For the last few years, all clocks in Somaliland have been fixed to 13 November 2022 – the day presidential elections were due to take place in Somaliland. The date was envisioned to be a decisive moment that will put Somaliland past political crisis that have been unfolding over the last couple of years. One thing is now certain: no election will take place on 13th November. Although Somaliland is one of the most vibrant democracies in Africa, its elections are almost always late. While previous election delays always had a deal reached by the stakeholders ahead of election day, this time the date approaches with no such agreements yet reached by the president, political parties and other key stakeholders. This puts Somaliland at a considerably dangerous path to un-explored episodes of lawlessness and potential violence. What is at stake here is Somaliland’s sustained history of peace and civic governance that can potentially be put to a break should the current disagreements go beyond November 13. The president (and his ruling party) and political parties are the main actors, all maintaining extreme ends of a continuum of the election process.
The president’s position is quite clear. He cannot compete with the existing political parties, at least in their current form and shape. The May 2021 joint elections were a wake-up call for the president. Opposition parties hugely defeated the ruling party: Waddani alone elected more MPs than the ruling Kulmiye, speakership of the House of Representatives is fully dominated by the opposition, and the opposition parties won the mayorships of 5 of the 6 provincial capitals. Although the president was granted a two-year term extension by the Guurti (the House of Elders), he is putting all his efforts to ensure necessary preparations and resources are in place to conduct tow subsequent elections in 2023.
While all eyes are set to 13 November, another important date is December 26 – the date that current political parties’ licenses expire. The ruling party’s plan is to hold tight until 26 December (for the political parties to lose their licenses) and then proceed with party elections. So far, the ruling party made all efforts to fast track the registration and qualification of political associations that will participate in the upcoming political party elections. Nine new political associations have made it to the final list and will compete with the current political parties in 2023. In the same year, presidential elections will follow suit, participated by the three political parties that emerge victorious from the preceding party elections. To the ruling party, the results of party elections will be in their favor, whatever the outcome.
The opposition parties also maintain the other extreme. Basically, November comes before December – the president first loses legitimacy (on November 13) before their licenses expire on December 26. The opposition parties’ stance is that the president is only legitimate until 13 November and no other elections, other than presidential elections, should take place in Somaliland. The political parties have waited for five long years and have been mobilizing and expanding their support bases to compete with the ruling party. They cannot lose five-years’ worth of efforts and start afresh. For the past couple of months, the opposition parties have been organizing rallies and meetings with their supporters in the different regions to be ready for action. Come November 13th, the opposition parties will proclaim the president and his government illegitimate and that can have catastrophic consequences. For the first time in Somaliland’s history, the head of the state may be declared ‘illegitimate’ and parallel governments may be instituted. There have been calls from traditional authorities in support of both sides. At a grand clan conference in Burco in October, one of the largest clans in Somaliland concluded that ‘the term extension by the Guurti was unconstitutional and that no political party elections will be conducted in their constituencies’.
The current political impasse tests Somaliland’s democratic institutions and local conflict resolution capacities. Nearly all local capacities that historically kept Somaliland together have been exhausted and are losing relevance, including the Guurti, traditional authorities and business elites. The Guurti – best described as the House of Heirs as the current incumbents are mostly the children or relatives of the initially clan-selected elders – is no longer able to mediate political disagreements. The Guurti’s response to the looming political crisis was a five-year term extension for themselves and a two-year term extension for the president and vice president. Traditional elders and religious leaders have also tried to broker a deal between the president and opposition parties, but their efforts failed. And finally, some of the biggest business tycoons came together and suggested possibly the most sensible proposition that can meet the interests of both the ruling party and opposition parties. Business elites suggested a joint presidential and party elections, with the current political parties competing for the presidency while the three political parties and emerging political associations participate in the political party elections. Unfortunately, this suggestion was also not well received by the key political stakeholders.
As Somaliland approaches the much-awaited 13 November, one can only contemplate on the possibilities that lay ahead. In my view, three potential scenarios could unfold.
1. No Deal: the date arrives with no political consensus reached. This is the most likely scenario. The possible consequences are detrimental: president and his government declared illegitimate, mass demonstrations, bloody clashes between police and demonstrators, all-time low revenue collection capacity and possible inter-communal clashes! And after days/weeks of these episodes, the key stakeholders come to their senses and local conflict resolutions are put to work to broker a way out of the situation. After all, proactive problem-solving is not one of the best qualities of president Bihi, the most important actor in the current crisis. It is still a possibility that restoring peace and order may be a long shot!
2. Last-minute Deal Brokered by the International Community: in the past, Somaliland’s international partners have stepped up to mediate political actors in Somaliland. Any such mediation efforts may be subject to president Bihi’s acceptance. President Bihi is not a big fan of democracy and openly criticized the role of international partners in Somaliland’s governance and development endeavors. The international partners, on the other hand, may only intervene when they are certain that their efforts will yield a political consensus.
3. Hold Tight Until December 26: this defining date could also legally see all political parties losing their license and, hence, political associations and current political parties could equally participate in any discussions on the election roadmap. This highly unlikely scenario could rule in favor of the president who can confidently deliver two subsequent elections in 2023. This will come with huge costs and, by then, elections may no longer be a priority for Somaliland. This is too high a risk to entertain.
A ‘magic bullet’ is still possible to save Somaliland from this uncertainty! As always, stakeholders can all compromise and forge a quick-fix political settlement in the remaining days. All formal and informal conflict resolution institutions should be activated to broker a deal. The international partners should not shy away from trying their level best to mediate even if the results of their efforts may not be too visible. There are so many viable options that can meet the interests of all, including the proposition by the business elites.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mubarak Geeddi is a development worker based in Hargeisa. Mubarak has master’s in International Development: Politics, Governance and Development Policies. He is available on Twitter (@MubGeedi).
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints of Somaliland Chronicle, and its staff.
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