Somaliland took an important step toward stable democracy with parliamentary and local council polls on 31 May. To keep moving in this direction, authorities and the opposition should build consensus on how to run future voting and how to make the government more inclusive.
Protests over upcoming electoral cycle turned violent, leaving at least five dead. After mediation led by clan elders mid-July collapsed, failing to resolve impasse between govt and political opposition over sequencing of upcoming elections, opposition 11 Aug held nationwide demonstrations demanding presidential election be held as planned in Nov; President Bihi has insisted on holding political association election before presidential election, while opposition UCID and Waddani parties have maintained that no other ballot can precede presidential election. Clashes between security forces and protesters left five to seven people killed and 100 injured in capital Hargeisa, Burco and Erigabo cities. Bihi later same day said majority of those injured were security forces “who were attacked with clubs, metal bars, and stones”, pledged to “confront” violent protesters, while opposition leaders said some deaths occurred after security forces opened fire on demonstrators. Six foreign diplomatic missions, including U.S., UK and EU, immediately condemned “excessive use of force” by security forces. Grouping of prominent business leaders in following days attempted to mediate between govt and opposition, but failed to bridge gap.
This week on The Horn, Alan Boswell welcomes Dr. Mohamed Farah Hersi to discuss Somaliland’s evolving role in the Horn of Africa as it works to legitimise itself on the global stage following an unexpected outcome in a recent parliamentary election.
Ethiopia, the U.S. and the EU have brokered surprise talks between the Somalia and Somaliland administrations, which are historically opposed, though progress has stalled while both sides prepare for elections. The parties should cooperate on technical issues, pending a shot at deeper dialogue.
Somalia and Somaliland have been at odds since the latter’s 1991 declaration of independence, which the former rejects. The dispute has cooled after heating up in 2018, but lingering tensions could threaten regional stability. To restart dialogue, the two sides should meet for technical talks.
A dispute between Puntland and Somaliland over the contested areas of Sool and Sanaag risks escalating into open war. The UN, supported by states with influence on the two sides, should renew diplomatic efforts to broker a ceasefire and press both to enter negotiations.
Somaliland’s clan-based democracy has consolidated a state-like authority, kept the peace and attracted donors. But the territory now needs to reform its political bodies, judicial institutions and international engagements to protect itself from continued fragility in neighbouring Somalia – which rejects Somaliland’s independence claims – and civil war in nearby Yemen.
The stalled electoral process has plunged Somaliland into a serious political crisis that presents yet another risk of destabilisation for the region. If its hard-won political stability collapses under the strain of brinkmanship and intransigence, clan leaders might remobilise militias, in effect ending its dream of independence.