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Somaliland after the elections: old traps, new challenges

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Somaliland after the elections: old traps, new challenges

File 20171124 21853 1bv76d3.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Somaliland’s ruling party candidate and newly elected president Musa Bihi Abdi.
Stringer/Reuters

Claire Elder, University of Oxford

The Republic of Somaliland is recognised as an autonomous region in Somalia’s northwestern region. Since it broke away from Somalia in 1991, it has held five successful elections.

Such an electoral record, despite extensions and delays in almost every case, is enviable by regional standards. And as a result, Somaliland has garnered significant donor support.

The November 13 polls followed the same script. Although they were twice delayed, only minor irregularities were reported by the international observer mission. These included vote buying and lack of secrecy during voting.

Unlike previous elections, however, the 2017 presidential contest marked the highest stakes yet, that revealed deep cracks in the country’s revered consensus politics.

Election day itself proceeded peacefully. 78.85% of the 704,089 registered voters who had collected their cards participated in the election. And for the first time elections were held in parts of Sool and Togdheer. These are the insecure border regions that are disputed between Somaliland and Puntland (now a member state of the Federal Government of Somalia).

Yet, the process was marred by incendiary party rhetoric and violent protests before and after the elections. The protests were largely youth-led, with a number of casualties reported.

Both parties seemed unable to contain their supporters, or instil popular confidence in the process. Voters were deeply divided along clan and party lines.

The electoral commission’s four-day social media ban and delay in releasing provisional results (nearly a week after the polls) provided ample room for rumour mongering and confusion.

By election night both the main opposition party – Waddani – and the ruling Kulmiye party were celebrating a win. False results circulated on Whatsapp the next day suggesting a win for Kulmiye. Waddani reacted quickly by challenging the impartiality of the process.

Seemingly emboldened by the Kenya example, the opposition party claimed that Kulmiye had circulated fake ballot papers. It threatened to suspend cooperation with the election commission. No formal complaint was filed at the Supreme Court but Waddani had succeeded in bringing opposition supporters to the streets in unprecedented numbers.

The final announcement of results on November 21 confirmed that Kulmiye’s Muse Bihi Abdi had won by a margin of nearly 80,000 votes. Back in 2003, the incumbent Ahmed ‘Silanyo’ Mohamoud had conceded defeat to a much smaller margin of 83 votes. As such, it looked like Waddani’s hands were tied.

Behind-the-scenes, former statesmen and other impartial stakeholders stepped in to calm the storm and convince Waddani to concede defeat quietly.

The concession speech came on November 22, a day after the announcement of results. Opposition candidate Abdirahman Cirro called for national unity, but Somaliland’s fragile political fabric had already been put through the wringer.

Election tension

Heightened election tensions were made worse by the political inexperience of the two presidential candidates who both employed deeply polarising rhetoric. This was an unprecedented and risky combination for the country’s conservative political system.

The personal attacks between Kulmiye’s Muse Bihi Abdi and Waddani’s Abdirahman Cirro hinged both campaigns on their personalities, Somaliland’s civil war grievances, and clan divisions.

Muse Bihi harped on his war record, at one time saying

We won’t accept a candidate who has never fired a gun, and is afraid to hold one.

This suggested that the political transition could turn violent. Widespread concerns were vocalised by locals and Somalilanders in the diaspora alike.

Fierce competition was also fuelled by large amounts of money. Both parties pushed ahead with early campaigns despite the threat of hefty fines from the election commission. Payouts to constituencies, including money for drought relief, contributed to what many estimate may be the costliest election since the local council elections in 2012.

Geo-strategic weight

Somaliland’s enhanced regional standing certainly heightened the ambitions of both presidential candidates, and contributed to the high costs of the elections. Its strategic positioning in the Gulf of Aden, where Saudi Arabia is leading an offensive against Yemen, secured Somaliland massive port investment.

The USD$442 million deal signed with UAE company, DP World, in September 2017 came with additional commitments to development in Somaliland, as well as plans for a military base at Somaliland’s Berbera port.

The deal, however, is also highly politicised and dogged by corruption allegations. It closely aligns Somaliland with the UAE in the unfolding Gulf crisis and disrupts other regional alliances with Djibouti and Ethiopia. It also places Somaliland at odds with Somalia which is maintaining a neutral stance in the conflict.

Challenges that lie ahead

Musa Bihi may be the leader best-placed to steer the country away from further fragmentation and political instability. But his ability to do so will depend, in part, on his regional tenacity and commitment to conciliatory politics at home.

During the electoral process, and laudably so, the opposition galvanised momentum around righting Somaliland’s political imbalances. These include widespread corruption and nepotism that is aided by weak institutions and a political environment that stifles criticism.

Tackling these issues head on will require appointing a new cabinet void of corrupt state officials, but also a strong commitment to reforming Somaliland’s outdated political system. This means prepping legislation for holding parliamentary elections in 2019, but also opening up the political space and pursuing genuine power-sharing.

The ConversationCementing regional trade links and pursuing talks with Somalia will no doubt keep the new president busy. But these elections have revealed the desperate need to look inward, heal the nation and foster national cohesion.

Claire Elder, Doctoral candidate in politics, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Academic Researches

Somaliland: First 100 Days of President Muse Bihi Abdi

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As Somaliland held its latest and strongly contested Presidential Elections in November 2017, the new President marked his first 100 days in the office last week. This paper examines President Bihi’s first 100 days in the office and the issues surrounding him from Politics, Economy, Development, International Relations and many others. It gives a detailed background of the situation in Somaliland and analyses the current circumstances through intellectual and legal perspectives.

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Academic Researches

Somaliland’s Foreign Policy Analysis: The First Four Administrations In Perspective

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According to dominant paradigms of international relations theories, a country’s foreign policy consists of the self-interested strategies chosen by the state to protect its national interests, and the deployment of the various tools of diplomacy and statecraft in order to achieve these objectives within the international relations milieu.

Since Somaliland re-asserted its independence on 18 May 1991, its main foreign policy objective has been the attainment of international recognition. Somaliland has made tremendous strides toward this end by building a functional state with all the legal attributes of a modern state. Notwithstanding the enormous challenges Somaliland has faced under the status of being diplomatically unrecognised for the last 27 years, the state apparatus has continued to evolve internally and externally. Somaliland has conducted foreign relations with the international community in its various shapes and forms, and has continued to welcome the international community cooperate on issues such as development, investment, social reform and consular relations inside Somaliland. In the modern international order, the recognition of statehood is administered by a number of different legal, political and economic factors that include (a) a permanent population, (b) a defined territory, (c) a functioning government, and (d) the capacity to enter into populations with other states. Somaliland has a strong case for satisfying all of these conditions.

It is worth acknowledging that successive Somaliland administrations have done an impressive job with respect to Somaliland’s international relations, given the many international and domestic constraints it faces. Nevertheless, observers of Somaliland’s foreign policy over the past 27 years have seen it as a more reactionary and self-explanatory approach (mere differentiation from Somalia), rather than entirely pragmatic.

It is the theme of this paper to examine Somaliland’s foreign policy goals and decision-making as they evolved under the leadership of Somaliland’s previous four presidents. Doing so involves presenting how these respective administrations dealt with Somaliland’s neighbouring states as well as regional and other global organisations. This paper will also focus on the present foreign policy challenges. It will conclude by offering recommendations with respect to current foreign policy arrangements.

 

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About the Author:

Mohamed Abdillahi Duale is a political analyst and independent researcher on Horn of Africa politics, mainly Somaliland’s international relations. He is currently based in United Kingdom, and Saeed Mohamed Ahmed is a social worker and Civil Society activist based in Somaliland and he is currently the Director for Strategy, Research and Innovation Services of Gollis University.

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Life Style

Somaliland: Researchers Pilot System Using Electrodialysis to Produce Safe Drinking Water

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The demand for cost-effective desalination is increasing with the growing population and the need for safe drinking water, driving continuous innovation in the sector. REvivED water, a pilot project led by FUJIFILM Manufacturing Europe B.V., is focusing on the potential of electrodialysis for desalination applications, both as stand-alone systems and in combination with established desalination technologies.

Electrodialysis can be added as a pre-desalination step to existing Reverse Osmosis systems, increasing their water recovery; more drinking water will be produced from the same amount of seawater with lower energy consumption and at affordable costs. The REvivED water consortium has recently welcomed Trunz Water Systems AG, a Swiss water treatment company with distribution channels across Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific. Trunz Water will build and operate a system in Spain that demonstrates the benefits of combining electrodialysis with Reverse Osmosis for sea water desalination. The test system is expected to be operational by the end of 2018.

The REvivED water project is also developing small scale stand-alone systems for rural areas powered by solar energy. The main target is off-grid applications in developing countries, where brackish water can be converted into safe drinking water. The first such system is under construction and will be tested from May 2018 onwards in Somaliland, Africa, demonstrating the role of electrodialysis in the provision of quality drinking water for the world’s growing population.

 

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