Somaliland’s Democratic Setbacks
During November 2019 the Republic of Somaliland, which declared independence from Somalia in 1991 and has since achieved a hard-won degree of peace and stability, encountered troubling setbacks to its democratic institutions.
These setbacks included a rapidly constricting environment for freedom of expression. On 18 November, Somaliland’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) ordered the closure of the Horn Cable TV station and arrested its editor-in-chief following its broadcast of a critical report about Hargeisa’s airport.
At the same time, following a dispute between Somaliland’s political parties over the composition of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), the Waddani opposition party called for demonstrations on 18 November in the capital city of Hargeisa. The party has refused to support the NEC or to nominate its designated member out of concerns about the body’s alleged political bias toward the ruling Kulmiye party. However, on the eve of the demonstrations Somaliland police chief Brigadier General Dabagale announced that they were illegal and would be banned. On the 18th, a crowd of young Waddani supporters faced off with police, resulting in serious injuries to two police officers. Many demonstrators were arrested, along with two high-ranking party officials including the Secretary General.
On 23 November, the Somaliland Parliament voted to postpone the upcoming parliamentary elections, extending the term of its lower house by two years and its upper house by three, citing lack of compliance with election plans by the opposition. This is one in a long series of delays; Somaliland’s last parliamentary election was completed in 2005. As a result, no one currently under 30 years old has voted in a parliamentary election in Somaliland.
The international community reacted to these events with concern. Donor countries released a joint statement on 27 November warning that the month’s events had “significantly undermined these commitments [by political parties to hold elections] to the detriment of Somaliland’s democratic credentials and international standing. Likewise, we are deeply concerned by instances of seemingly arbitrary detentions and by increased restrictions on freedom of expression.” The signees urged for “both parliamentary and local elections to take place without any further delay, well before the end of the calendar year 2020.”
Preparations (and arguments) begin in earnest for Somalia’s 2020 elections
The federal election year of 2020 is fast approaching, with much still left undone in terms of preparation for Somalia’s first one-person-one-vote election. On 15 November, Somalia’s National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC) announced that it will conduct a nationwide voter registration exercise beginning in March 2020, aimed at registering 2-3 million Somalis. However, the Somali parliament has still not passed an elections bill that would enable such an initiative, and there is still no consensus between the federal government and federal member state (FMS) authorities about how the election itself is to be administered.
On 19 November, Somali Police Force and AMISOM leaders met to discuss how to provide adequate security for the elections through the recently-formed Election Security Task Force. Participants in this meeting highlighted the need to identify the specific locations where voting will take place and to train police on how to protect these.
In a 21 November speech to the UN Security Council, UN special envoy for Somalia James Swan underscored the need for a firm consensus at many levels on the upcoming elections, emphasizing that “This will entail dialogue and compromise between the central government and Federal Member States; between the executive and legislature; between current office-holders and those now out of power; and between elite leaders and those community elders, civil society organizations, women’s and youth groups… Somalia’s leaders must act urgently to break this stalemate between the Center and the Federal Member States.”
In a subsequent speech to the Security Council, NIEC chairperson Halima Ismail Ibrahim asserted that Somalia is committed to abandoning the clan-based power-sharing model used in the previous election cycle, which she denounced as “compromised by extensive vote-buying…a lot of corruption…limited participation of women in the two houses, and complete exclusion of marginalized and minority groups.”
On 27 November, Somalia’s parliamentary ad hoc committee on elections presented a report based on public consultations to Parliament, proposing a first-past-the-post election system as the most viable model for the country. The report explained that consulted Somalis overwhelmingly opposed the closed-list proportional representation system approved by the council of ministers in May 2019, as it would clash with the “4.5” clan power-sharing framework.
Somalia and Kenya Reach a Partial Rapprochement
As of the start of November, Kenya-Somalia bilateral relations were at a low ebb due to the two countries’ ongoing dispute over maritime territory. However, on 14 November at a meeting in Nairobi, the presidents of Somalia and Kenya reached an agreement that significantly lowered the level of animosity. While Somalia would not agree to drop the maritime case now due to be resolved by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2020, in the meantime the two countries agreed to increase the ease of travel between them by loosening visa regulations and restoring direct flights between Nairobi and Mogadishu.
The agreement was immediately welcomed by Somalia’s major international donor countries, many of whom signed a joint statement released on 16 November praising the accord and noting “the value of mutually beneficial relations between Somalia and its neighbours which contribute to the prosperity of their peoples, and positively impact security and development in the wider Horn of Africa region.”
On 28 November, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta affirmed in a speech that Kenya has no plans to withdraw its troop contingent from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) until Al Shabaab is defeated. “In pursuance of this objective and that of the international community,” President Kenyatta stated, “our troops will continue being part of AMISOM until such a time that this objective has been achieved.”
The Federal Government Moves against ASWJ in Galmudug
The dispute in Galmudug between the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) and the Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama’ah (ASWJ) Sufi militant group continued to escalate in early November, stemming from ASWJ’s opposition to the federal Ministry of Interior’s appointment of a technical committee to choose members of the state parliament. On 2 November, federal forces took over a police station in the ASWJ-controlled town of Guri-El and drove the group out of town. These forces went on to remove ASWJ from other key towns including Mataban and to close in on the capital city of Dhusamareb.
These events threatened to upend Galmudug’s statebuilding process, the power-sharing agreement reached between ASWJ and the FGS in July 2019 and ASWJ’s key role in limiting Al Shabaab’s inroads into the state. According to Hussein Sheikh Ali of the Mogadishu-based Hiraal Institute, ““Galmudug has been relatively stable save for the clan clashes thanks to a sense of stability instilled by Ahlu Sunna. What we are likely to see are more insecurity and accelerated clan conflict. This is opening Pandora’s box.”
Opposition leaders in Mogadishu criticized the move as short-sighted and warned that it would make it more difficult for regional governments and other key groups to trust the federal government to abide by its agreements. Others expressed fears that the campaign against ASWJ could push it into finding common cause with Al Shabaab, thus removing a crucial buffer zone in Central Somalia preventing Shabaab’s northward expansion.