For most of this year, I have been reporting on the catastrophic drought which has gripped Somaliland for almost three years, a drought which has also affected huge areas of Puntland and Somalia. I travelled across the length and breadth of the country – from the overflowing paediatric feeding clinics in the capital, Hargeisa, to the remotest nomadic communities in the far east of the country. Throughout that time I never thought I would see people in Somaliland turn out in their tens of thousands for a multi-party election. Yet that is exactly what is happening right now. A country that had been in the grip of hunger and disease is now in the grip of election fever.
As senior UK officials told me recently, Somaliland’s current presidential election is “one of the very few genuinely bright positive spots in region at the moment”. The UK has played an important role in making this happen, not just because it’s helped in the delivery of much needed aid to help avert a famine, but because it’s supported what international observers say is so far a peaceful and genuinely open, fair, one-person one-vote election.
Consider these facts, verified by the UK government, EU officials and international observers; Somaliland’s presidential election on November 13th will be the first ever election in Africa to use Iris-recognition software to register and monitor voting in order to prevent any electoral fraud, nearly 800,000 voters have been registered so far.
All three presidential candidates have held televised presidential debates – which went on for 6 hours. Faisal Ali Warabe, the candidate of the UCID party performed very well during debates. A veteran Somaliland politician, he is a colourful and outspoken operator who has a big personality. But observers say that UCID is very much built around him and is very much a vehicle for him.
Abdirahman Mohamed Abdillahi “Cirro” of the Waddani Party has gathered a lot of former ministers around him but he has been heavily damaged by being supported by the Federal Government of Somalia, from which Somaliland broke away 26 years ago. As such, he has been painted as someone who is in favour of closer ties with the rest of Somalia, something he strongly denies.
Most independent observers believe that the election is likely to be won by Musa Bihi Abdi, a former military commander before the civil war and a veteran of the Somaliland National Movement. He has campaigned hard in Somaliland’s troubled eastern regions and a landmark recent agreement with clans there has seen his campaign receive a significant boost. This may be all very detailed domestic Somaliland politics but it just shows how much has changed in a country where for most of this year, everyone was talking about the danger of famine, rather than the excitement of peaceful multi-party elections.