“Don’t take away what we have received through fair and free elections.” (Quotation from Suldan Abshir Maxamuud Ducaale)
By Jaafar M. Sh Jama
The self-declared Republic of Somaliland held municipal elections (council elections) during the month of November 2012. Municipal elections are for city commissioners, mayors and deputy mayors. Regional council elections pave the way for future presidential and parliamentary elections through the participation of existing political parties, which are essentially tribal parties. Two areas of the Awdal region where council election results sparked disputes include Gabiley, an area of mixed Isaq and Gadabursi clans, and Saylac, an area of mixed Gadabursi and Issa clans. These areas have been tense since the beginning of the council elections, with each party/clan vying for majority rule. Each group has done its best to mobilize its kinship to tilt votes to its own side.
The seven clan-based political parties (Isaq tribal parties) compete for dominance through forming alliances and by making promises of positions, money and territorial rewards—because no single party is able to muster enough votes to form a majority. This was the case in the coastal town of Zeila, home both Gadabursi and Issa clans. The Gadabursi clan won the recent municipal elections.
Saylac has a total of seventeen seats for city council. Ten of the seats won by the Gadabursi and seven went to Issa candidates. This brought an end to a quota system in which Issa candidates had been appointed as mayor of the city. Now all candidates vie for positions in the fledgling democracy of Somaliland. Prior to these municipal elections, Issa candidates held the seats of governor, mayor, director of the commission, secretary of the commission and staff working for the city council. The previously guaranteed mayor’s position as Issa was a result of tribal allocations left over from earlier administrations of Somalia, before it declared its independence as Somaliland.
Issa elders in Saylac refuse to accept the outcome of the council elections. They want to return to the quota system which allowed them to appoint an Issa mayor for the last ten years. Instead of working within the system, they opted to rally support from the President of Djibouti, Ismail Omar Geele, and took their petition directly to the office of the President of Somaliland, Ahmed Mohamoud Silanyo. They petitioned to stop the endorsement of the results of council elections. Saylac is the only city in Somaliland where the National Electoral Commission and the courts did not certify the election results. The elders of Awdal mutually agreed that the president has no authority to override the National Electoral Commission and refused to accept any interference with those results.
Gadabursi elders successfully offered assurances that the land and the city would be shared by both clans; and that the new mayor and deputy mayor would treat both clans equally in the distribution of resources and other assets.
Issa grievances identify deeper issues related to the electoral process. First, they pointed out that the Gadabursi won the council elections due to the absence of a large population of Issas displaced by the civil war of the 1990s. In fact, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Somailand’s Office of Reconstruction and Resettlement closed the repatriation program in early 2000, accounting for the majority of displaced families. They also pointed out unspecified mistakes in the election process, which conveniently omitted extended clans mobilized from Djibouti and beyond—thus violating jurisdictional boundaries.
The Issa have been trying to keep Saylac under their control for many years through Djibouti, the hub and political power house of the Issa. The Gadabursi elders collectively pointed out that Djibouti has its hands involved in encouraging Issa to protest and discredit the municipal election results. The Issa administration of Djibouti has been trying to shift the leadership of Saylac since the beginning of the Somali Reconciliation Conference of Arta (2000). At that conference the paper government of Abdiqasim Salad Hassan arbitrarily allocated Zeila to Issa as pay back for Gele’s support in propping up his administration. The Djibouti administration is supporting Issa in Zeila and the surrounding areas by encouraging its residents to reject the results of the election. Suldan Suleiman Ismail, a prominent Gadabursi elder said that he would not accept “the way the Issa want to frame the issue.”
Unlike Saylac, the council elections in Gabiley had all the hallmarks of nepotism, voter registration fraud, ballot boxes prevented from being delivered to Gadabursi villages around Gabiley and disregard of the Gabiley Gadabursi voters. According to clan head man (Caqil), Muxumed Bile Maxamed (Faaliye), the level of corruption, vote rigging and steps taken by the National Electoral Commission to tilt the results to one side was shocking. He said that he and other clan headmen had seen firsthand the extent of corruption and alienation of Gadaburrsi voters.
The Gabiley city council elections produced sixteen Isaaq counselors, one counselor for the Madigan and one for the Gurgure clan. The Gadabursi sub-lineage of Baha Samaroon residing all around Gabiley—pioneers of the urban development of Gabiley—were sidelined both by the National Electoral Commission of Gabiley consisting of all Isaaq and a city whose primary residents had no representation at any level. All the elected counselors went to the ruling party of Kulmiye and do not reflect accurately the local population distribution. Unlike the Gadabursi elders who publicly assured the Issa clan that they would adhere to the rule of law, the law was completely disregarded in the Gabiley elections.
Both of these towns tested Somaliland to see whether it adheres to the rule of law or continues tribal bullying in the form of the so called state apparatus. Suldaan Abshir Maxamuud ducaale reminds citizens of Somaliland that it has taken years for Somaliland to be able to hold these elections. They have passed through many stages, some of which include a traditional method of reconciliation that ended the northern civil war; creation of a national charter and establishing a constitution to overcome clan bickering. Suldan Ducaale reminds Somaliland tribal shareholders that the constitution is “eroding from the edges like an old book and it is losing its effectiveness and meaning.” According to the Suldaan, Saylac is a testament to “a lack of respect for the electoral laws by not endorsing and certifying the new mayor and deputy mayor of Saylac to proceed to do their job as government civil servants.” Suldan Xassan Xadi said, “Law and the outcome of a fair and free election should not be replaced by tribal messages or pressures from neighboring Djibouti.”
Garaad Mohamed advises, “don’t override the decision of the National Electoral Commission in Saylac the same way that you did not change the outcomes of the election council in Burco which resulted in the governor and mayor to be from your clan of Habar Jecelo rather than sharing with Habar Yonis.” Elders of Awdal also reminded Somaliland leadership that Gabiley genuinely needs a better balance of power.
The council elections illustrate several significant underlying concerns. Municipal elections became a competition over clan representation and an opportunity for manipulation by “clan entrepreneurs.” For the most part, the incumbent government utilizes long standing clan disputes to the benefit of its own clan, or gives leverage to clan alliances by passing flawed electoral laws and procedures. The President of Somaliland has overstepped the law by returning to the tribal wheeling and dealing instead of relying upon fragile institutions. It is also clear that kinship institutions continue to be in cohorts with the so called state to promote a clan-based society whose objective is to use tools of democracy for clan gains. The incumbent leadership including the National Electoral Commission has not provided a good example and did not rise above kinship meddling. The NEC was not allowed to be independent from the executive branch.
It is important that the following recommendations be followed including the evaluation of the best form of democracy suitable for a clan-based society. At this time, direct municipal elections in areas of mixed territories must be replaced with a balanced representation of clans until the clan or clans learn that an individual outside of their kinship can be fair and just in the execution of laws. The municipal offices are responsible for the operations of police, courts, schools, property taxes and other resources. It is vital and essential that each clan to have presentation in all the organs of municipal government for justice and law enforcement to work effectively.
- Provide better registration for the citizens of these municipalities, either by locality or clan. No particular clan is confined to Somaliland colonial boundaries. Families continue to straddle the borders. This issue should be taken to parliament to determine which course of action is suitable for a nomadic society where a particular locality does not have much meaning.
- Future municipal elections should focus on community issues critical to the development of the respective communities, including water, sanitation, education, health, and infrastructure development.
- All eight Isaaq lineages must be consolidated into one or two political parties to eliminate party fragmentation, and to provide opportunities for others to have the lead or an important role in the party rather than using other clans simply as window dressing.
- The government of Somaliland must stop using the double standard of endorsing and certifying areas belonging to its own kinship and tossing out the fair and honest results of the elections in areas that are strictly Gadabursi. This double standard is divisive—it is not conducive to good governance, safety and security of the people.
- The composition of the National Electoral Commission must be revised to make it inclusive in each town. This is the most important concern at the municipal election level.
- Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID), which came at the invitation of the National Electoral Commission to fund the municipal elections must cease its funding until or unless the internal municipal elections of Somaliland are equitable, fair, and just.
At this juncture Somaliland elections are consolidating the tribal state rather than beginning the journey to overcome tribal and clan barriers in order to build a civil society and common identity for all Somalis in Somaliland. The DFID can readily contribute to other humanitarian crisis in the region by providing support in the areas of health, education, and potable water. The DFID should not be used as a platform to endorse the local elections, which must be unbiased, honest, legitimate and fair in order to help bring about the future ambitions of statehood.
By Jaafar M. Sh Jama