntland. There is widespread belief that if he was elected, and pushed for a return to the old union of Somalia, then Somaliland itself could break down into civil war, and, in that respect, make the now-stable Republic much like its neighbor, the presently lawless Somalia.
The other party, UCID, is considered to be more of a non-governmental organization (NGO) than a political party, and is solely run by its leader, Faysal Warabe, to collect contributions from the Somaliland diaspora. It has no noticeable political base and as such could only hope to be a tie-breaker in the forthcoming election, but that is not considered probable.
Analysis from GIS Station Hargeisa and other sources in the region. for oilprice.com - the no.1 source for oil prices