Somaliland: The journey to Hargeisa

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An election official applying indelible ink to prevent multiple voting to the finger of a man preparing to vote in the 2010 Presidential elections in SomalilandProgressio

Steve Kibble has arrived in Hargeisa, Somaliland, as the campaigning by political parties gets underway ahead of the local elections on 28 November:

After a less than promising start leaving Nairobi, Michael, Steph and Steve the first members of the core team of the International Election Observers (IEO) arrived in Hargeisa last Saturday 3 November.

Some hours earlier, having dragged ourselves reluctantly from warm beds at 4.30am, our usually reliable taxi-driver had turned up late, then managed to run out of fuel en route to Nairobi airport. Pulling over abruptly, he’d disappeared with a wave into the murky Nairobi dawn. He reappeared ten minutes later on the back of a motorbike carrying a jerrycan, while we pretended everything was fine.

Refuelled, off we went, passing through police checkpoints and made the plane OK, if a tad late, and with nothing more than a ‘you are the last ones’ admonition from the European Commission check-in desk. We then boarded a nineteen-seater turboprop plane, only to find ourselves headed back towards Nairobi’s domestic terminal shortly after take-off as the two navigation systems apparently began to qDr Steve Kibble to coordinate international election observer missionuarrel as to which one was right.

Oh well, time for that cup of coffee we’d missed with the early start… resisting the range of stronger options in spite of the example set by a hearty 9am German beer-drinking crowd at the next table. We got on a different plane and some hours later, landed in Hargeisa where we were greeted by the winner of the most-off-hand-customs-official-of-the-year award. Catching my passport as it was slung back to me (yep the old cricket skills are still there) we were met by Abdurahman the Progressio logistics manager and taken to the old stomping ground, the Maan-soor Hotel. There the waiters greeted us back, one opining ‘so the elections are really on track if Michael and Steve are here’. Prosaically we proceeded to start making appointments.

So far things are looking fine and the process, despite numerous hiccups, is on track. We have met the National Electoral Commission with the usual pleasantries on both sides accompanied by wishes for a fruitful relationship. There have also been meetings where Suad the Progressio country rep has accompanied us (making us a four-continent representing team) with donors, political parties, NEC consultants, NAGAAD the women’s coalition and SONSAF the NGO coalition and Progressio partner. The network is running an election forum, training, providing domestic observers as well as monitoring whether the parties are following the codes of conduct they signed.

There’s been the odd tough meeting, such as the full and frank exchange of views between donors and political parties to thrash out costs and expenditure issues. But that particular exchange seems to have left no ill feeling.

Michael went on a security training course which provided useful tips, including a few on how best to pass team members physically through narrow, shoulder-height gaps in a string wall, while negotiating via VHF radio with grumpy organisers pretending to be even grumpier clan elders.

Steve did the first of perhaps many media interviews for the state broadcaster, speaking, to Steph’s amusement, in his best international English. The fact he was sitting down, the camera angles were looming above him made him reflect he looked like a slightly demented elf. But we got the main points across of why we were here, what kind of observers (activists, NGO workers, ex-diplomats, diaspora, academics) and where we were from (mostly everywhere when we all arrive).

30 days to the elections, many people including ministers to see, observers to organise, and work to do…but, as ever, there is great commitment of Somalilanders to taking the next step on the road to democracy.

More next week on meeting the security guys, plus Stephanie’s encounters with gazelles and camels…

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