Lessons from Somaliland Local Elections

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By: Somali Word (somaliword.blogspot.com)

On 28th November 2012 Somaliland held its local elections to deepen the roots of its democratic system and speed up the process of decentralisation of power. Elected local officials who are accountable to their local communities may enhance good governance and improve the lives of the local population. However, the local elections have revealed huge deficiencies in the system which needs to be addressed. Any successful democratic system requires robust institutions whether it is political parties, strong parliament or independent civic institutions. Governments are as good as the institutions and the systems that underpin them so it is imperative to get them right. This encourages transparency and safeguards against corruption.

Local elections are different from the parliamentary and presidential elections. In tribal societies this can create divisions within local communities if they are not perceived to be fair, free and transparent. Also, there is more room for fraud as the candidates themselves can manipulate the system without due regard to their party machine or to the electoral rules. There is no doubt that something has gone wrong in this election. But I refuse to take the prevailing narrow view that the government party in collaboration with the NEC was solely responsible for this election fiasco. Indeed the government and the NEC have shown incompetence in dealing with the aftermath of the allegations. The security forces have adopted a heavy handed approach on the protestors but this should not deflect from the major flaws in the system. These flaws could produce unfair results or disappoint certain groups. Also the security of certain areas obstructed people to vote having a profound bearing on some political parties, particularly those which may derive a significant support from the affected areas.

One of the major defects of the system is the absence of census and electoral registration. Without these it is difficult to establish who is eligible to vote or estimate the number of voters in a constituency. This is particularly significant when a party thinks they will receive the most votes from an area on the bases that its core voters make up the majority. If it turns out not true and another group’s vote overwhelms the votes of those assumed to be the majority it will come as a shock to the parties and to their core supporters. This is why it is important to have a voter registration and a census in the country to prevent unnecessary tensions between the communities who may share the same territory.

Justice is over used in Somali politics but how do you measure justice in relation to Somali issues? Is it the sole responsibility of the government to deliver justice? Should the people do justice to their government? In the normal understanding of the word, those in authority should be fair when considering the distribution of resources and power. The government should always seek its legitimacy through justice but not through force. Once people put their faith in their institutions and they are seen to be fair and just, it is right for one to expect the government to uphold the justice of these institutions and be fair to its entire population. But I would argue that it is not that clear cut in Somali politics and in order for the government to be just people need to be just and fair to their government too;

· It is almost impossible to deliver justice when people do not wait for it and take revenge well before the government acts.

· When a disappointed community threatens the government and educated individuals rush to publish statements in support of their community before a due process is carried out.

· When a perception becomes a reality and is acted upon before the evidence is established.

· When the media reinforces tribal segregation by actively encouraging tribal dissent. It has become a common place that tribal elders exchange messages and counter messages through the media to the extent that one may wonder if they assumed the position of the government.

The media makes a story of every meeting that a few elders hold under the name of their tribe. This politicisation of tribal gatherings is detrimental to the cohesion and the unity of the people and it dilutes the role of the traditional elders in society. When the line between the traditional elders and the politicians is blurred, it creates disunity within the communities and creates new conflicts of interest, as evidenced in Somalia. In the face of this, there is hardly an opportunity for justice or justice to be administered by the institutions which are tasked to do so.

This is not to say that people should accept an authoritarian regime, this runs counter to our culture and people have fought against it before. But we need to have a mature debate of what sort of government or institutions we want. Do we want institutions which are constantly sabotaged before they show their capabilities? Do we want a government which devotes more time in responding to tribal concerns or mediating between the tribes than on advancing the economic and political aspirations of the entire nation? Do we want a strong nation with a strong sense of identity or communities which are more powerful than the actual institutions of the state? Should we prefer perception to evidence? These are things we need to think about.

As one may notice, my writings tend to lean on the side of the authorities. This is because I see the people’s hindrance to the development of just institutions. I am confident that there will never be a civil war in Somaliland as Somaliland communities do not normally unite for unjust causes. However, time has come to move away from the language of war and division to solidarity in vision and from passive activism to active engagement (being critical but not disruptive). Therefore, there are lessons for the Somaliland government and for the people from the local elections that took place on 28th November 2012.

Somaliland Government.

Somaliland people fought against a dictatorship to regain their rights and freedoms. The freedom to vote in an environment free from intimidation, fraud and violence is one of the freedoms that many died for. People have the right to expect their government to spearhead their aspirations, set the standard for good governance and hold itself as the protector of their rights. In many ways, the government is not offering a clear social policy for the nation which is similar to the economic policy set out in its 2030 document. The government must understand that the nation’s health and democratisation depends on strong parliament and strong political parties which give voice to the people in place of the tribes. This is more urgent as the role of the traditional elders appears to be politicised and more youthful men are being appointed as traditional leaders.

In light of the recent local elections, the confidence has been eroded and the government was slow to act after the demonstrations in Hargeisa. Also, despite the difficulties faced by the NEC (which were not entirely on their fault), the commission has shown a great incompetence. Therefore, in order to bring back the confidence and the trust of the people in the system, it is advisable for the commission to resign after the situation is resolved. Social change can only be driven through the absence of corruption, transparency, investment in local areas or through strong democratic institutions. The government does not have enough resources to heavily develop local communities so it is important that the government is free from corruption, transparent and empowers the democratic institutions of the country. No resources to invest coupled with corruption and fraud is the ultimate trigger for social disintegration. Our neighbour, Somalia, holds a lesson for us. The president office should surround itself with experts who can authoritatively give advice on their chosen fields.

People

Fair and just society cannot be achieved if we do not put our institutions first and give an opportunity to these institutions and the government to address our concerns. Encouraging clandestine point of view will serve no community’s interest. Until our educated start valuing our institutions more and having second thoughts about giving blank statements in support of their disappointed clan politicians or communities, we may not realise the full potential of this nation. Therefore, I purpose the establishment of independent Institute of Social Reform in which Somaliland’s educated group can pool their expertise together in order to offer an independent and impartial advice on range of issues to the government, parliaments and to the political parties.

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