By: Mohamed A. Abdullahi
HARGEISA – As seemingly eternal conflicts and unrelenting insecurity engulfed central and southern regions of Somalia for more than 2 decades, Somaliland has been enjoying relative peace and stability since 1998. Despite the deeply clan-segmented nature of its population, Somaliland managed to survive under weak administration and has successfully conducted 2 presidential elections in 2003 and 2010, one local government election in 2002 and one parliamentary election in 2005.
However, many political observers are very concerned about the ominous signals and rising tensions that are emanating from the upcoming local council elections scheduled for 28/11/2012. Those concerns are real because all the ingredients of clan-based violence are vividly present on the ground. To see the big picture and realize the threat that is hovering over the peace and stability in Somaliland due the upcoming elections, we have to consider what had transpired in the political landscape of Somaliland since 2010 and reflect on the chronology of the events that took place.
The Salient Causes of the Imminent Crisis
The looming political crisis has started in June 2010 when the National Electoral Commission (NEC) literally high-jacked and railroaded the presidential elections in favor of the KULMIYE Party. Motivated by self-interest and perhaps by clan-allegiance, the NEC members hastily conducted the elections with the help of the Somaliland Military Forces who provided them with unconstitutional protection from the local authorities, and so as to enforce their manipulation of the election process. Consequently, some prominent high officials of the newly elected administration high officials consolidated their powers to form a clan dominated government that has close relationship with the supposedly independent National Electoral Commission. This created an atmosphere for gang mentality and a link of favoritism between the high profile government officials and the NEC. With their buddies in power, the greed and money-grubbing activities of the NEC members quickly grew exponentially. They discharged the institutional professional employees without pay and without severance packages in order to save the salaries for diversion. As a glaring example of the prevailing get-rich-quick scheme, the NEC signed a contract in 2010 with a local construction company to execute the construction of the institution’s new multi-storey building without tender. Amazingly, the Commission Chairman hired himself as the consulting engineer for the project with the mandate to supervise and monitor the progress of the construction works!
Secondly, the new administration in collaboration with the NEC enacted a new election laws to replace the long standing three party monopoly system. The new laws were intended to open up the political arena and allow new political organizations to be formed and compete in the local government elections. In the new legislation, 3 political parties will come out after the local government elections and would subsequently compete for the parliamentarian and presidential elections for the coming 10 years. Unfortunately, the political party of the former president (UDUB) who gracefully handed the power to the current administration in 2010 was systematically eliminated in the process. Now, we have 5 new political organizations (ururo) and two former political parties (UCID and KULMIYE) to compete for seats in the local councils throughout the districts of the country. But none of the competing 7 political organizations has broad based support and wide spectrum of membership across all the regions. In reality, they are nothing more than 7 clans gathering under 7 different flags and the members of each clan are bracing to do everything, including armed violence to protect the interests and the prestige of their clan. This is the recipe for stirring tension between the adjacent clans who traditionally contend for the limited resources available in their respective localities. Undoubtedly, these conditions can lead to the eruption of armed confrontation with the possibility of immersing Somaliland into renewed clan-oriented combat and eventual turmoil.
To exasperate the situation, the members of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) have already demonstrated their lust for corruption and their moral decay to the public and to the international community. They have recently awarded 3 profitable service contracts in relation to the upcoming elections (Supply of Stationary, Voter Education and Transportation of Election Materials and Staff) to local companies and they failed to comply with the standards of fair tendering process in all the cases. Shamefully, the NEC has awarded all the contracts to some companies and individuals that would repay them in the form of political leverage and financial gain, disregarding the local tender laws, procedures of donor institutions, and the image of the institution in terms of public trust. Therefore, if the National Electoral Commission has corrupted the tender of all the service contracts in the open, we can certainly come to the conclusion that they will not hold free and fair elections. As they did before, they are likely to use fraudulent scam to manipulate the votes in exchange of cash payments or clan implications.
In fact, the NEC has already published the locations of the polling stations along with new number of ballot boxes for each polling station. The new numbers are substantially different from the numbers of registrants in the latest voter registration, indicating clan disparity. According to the NEC officials, the number of ballot boxes and ballot papers allotted for each polling station is based on the number of persons voted in the latest presidential elections. This has reaffirmed the suspicions of some clans who immediately boycotted the elections. They reasonably feel that the NEC is punishing them for not voting for the president in the last election.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The potential emergence of armed conflict and possibility of sudden flare up of fighting can be avoided with the implementation of effective counter measures. Apparently, the responsibility for the continuation of the relative peace and stability that has been prevailing in Somaliland rests with the elected president of Somaliland. But I will take a shot and make my humble suggestions as follows:
1. Dismissal of the entire commission and replacing them with carefully selected members. The selection should be based on education, integrity, and high moral values instead of loyalty. This society has thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of competent and honest intellectuals but the politicians always look elsewhere. Now is the time to utilize them and let them make contributions to the social wellbeing of their country.
2. Delaying the election of the local councils and allowing the new NEC to set another schedule. Delaying the election may annoy some ambitious politicians and their supporters. But the alternative is to let 7 clans masked as political parties to clash under the supervision of irresponsible and unreliable commission.
3. The Somaliland government in collaboration with the international donors can engage an open dialogue with the leadership of the 7 competing political organizations/parties in an effort to make coalitions and forge the formation of fewer political organizations that have broad based support across the regions. A real political party should accommodate members of all the clans and its membership must include citizens of every region in Somaliland, with particularly attention on the minority clans and citizens from the clans on the west and east borders of the country.
In conclusion, we have to wait and see whether President Silaanyo has the courage and the political will to sack his NEC and save the nation from backtracking to 1994. More importantly, if the European Union and other donors keep pouring substantial financial resources into the National Electoral Commission without monitoring and continue watching the development of events on the sidelines, the aid that was intended to promote democracy may stimulate and set off the beginning of dangerous warfare and foster lawlessness in Somaliland.