Somaliland, a self-declared republic is celebrating 60 years of independence from Britain. But it has not always been an independent nation. Five days after gaining independence, it joined Italian Somaliland to form a United Somalia, and in 1991, it declared independence from the rest of Somalia after the collapse of the central government in Mogadishu.
For 30 years, it has been showing signs of democracy. Eighteen elections took place in Africa in 2018. But there is one problem with Africa’s elections; each one of them is either stolen, rigged, disputed or compromised even in countries regarded as the continent’s democracy super powers including Kenya. But one of Africa’s most credible election happened in the most an unlikely place – Somaliland.
Voters chose a former rebel commander and fighter jet pilot as their president from a pool of three candidates. The incumbent chose not to run for a second term.
Somaliland’s constitution, like most democracies, allows the president to seek a second term in office, but the former president, Ahmed Muhammad Silanyo, chose not to run again and backed a candidate from his party – Kulmiye- a rare in Africa.
The election was the first to use iris recognition in Africa to identify voters. It was free and fair and credible, the losing candidate accepted the result although he disputed when preliminary result was being released.
This election puts East Africa and the rest of the continent to shame. Somalia, which insists Somaliland is still part of it, could not hold a one-man-one vote, a few hundred members of parliament elected a president inside an airport hangar in the capital, Mogadishu. An election could not be held due security fears and there were allegations of corruption including voter bribery.
In Kenya, East Africa’s biggest economy, elections are a matter of life and death and their credibility are always questioned, sometimes leading to violence that result to loss of lives and property destruction. In 2007, more than a thousand people were killed and close to a million displaced.
Ethiopia – the West’s number one ally in the fight against terrorism – is recovering from decades of dictatorship. Uganda and Eritrea have life-time presidents, sort of.
Somaliland, which is still unrecognized by the international community, is one of the most stable democracies in Africa. During the campaign period, the state media provided a fair coverage for all candidates – the ruling party and opposition party candidates. In other African countries, the taxpayer-funded media is a no-go zone for opposition parties.
The election was delayed for close to two years on the grounds of several factors including the drought that hit most part of East Africa and political wrangling among Somaliland politicians.
Although it is unrecognized state, Somaliland has signed several agreements with foreign countries including the United Arab Emirates. Somaliland and UAE signed a military agreement allowing Abu Dhabi to build a military base in the Red Sea port city of Berbera. The agreement includes UAE to modernize the Berbera port. UAE acquired a 51 percent stake in the port; Somaliland got 30 percent and Ethiopia 19 percent.
Somalia was unhappy with UAE’s involvement with Somaliland without its consent. Somalia considers Somaliland part of its territory and declared the port deal between the UAE and Somaliland as “null and void and against its constitution.” The parliament in Mogadishu nullified the military base agreement between the UAE and Somaliland. Another UAE-owned company, P&O, made a deal with Puntland – a federal member state in northeast Somalia and is managing the Port of Bosaso.
The Somali central government feels undermined when foreign nations make deals with state governments and says it has the constitutional right to sign every deal involving a foreign player on behalf of all Somalia – including Somaliland.
Somaliland is a strategic position for UAE which is fighting Yemen’s Houthi rebels. Abu Dhabi and Riyadh accuse Tehran of arming the Houthis – a Shi’a rebel group which overthrew a Sunni government in Sana’a.
In 2015, FlyDubai, an Emirati carrier, launched direct flight between Dubai and Hargeysa – the first and the only direct flight outside Africa. Ethiopian Airlines is the other that connects Hargeysa and Addis Ababa.
In 2010, President Dahir Riyale Kahin accepted defeat to an opposition candidate Ahmed Silanyo.
Turkey, which provides both financial and technical support to Somalia, and is trusted by Somalis as an honest partner, has been hosting on-and-off talks in Ankara between Somalia and Somaliland for reunification purposes. The talks bore no fruits. This month, Djibouti hosted leaders from Somalia and Somaliland for talks. Though no agreement was reached, the two sides formed a technical committee to look into several issues.
Unlike Somalia, Somaliland backed the Saudi-led coalition against Qatar when Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies and Egypt imposed a blockade on Qatar. The Somali government said it remains neutral but regional administrations which Mogadishu has no control of contradicted the central government and made their own decision to support Saudi Arabia.
As President Muse Bihi continues to pursue international recognition, he has to tackle unemployment and inflation. Unemployment is rampant and a large number of Somaliland’s youth are among young African men and women risking their lives in the Mediterranean Sea to reach European shores for better lives.
Somaliland has a working political system, government institutions, a police force, a working judiciary, its own military and currency, its GDP is ranked above some African countries like Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Malawi, and is one of the most stable countries in Africa – Al-Shabab group, an Al-Qaeda-linked group fighting to overthrow the Somali government does not operate in its territory.
Considering these facts, Somaliland has fulfilled all conditions necessary for self-governance and independence. Is it the time for the international community to start rethinking Somaliland’s independence. Why not try a referendum?
However, the self-declared republic, once described as a beacon of democracy, holding six presidential elections since it declared independent from Somalia, is slowly killing its democracy: authorities started undermining democracy, clamping down on opposition parties, arresting journalists and closing down media outlets, a move that is likely to escalate political tensions and create barriers in its pursuit of international recognition.
Independence for Somaliland could revive the dreams of so many regions around Africa such as Nigeria’s Biafra, Darfur, Cameroon, Ethiopia and others.
How the ambitions of Hassan Ali Khaire contributed to his fall
In mid-2018, Hassan Ali Khaire assembled his communications team and asked them to build a strong social media presence for his office and create a public image for himself. He wanted his government’s work to be publicised and to show Somalis and the world a new prime ministerial office never seen before in the post-civil war Somalia. He wanted to portray a powerful, superior prime minister.
The immediate-former prime minister was the only government official running three different Twitter accounts. The official account for the office of the prime minister, two personal accounts; one in English (and Somali) and the other in Arabic – to communicate with the Arab world – Somalia is a member of the Arab League, and the Gulf countries play their geopolitics in Somalia. Other politicians did not think of this, but Khaire did. He is a former corporate executive and an NGO manager. Khaire understands the importance of media more than other Somali politicians do. He is the most eloquent politician Somalia has seen in recent decades.
President Mohamed Farmajo and PM Khaire set to finish their first term in office together, run for office again and return to Villa Somalia together, but Khaire had an ambition, a presidential ambition. He wanted to succeed Farmajo, and Farmajo knew it. No one saw their break up coming.
Since 2000, every president had some sort of disagreement with his prime minister. Farmajo and Khaire had disagreements but it was hidden from the public. Because of this, Khaire became the longest serving premier in the post-civil war era.
The debate around Somalia’s election of which no one knows when and how it will happen is what killed the broamance between Farmajo and Khaire. The trust between the two has been broken. Farmajo wants a direct election in which the Somali public can pick their political representatives. The president’s opponents say a direct election will not be possible, and that Farmajo is using the universal suffrage as an excuse to extend his term in office. Khaire was seen as supporting the ideas of his boss’ opponents; he always called for timely polls, although the government never said it would delay elections.
There is no love lost between the leaders of the federal member states (FMS) and Farmajo. Khaire thought this was an opportunity to exploit: get closer to these leaders and alienate the president. When FMS leaders gathered in the central town of Dhuusamareeb in July to discuss the electoral process, Khaire left Mogadishu and joined them to negotiate for clan-based election which would take place as schedule. Days later, Farmajo flew to Dhuusamareeb and joined other leaders, beating Khaire at his own game. It was a battle of tactics won by Farmajo.
FMS leaders accidentally exposed Khaire in his double-dealing between Farmajo and FMS leaders. According to privy sources, Khayre prodded FMSs to reject one person, one vote in private while he pretended to be on Farmajo’s side in public.
In one of those farewell banquets in Dhuusamareeb, one FMS leader told Farmajo to drop the quest for one person, one vote like every other principal. It was like saying, ‘your PM is with us on this.’
One Western country was fond of Khaire to the extent that their diplomats in Halane were openly hostile to Farmajo in favour of his prime minister. To that end, that particular country was indirectly pushing for indirect elections which they thought will favour Khaire. Inside sources say that this particular country pushed the envelope too hard in not only giving Khaire false hope of easy presidency but also made him alienate his boss and the parliament.
The Lower House has passed an election law backing the one person, one vote election, but the Senate isn’t convinced about the possibility of direct polls. Sources within the Senate say Khaire was behind a statement by the Upper House leadership disagreeing with the possibility of holding a direct election, and called for talks between the president and the FMS leaders. On the electoral issue, Farmajo and Khaire have been pulling from different ends, Khaire whispering behind the president’s back silently, according to Villa Somalia insiders.
“We cannot lead a country when the prime minister is working against the president. The president is giving Somalis a chance to elect their leaders direct, and Khaire is against this,” a close ally of President Farmajo told The Frontier.
On July 25, three days after the Dhuusamareeb conference concluded, the Somali parliament voted to withdraw confidence from PM Khaire and his administration. At mid-night, he accepted the parliamentary decision and resigned.
US says Somali parliament’s removal of Khayre ‘illegal’
The United States has expressed regrets over the removal of Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre from office in a vote of no-confidence by parliament.
The US embassy in Mogadishu, in a statement, said there has been ‘irregularities’ in the vote to withdraw confidence in Prime Minister Khayre and his government. It said the action of the parliament and the president ‘heightened political tensions and undermined the ongoing process of dialogue and negotiation’ between the Federal Government of Somalia, Federal Member States, and other key stakeholders.
“This irregular process is a setback for the reform agenda Somalia has pursued with the support of the United States. Somalia’s stability, security, and prosperity can only be built through cooperation, coordination, and compromise among Somalia’s leaders; if any individual or institution seeks to dominate the others, it undermines the stability of the entire nation,” read part of the statement.
The embassy said the only path forward to timely, peaceful, implementable federal elections is through broad-based consultation and constructive dialogue among stakeholders.
Developing a workable, broadly acceptable election model is key to preserving Somalia’s security and stability, it said.
The US is one of Somalia’s key donors and supports its military. The United States has provided more than $3 billion in humanitarian assistance for Somalia since fiscal year 2006 to address the problems of drought, famine, and refugees. Since 2011, the United States has provided an additional $253 million in development assistance to support economic, political, and social sectors to achieve greater stability, establish a formal economy, obtain access to basic services, and attain representation through legitimate, credible governance.
Last year, the US reopened a bureau for the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, that has been closed since a civil war began here in 1991.
The US has around 500 soldiers and military advisors based in Somalia that often accompany the Somali army and special operations forces on ground raids against al Shabab group.
Somali parliament removes Prime Minister Ali Khayre
Somali lawmakers voted to remove Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire and his cabinet, a move that is likely to delay elections, deteriorating recent gains in the Horn of Africa nation.
A hundred and seventy members of parliament supported the vote while eight rejected, according to Speaker Mohamed Mursal Abdirahman.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo is required to appoint a new premier in 30 days, but may do so in days.
“The rift between the government and the legislature is undermining the progress that has been made, and to that end I have decided to consider the voice of the House of Representatives as the foundation of our nationhood,” Farmajo said in a statement carried on state media.
Khaire, a former oil executive, was appointed in February 23 and approved by parliament in March 2017.
The country is planning to go for elections, but it is still unclear what kind of elections it will have. The electoral commission said it is planning to hold a one person, one vote in a year, while the opposition is calling for a timely election which means it prefers the current clan system where clan elders pick legislators.
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