Democratisation and its discontents
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Recent developments have made the
choice faced by the international community considerably clearer:
develop pragmatic responses to Somaliland's demand for
self-determination or continue to insist upon the increasingly
abstract notion of the unity and territorial integrity of the Somali
Republic - a course of action almost certain to open a new chapter in
the Somali civil war.
Somaliland's presidential election of
14 April 2003 was a milestone in the self-declared, unrecognised
republic's process of democratisation. Nearly half a million voters
cast ballots in one of the closest polls ever conducted in the region:
when the last votes had been counted and the results announced on 19
April, the incumbent president, Dahir Rayale Kahin, had won by only 80
A former British protectorate in the
Horn of Africa, Somaliland declared its independence from the rest of
the Somali Republic in May 1991, following the collapse of the
military regime in Mogadishu. Although unrecognised by any country,
Somaliland has followed a very different trajectory from the rest of
the "failed state" of Somalia, embarking on a process of
internally driven political, economic and social reconstruction.
Somaliland's democratic transition began in May 2001 with a plebiscite
on a new constitution that introduced a multiparty electoral system,
and continued in December 2002 with local elections that were widely
described as open and transparent. The final stage of the process -
legislative elections - is scheduled to take place by early 2005.
The electoral process has met with
widespread approval from domestic and international observers alike,
but has not been without problems. The enlistment of government
resources and personnel in support of the ruling party's campaign, the
disqualification of numerous ballot boxes due to procedural errors,
reports of government harassment and intimidation of opposition
supporters in the aftermath of the election, and the opposition's
initial refusal to accept defeat all marred an otherwise promising
The next phase of the democratic
transition will be the most critical: until opposition parties are
able to contest parliamentary seats, Somaliland will function as a de
facto one party state. Somaliland's international partners can play a
key role in assisting the National Electoral Commission to convene
legislative elections with the least possible delay, while ensuring a
level playing field. Constitutional and judicial reforms may also be
required to ensure the integrity of the democratic process over the
Somaliland's increasingly credible
claims to statehood present the international community with a thorny
diplomatic dilemma at a time when southern Somali leaders are meeting
under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development
(IGAD) with the aim of establishing a new Somali government.
Recognition of Somaliland, although under consideration by a growing
number of African and Western governments, is still vigorously
resisted by many members of both the African Union (AU) and the Arab
League on the grounds that the unity and territorial integrity of
member states is sacrosanct. Furthermore, the creation of a new Somali
government emerging from the IGAD process that claims jurisdiction
over Somaliland threatens to open a new phase in the Somali conflict.
Diplomatic hopes for a negotiated
settlement between Somaliland and a future Somali government, however,
are unlikely to bear fruit. A hypothetical dialogue on Somali unity
would have to overcome mutually exclusive preconditions for talks,
divergent visions of what a reunited Somali state might look like and
incompatible institutional arrangements. Failing a negotiated
settlement, any attempt to coerce Somaliland back to the Somali fold
would entail a bitter and probably futile conflict. The question now
confronting the international community is no longer whether
Somaliland should be recognised as an independent state, but whether
there remain any viable alternatives.
To the Somaliland Government:
Demonstrate a genuine commitment to pluralism by releasing remaining
political detainees and reinstating any government employees dismissed
from their jobs for political reasons.
the proposed press law and invite the independent media to assist in
drafting legislation more conducive to the development of independent
yet responsible media.
the formal transition to a multiparty political system with the least
possible delay, by setting the date of parliamentary elections within
less than twelve months.
legislation providing for reasonable subsidies to all official
political parties on an equitable basis.
a commitment to human rights by investigating past abuses, taking
corrective action against those responsible and introducing new
measures to strengthen the protection of human rights.
6. Initiate an
independent review of the constitution, with particular attention to
the three-party ceiling.
7. Undertake a
comprehensive review of the electoral law, based on lessons learned.
legislation to strengthen the electoral process, including penalties
for infractions of the electoral law.
an independent judicial review, with a view to introducing reforms
strengthening both the capacity of the judiciary and its independence
from political influence.
To Donor Governments:
10. Provide party building training and
financial assistance to all three official parties in order to prepare
them for legislative elections.
11. Offer technical and financial
assistance to the National Electoral Commission in order to remedy
problems encountered during local and presidential elections, and to
assist in the design and implementation of an appropriate voter
12. Assist the government with other
reforms intended to advance the process of democratisation.
13. Increase support for social and
economic development in order to enhance the 'peace dividend' and
preclude public disillusionment with the democratisation process.
14. Explore options for providing
Somaliland with access to direct bilateral and multilateral financial
assistance pending a resolution of the territory's legal status.
To the United Nations, African Union
15. Adopt a more open-minded approach
to the question of Somaliland's ultimate status, in particular by:
a) dispatching fact-finding missions to
assess the current situation and to recommend policy options, with
leadership taken by either the AU's Peace and Security Council or the
presidential troika (currently South Africa, Mozambique and Zambia) in
view of the serious divisions within IGAD;
b) taking Somaliland's demands under
formal consideration, including a legal review of the territory's case
vis-a-vis the current AU charter; and
c) granting Somaliland observer status
pending a final decision on its international status.
Democratisation and its Discontents
Africa Report N°66, 28 July 2003