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Horn Of Africa Bulletin: " Somaliland 's Diaspora: The Absent But Active Constituency"
On 15 May 2008, the term of office for Somaliland 's president expired without preparations being in place for a new election. For a few weeks the territory teetered on the edge of a constitutional and political crisis, as political parties argued about what to do, and donors threatened to withdraw their support for the electoral process. Rather than resort to force, however, the parties agreed to refocus their efforts to register voters and prepare elections. A new schedule calls for presidential elections to take place by April 2009 and local council elections to follow soon thereafter.
In the run-up to the elections, Somalilanders both inside the de facto independent state and in the far-flung diaspora are busy raising funds, solidifying political platforms, nominating candidates, and discussing issues that will influence their vote. Perhaps more than any other country, the diaspora's involvement in politics is crucial.
The Somaliland diaspora, like that of South Central Somalia, defies most preconceptions of what constitutes a diaspora. Most of the Somali educated class have multiple passports, and move between Somaliland, the United Arab Emirates , Djibouti , Ethiopia , Europe and North America . Many may be considered members of a 'part-time' diaspora, since they spend a part of each year inside Somaliland .
Nodes in the transnational Somali network – whether London , Minneapolis , Washington , D.C. or Stockholm – are stages on which the politics of Somaliland are discussed and contested. Those living in or visiting these places are actively engaged in shaping the political debate about Somaliland 's present and future. Political parties have offices in most places where large numbers of Somalilanders live. Even where the numbers are not as great, participation in internet blogs and chatrooms created a de-territorialised space in which political discussion generates momentum that has a practical impact on politics 'back home.'
An example: Somalilanders in the UK
Somalilanders have a long association with the UK . Their country of origin was a British colony from the late 1800s to 1960, when – together with southern Somalia (which had been an Italian colony) – it gained independence. Despite the fact that
Somaliland joined the south a few days after independence to form the Republic of Somalia , many Somalilanders continued to foster a national identity based on the territorial boundaries of the former British territory.
The first Somalis to travel to the UK were merchant seamen, who settled in coastal areas such as Cardiff and Liverpool . Students also came to the UK , and some settled there. More recently, many Somalilanders have come to the UK as refugees. Unofficial estimates as to the number of Somalis living in the UK range from 95-250,000. The official 2001 census reported a population of 43,000, though this number is certainly an underestimate.
The Somali National Movement (SNM) was formed at a conference held in London in 1981 by Somalilanders living in the UK , Saudi Arabia and Somalia . The SNM is credited with ousting dictator Mohamed Siad Barre's troops from the north of the country. The SNM formed the first government of Somaliland when the territory declared its independence in 1991.
Party politics in Somaliland
The establishment of the Constitution of Somaliland in 2000 set down the rules for political organisation. Under the Constitution, no more than three political parties may legally exist (Article 25); these must not be based on membership of a single clan or draw its support from a single region (Article 26). The three main political parties to emerge since then, and which will appear on the ballots in 2009, are:
• Kulmiye: Peace, Unity and Development Party (Somali:
Kulmiye Nabad, Midnimo iyo horumar ), led by Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo
• UDUB: United Democratic People's Party (Somali:
Ururka Dimuqraadiga Ummadda Bahawday ), led by President Daahir Rayaale Kaahin
• UCID: Party for Justice and Welfare (Somali:
Ururka Caddaalada iyo Daryeelka , or UCID), led by Faisal Ali Warabe
Furthermore there are also political parties that are not registered or legally recognised but still try to gain support, such as the QARAN led by Mohamed Abdi Gaboose. All of the legally recognized parties have a presence in the UK , although Kulmiye is reputed to have the strongest base in the Diaspora. Iqbal Jhazbhay, a long-time observer of politics in Somaliland , has noted that Kulmiye derives its support from the middle class and educated elite.
Kulmiye's chairman, Ahmed Mohamed Sillanyo, is himself a British citizen who divides his time between London and Hargeysa (the capital city of Somaliland ). UCID's chairman, Faisal Ali Warabe, also hails from the diaspora, having returned from Finland to become more active in Somaliland politics.
All of the parties look outwards to their supporters in the diaspora not only for funding, but also for technical/professional support and for input on planks in their political platforms. Jhazbhay notes that the diaspora has helped to provide Somaliland with a 'crucially strategic link to the outside world in a way that has helped it to overcome the diplomatic isolation imposed by non-recognition.'
All parties send their candidates to meet with groups in the diaspora. In addition, communication between the diaspora and Somaliland communities takes place through the media: the BBC Somali Service that nearly everyone listens to as well as radio stations with smaller, more localized followings based in Somaliland and in many European countries. A proliferation of websites, blogs, Facebook and You-Tube sites, together with old-fashioned community meetings, social gatherings, and visits home, facilitates transnational interaction and sharing of information and opinions.
Electoral track record
Electoral politics is new to Somaliland , as only three previous elections have been held. The first, elections for local council seats, was held in December 2002. In
2003, voters turned out for the first multi-party presidential election. When the total 488,543 votes cast were counted, the UDUB party candidate and Acting President – Rayaale – had won by only 80 votes over nearest rival Kulmiye, led by Silanyo. Rayaale had served as vice-president under former President Mohamed Ibrahim Egal and as acting president since Egal's death. Kulmiye chose to accept the results of the election, despite accusations of voting irregularities, in the interests of preserving the peace.
Since 2000 Somaliland has had a bicameral legislature, which includes an elected House of Representatives (Golaha Wakiilada) and a clan-appointed Council of Traditional Elders (Golaha Guurtida), each with 82 seats. However, these seats were appointed by clan elders until the first parliamentary (Council of Representatives) elections, held on 29 September 2005. As a result of these elections, the two opposition parties, Kulmiye (which won 28 seats) and UCID (which won 21 seats), together gained control of the legislative body. This is one of the only examples in Africa of a country in which the executive and legislative branches are controlled by different parties.
As many as 30 Parliamentarians are considered to be from the diaspora. Therefore, the Parliament has in the past had difficulty gathering the minimum number of representatives needed to take decisions as so many of its members were either living or travelling abroad.
Although only those registered and living in Somaliland on election day will be allowed to vote, the role of the diaspora in the elections will be critical. This absent but active constituency has the power to change the face of political leadership and discourse in Somaliland .
Dr. Laura Hammond
Department of Development Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of Londo
Horn of Africa Bulletin