Is Somaliland Forfeiting its Right to ‘Democratic’ Label?


In the wake of a massive crackdown on the free media and forces for democratic change, Somaliland’s elders (upper) house, the Guurti, at the behest of the governing party Kulmiye, in October 2022 extended the terms of office for themselves for five years and by two years for the president.

This has delayed the two elections scheduled for November 13 and December 26. After 30 years, there are still no women elected into government in Somaliland.

Next door to me, the nearest health centre receives a patient with dengue fever, which hinders blood clotting, killing its victim; medications for halting bleeding arrive only after 75 hours! This is the reality we live with almost every day and yet our governing Kulmiye party tours the world to woo lawmakers in the UK with “gifts”, confusing lobbyists.

This recklessness has been met with global condemnation and has alienated the last remaining advocates of Somaliland in the Western capitals. This recklessness has forced the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) to hint at punitive measures against the ruling party, saying presidential elections without a time frame will lead to a deadly civil war.

The ruling party, Kulmiye, not only arbitrarily arrested journalists, shut down media outlets including the local agencies of the BBC and the VOA, and sent the intellectuals into exile, but also put senior members of opposition forces behind bars, overriding their immunities. An army of spies installed in mosques, and even families, has eroded democracy and freedom of speech.

Burundian troops serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), rest after a ground advance the previous night. World leaders have warned that presidential elections without a time frame will lead to a deadly civil war in Somaliland. Picture: Reuters

The people censor their conversation not only on TVs, but also in the cafés, in their households, since “you don’t know who’s who”. A Somalilander, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for his safety, said he was suspended from carrying out his duties when he posted condolences for his neighbour’s grieving family whose son was killed in a peaceful rally by police brutality.

A picture is worth a thousand words. In 2017 Bihi was elected for a five-year term but he pretends he doesn’t know when the end of his term is, thus he is a president for life in the making – Bihi, who achieved little in his five-year term except turning Somaliland into a family enterprise.

Will the West continue to watch him looting the national treasure, arresting innocents for voicing their concerns, and killing innocent demonstrators indefinitely?

The opposition Waddani party leader survived a government-orchestrated assassination and he hardly shows up at rallies. A half dozen were martyred in the last rally (in August) when gunmen in civilian vehicles chased the protesters in Hodan Hills very far from the government district, and shot them dead from behind. No one was tried for the extra-judicial killings of peaceful protesters. Voters vowed to vote him out, so the presidential election turned out a red line for the president as long as the Wadani opposition has a valid certificate to participate in it.

While the world has been struggling to figure out Somaliland’s democracy without a single female MP or any elected official whatsoever, Guurti, unelected body pulled out a rubber stamp and extended their term for half a decade and two years for the outgoing president whose mandate ends on November 13, 2022. Voters lost their volition.

Instead of fair and free elections, Somaliland moved to stain and corrupt the oldest democracy of the world, the UK. The blood money from the famine is alleged to have been pocketed by certain UK lawmakers. Somaliland’s advocates like Michael Rubin backed off calling the president “the strongman”, a euphemism for dictator. Africa needs strong institutions not strongmen, said former US President Barack Obama in his speech to Africa.

Somaliland brags zero female MPs, and it’s disgraceful given Malala Yusuf’s elaboration that “we can’t all succeed when of half of us are held back”. Somaliland women fight for women emancipation and universal suffrage in the 21st century because the right to be elected is out of discussion at the moment as the patriarchal democracy prevails and manifests its ugly face.

Following the illegitimate extensions, the US-led West, the EU, the UK, and the US have issued a strong worded statement urging Somaliland’s governing party, particularly, the strongman, to come to his senses and return to the negotiation table with the stakeholders: the opposition forces, the National Election Commission, and the intellectuals to reach a consensus.

The Western ambassadors in the Horn of Africa predicted the gradual downfall of Somaliland because of the strongman’s actions. Guurti or Senate passed an illegal extension just before the Garxajis’ grand summit declared that they’ll boycott any future presidential election unless it’s held in a nine-month time frame. (The Garxaji are a a major clan of the wider Isaaq clan family.)

So far so good, the impact of stick diplomacy has worked. Will the donors freeze aid, sanction the president’s travel, or impose food embargo upon “only-male democracy”, to force the strongman back to the negotiation table to reach consensus? Will he continue to build his arsenal of oppression or heed the democratic world?

Only time will tell.

By Abdirahman Duale

* Du’ale is a Senior Editor at Democracy Chronicles, a columnist and contributor to many respected publications.

* * This article was first published by The African.


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