Clan Democracy in Somaliland: Prospects and Challenges

By: Hamse Khayre

Since Somaliland withdrew from its union with Somalia in 1991 a nascent democratic system have been implemented. The national charter approved soon after the union withdrawal established a government where the power sharing system was based on clan lines. Subsequently, the constitution of the republic, which was approved by a unanimous national referendum in 2001, stipulates that from the date of approval of the constitution the country directly transfers to a multiparty democratic system instead of a clan system.

Since then, a number of successful elections have been held including local municipality, presidential and parliamentary. However, there have been some post-election security problems in 2012. The main cause of such conflict was attributed to the fact that before the elections a registration of political parties was reopened. The three political parties that secured the most votes in all of the Somaliland regions would officially be considered National Political Parties. Such competition resulted in each Somaliland Clan establishing a party of its own.

If Somaliland goes through the same procedure again it could result in huge damage to its democratic system and its peace as well. Because it will cause each clan to establish its own party, this could subsequently result in any party defeated in the elections being interpreted as clan failure not party failure.

Therefore this study will examine how clan politics shapes Somaliland’s democracy and the effects it has. The latest municipality elections in 2012 will be used as a case study by the researcher.

This paper will consist of five main sections including the introduction, literature review, research methodology, analysis and conclusion.

Overall aim and Objectives of the Study:

The overall aim of this study is to discuss clan politics in Somaliland and how such a kind of democracy could either make or break Somaliland

The objectives of this research are:

  • To investigate the pros and cons of the democratic system that Somaliland exercises.
  • To explain how clan politics in Somaliland can either contribute to the stability of the country or endanger it.
  • To describe the relationship between electoral process, political parties and clan democracy through the example of the Somaliland Local Government Election of 2012.
  • To put forward possible solutions

Research Question:

How does clan politics effect democracy in Somaliland?

Literature Review:

When Somaliland gained its independence from the British on 26th June 1960 it joined South Somalia in 1st July 1960, with limited or no governmental experience, to form the Somali Republic. After a few corrupt years with civilian governments a military coup occurred in October 21st 1969 and the state was under a totalitarian administration for more than two decades until 1991.

Once Somaliland withdraw from the union in 18 May 1991, with little or no experience concerning democracy and other governmental systems, the people agreed to stick with the traditional system meaning that all governmental positions were to be based in clan power sharing. The traditional system of life has been so strong inside societies. Even today there is clan responsibility for each event instead of individual responsibility and the traditional customary law is still strong enough to dominate.

The traditional system succeeded in disarming and stabilizing the majority of the country but it was short on developing the country further. A democratization system was introduced through the Somaliland constitution, approved in a national referendum in 2001. This system has never been easy to follow or further develop.

The people of Somaliland have been struggling to build a state and democratize it. Although the institutions and the structures are in place the mentality of the people and the poor legal framework on elections meant that Somaliland has been far away from the ideal of democracy.

Somaliland conducted a number of elections since the constitution of the republic was approved which stipulating a multiparty system of democratization as illustrated in Article 9(1) “The political system of the Republic of Somaliland shall be based on peace, co-operation, democracy and plurality of political parties” (Somaliland Constitution). The elections conducted after that were at all levels and were successful for an unrecognized and underdeveloped country in Africa with limited resources.

The system worked very well in the first decade. A number of elections were conducted including municipality elections in 2002, presidential elections in 2003, parliamentary elections in 2005 and presidential elections in 2010. However, the system was hindered by a poor legal framework for the election, strong traditional or clan politics and representation, and the legacy of the totalitarian government.

What Went Wrong in the Municipality Elections in 2012?

Somaliland’s adoption of a hybrid system, by sticking with traditional institutions like the Upper House of the Parliament (which is called Guurti) and which is selected in clan lines, and introducing the multiparty democratic system, have been successful and brought political progress to Somaliland (SONSAF, 2012; Jhazbhay, 2008).

Before the municipality elections in 2012 there was a political parties’ registration. This occurred after the president, Silaanyo, appointed a committee in March 2011 to assess whether the country needed more parties than those qualified to be National Political Parties (Udub, Kulmiye and Ucid). The constitution grants the right to formulate a political party to every citizen in Article 9(1) while in Article 9(2) limits the number of National Political Parties into three. After three months of research and consultation with the citizens the committee concluded that the majority of the people were in favor of reopening the political parties’ registration.

Some measures have been taken to enable such a decision. The electoral laws, Law No 14 and Law No 20, have been amended and a National Registration & Approval Commission of Political Associations RAC has been appointed by the president. There were fifteen new political associations and the three previous National Political Parties, but nine of them have been disqualified because they failed to satisfy the legal criteria for selection in the constitution and other electoral laws. The RAC stated that disqualified associations failed to prove that they had an office as well as 1,000 registered members in each region in Somaliland. This caused some friction between the disqualified associations and RAC (Saferworld, 2013, 20).

Two associations among the nine qualified association, Nasiye new association and Somaliland’s former ruling party Udub, withdrew from elections before the list of the candidates in municipality elections was submitted to the NEC due to some internal problems. The other seven parties (KULMIYE, UCID, UMADDA, DALSAN, RAYS, WADANI and XAQSOOR) were approved torun for municipality elections.

Beside the gaps in the electoral laws of the country there were two main concerns. The first was that most of the parties were allied with two or more Somaliland clans and any result was difficult to satisfy. The second was that no voter registration was available in the elections so that double voting was very easy.

Gaps in Somaliland Elections Legal Framework:

One of the main legal frameworks is that the constitution of Somaliland in its Article 9 allows a multiparty political system in sub section 1: “The political system of the Republic of Somaliland shall be based on peace, co-operation, democracy and plurality of political parties”. While in sub section 2 it limits the number of the political parties to three “The number of political parties in the Republic of Somaliland shall not exceed three (3).” In Article 9(3) it illustrates that “A special law shall determine the procedures for the formation of a political party, but it is unlawful for any political party to be based on regionalism or Clan-ism” (Somaliland Constitution Art 9)

Then, the parliament adopted a Political Parties Law no 14/2001 and Presidential and Local Elections Law 20/2001, in line with its 9(A). The former Act discussed the formations and political parties and the way they could qualify as National Political parties, and the latter discussed the procedure of the elections, eligibility of the candidates, the term and so on. Both acts underwent extensive amendments.

The Political Parties Law mentioned that the three parties that win the majority of the seats in the 2002 municipality elections will directly qualify to be the National Political Parties which will have the sole right to nominate candidates in the parliamentary and presidential elections but the act came short as to whether the three National Political Parties will stay for infinity or the same procedure will be applied in each municipality elections.

The Act also, in its Article 6(2), states that any person who is going to be a candidate in elections – whether presidential, parliamentary or municipality – shall be nominated through a political party. This contradicts with Article 22 of the constitution, which gives any citizen the right to run for elections when he/she satisfies the personal criteria.

One big concern is in Article 11(2) of the Presidential and Local Elections Law 20/2001 which discusses the appointment of the National Electoral Commission. It illustrates that the commission will contain seven members; three appointed by the president, two members will be appointed by the two political parties, and the last two will be appointed by the two opposition parties. So, if the president is appointing three out of the seven members, which constitutes almost 43% of the commission votes, we can understand how challenging it is to accept that they are impartial. Although there were extensive amendments of these laws there is still work to be done.

Clan Representation in Somaliland’s Elections:

According to Prof. Hussein A. Bulhan, “A [Somali] person’s genealogy is his identity and social security. It defines his rights and position in society” (Bulhan, 2013, 71). This illustrates that for Somalis the clan is the one who defines not only their social status but also their political orientation.

Somaliland is populated by four main clans: Isaaq, Samaroon, Harti and Issa. Issa populated some towns which are located near the border of Djibouti. Samaroon also dominates mainly in the towns located to the west of Hargeisa. Isaq, the majority clan, resides from Gabiley to Erigavo as well as in most of main cities that brought majority votes like Hargeisa, Burao and Berbera. And the Harti populates from Erigavo to the east, even in Puntland. One major clan that is scattered through Somaliland is Gaboye, which are not concentrated in one area and is a marginalized clan in Somaliland.

The political implication is that each party attracts a shadow president and vice president from Isaaq and Samaroon as they make up a high majority of the country. In addition, there is high rivalry among Isaaq sub clans and some of them try to make alliance with Harti sub-clans. The clan rivalry is usually highest whenever elections come closer.

From Somaliland’s formation in the early 1990s, its foundation was based on clan lines. The Somaliland National Charter 1993 was approved at the Borama Grand Conference, at which 150 nominated representatives from all Somaliland’s clans were present. The charter in its article 10(3), 11(2) stipulates that the House of Elders and House of Representatives will be elected along clan lines. In addition, the Charter’s Article 16(6) states that the president and vice president will be elected at the Borama Conference by clan representatives.

The charter states in its Article 5 that the charter will be replaced with the constitution after two years, but that only happened in 2001. The charter worked effectively for Somaliland as to do so along clan lines was the only way to stabilize and disarm Somaliland’s people.

In municipality election in 2012, Somaliland went back ten years. Instead of democratizing the existing National Political Parties existed which were formulated by all Somaliland’s clans, the people decided to establish new political parties and the misfortune was that each clan of Somaliland formulated its own party while sometimes allied with a few other clans.

This caused many results in the elections not be satisfactory. The SONSAF Post-Election Lessons Learned Evaluation Workshop emphasized that when the NEC announced some winners in districts in Marodijex, and then repealed this later and announced other winners, there was tension. In addition, SONSAF’s report highlighted the protest in Ahmed Dhagah District which caused death and injury and was prompted by the announcement of computer data loss by NEC.

Voter Registration:

Somaliland voter registration law was enacted in 2007 and amended in 2008. (Jama, 2009). A successful voter registration was implemented and voting in the 2010 presidential elections occurred with little double voting.

Due to some minors reaching the age of voting and some errors in the voter registration in 2009, the parliament decided to nullify the voter registration on 13 December 2011. (Saferworld, 2013). This was the only option available as it was impossible to conduct voter registration within few months from the municipality election.

Because of that there was a lot of double and treble voting and most of international observers and papers written after the 2012 elections recommended that there should be a voter registration for each election in Somaliland (Progression 2013; Saferworld 2013).

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