Home Discussion Papers Africa Watch Multiparty democracy in the Horn of Africa: Somaliland 2010 presidential elections
Multiparty democracy in the Horn of Africa: Somaliland 2010 presidential elections
Written by Shingirai Maparura (1) Thursday, 02 September 2010 08:29

Of all the civil wars and humanitarian crises in Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia, nowhere else has state collapse been more profound than in Somalia. Even before its ‘collapse’ the Somali state had essentially ‘failed’, as the number of people benefiting from state policies diminished and internal security declined.(2) Under the rule of General Mohamed Siyad Barre the Somali state began to crumble and his overthrow in 1991 marked the beginning of the total disintegration of the state as a whole. All state legislative and judicial institutions ceased to function, along with the army, banks and government-run welfare services. In the absence of a central Government, Somalis began to fashion ‘a range of governance systems – some effective, some destructive.’(3) These included warlord fiefdoms, long distance trading enterprises, Islamic-based organisations and nascent state-like polities where a degree of consent had been established between the rulers and the ruled. Somaliland comes under the last category.(4) Since it declared independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991, the Republic of Somaliland has been determined to establish democratic self-rule within its borders, and has succeeded.

On 26 June, 2010 Somaliland held its 2nd presidential elections that saw the inauguration of opposition leader Ahmed M. Mahamoud Silanyo into office. In total contradiction to the contemporary narrative that conflict stifles the establishment of democracy, Somaliland has emerged as a unique paradox in the Horn of Africa region. Not only has it reformed its institutional and economic infrastructure, but it has gone further to establish a multiparty, democratic and stable political system in the most unstable and undemocratic region on the globe.

This discussion paper first provides a brief background of Somaliland, and then an in-depth analysis of the 2010 Presidential elections, with the purpose of outlining the unique character of Somaliland that has equipped it to arise as a resolute beacon of democracy in a region saturated with violence and conflict.


The ‘Republic of Somaliland’ was founded on 18 May 1991, when the leaders of the Somali National Movement (SNM) and elders of northern clans, meeting at the ‘Grand Conference of the Northern Peoples’ in the town of Burco, revoked the 1960 Act of Union that had joined the former colonial territories of Italian Somalia and the British Somaliland Protectorate.(5) The newly established entity assumed the borders of the former British colony, which adjoins Ethiopia to the south and west, Djibouti to the north-west, the Gulf of Aden to the north, and Puntland to the east.

With regards to legal governance, the 2001 constitution of Somaliland established a hybrid system of Government. Constitutionally, Somaliland has three branches of Government.  A president, elected for five years, heads and nominates a cabinet of ministers theoretically subject to parliamentary approval. The legislature is composed of two chambers, the unelected upper House of Elders (the Guurti) nominated by the clans and the lower House of Representatives, which is directly elected for six years. This 82-member House of Representatives is the main legislative chamber, approving all legislation, as well as the annual budget and acts as a check on the power of the executive, which is the strongest branch.(6) In addition to the Government, Somaliland has other branches that further qualify it as a state - an army, a police force and judiciary, and many of the symbols of statehood, such as a flag, its own currency, passports and vehicle licence plates.(7)

While the emergence of such order is alarming in a region plagued by conflict, what deserves more attention is the method of governance that Somaliland prescribes to. The constitution of Somaliland determines that the state will abide according to principles of a democratic, multi-party system.  In this system the head of state, parliament and district councils will be directly elected by the public through a secret ballot, instead of through electoral colleges of elders. The constitution, however, limits the number of parties able to contest national elections to three. To become an accredited party, political organisations contesting district council elections have to gain 20% of the votes in four of Somaliland’s six regions. This is intended to ensure that the national parties represented a cross section of clans and avoids the emergence of religious or clan-dominated parties. Within the confines of this system, parliamentary elections are administered according to the proportional representation method, to ensure fair distribution of seats. Presidential elections are administered according to the first-past-the-post system.(8)

2010 Presidential elections

The Presidential elections were held on 26 June 2010 - they were originally scheduled for 31 August 2008, but the instability in the eastern Sanaag and Sool regions led the Guurti to extend the incumbent's term for a year in early April 2008, setting the election for 15 March 2009. This began a lengthy period of postponements, which eventually led to political instability. The National Electoral Committee (NEC) finally announced the final date of June 2010, under immense domestic and international pressure.(9)

On election day, polling site officials carried out their work in a conscientious manner.  The NEC made a commendable, systematic effort to involve trained university students as election officials.(10) There was a great presence of observers representing all three political parties at an overwhelming number of balloting sites, and external observers from Norway, Finland, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US).(11) The election proceeded calmly, with a single incident reported in Sool region, where a female NEC member was killed by local anti-Somaliland militia. Turnout was estimated at 33% around noon, with no major complaints about fairness. At the end of election day, turnout was announced at 50.31%. The results saw Ahmed M. Mahamoud Silanyo of the Peace Unity and Development Party (Khumiye) getting 49.59% of the vote, incumbent President Dahir Riyale Kahin of the United People’s Democratic Party (UDUB) got 33.23% of the vote and Faysal Cali Warabe of the Party For Justice and Development (UCID) got the remaining 17.18%.(12)

In accordance with the Constitution of Somaliland, the victory of Silanyo was announced by NEC chairman, Mr. Essa Yusuf Mohammed. The Supreme Court was then given fifteen days in which to endorse the new president and out-going President Rayale had 30 days to handover the power. Handover went smoothly and democratically as promised by President Rayale and President-elect Silanyo was sworn into office in a formal ceremony on 27 July in the presence of officials of Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya.(13)

However, a well-run election does not proceed without incident. A significant number of polling sites did not post the needed alphabetical division of voter’s last names, which led to early confusion on where to cast votes. There were sporadic irregularities including instances of voting by those younger than 16, the legal age of voting.  By the end of balloting, these problems had either been solved or had not reached a level sufficient to call into question the credibility of the process.(14)

The International Republican Institute (IRI) which has monitored more than 135 elections in more than 40 countries, sent a delegation of 19 officials co-lead by Richard S. Williamson, former United Nations Ambassador and Presidential Special Envoy for Sudan; and Constance Berry Newman, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and former US Agency for International Development (USAID) Assistant Administrator for Africa. This delegation reported that, “Somaliland’s National Election Commission (NEC) deserves much credit.” They were highly impressed not only by the efficiency demonstrated on polling day, but the overall prevalence of peace and calm over the whole election period. The IRI commended the people of Somaliland for their display of determination for peaceful self-determination. While Somaliland is still denied international recognition, the IRI asserts that the international community should credit such democratic progress and the example it sets for others.(15)

Somaliland’s unique character

Somaliland has been described by many commentators as a ‘breakaway state,’ by Professor Ioan Lewis as ‘the only viable Somali state on offer’ and by Professor Jhazbhay as ‘Africa’s best kept secret.’(16) The lack of consensus on Somaliland’s character is due to its inimitable nature. It lacks the international recognition that qualifies it as a state, yet has all the internal attributes of a nation state.

The multiparty democratic governance present in Somaliland is of great significance.  The first point of interest is the presence of democracy. Due to the violent political culture prevalent in the Horn of Africa region, contemporary narratives outline the mutual exclusivity of democracy and conflict. They cannot coexist, and more importantly areas of conflict are incapable of possessing democratic traits. However, not only has Somaliland emerged from a violent history, its democracy continues to thrive while surrounded by undemocratic authoritarian led states. Theorists prescribe that democracy is firmly rooted in the belief that people in any society should be free to determine their own political, economic, social, and cultural systems. However, the form it takes can vary according to the particular circumstances of any society. Indeed, whereas the principles of democracy are universal, their expression and practice cannot be transplanted wholesale from one community to another. Most African societies do not have a tradition of liberal democracy, and those leaders who took power after independence destroyed whatever checks and balances their constitutions contained. Some of the liberal democratic structures, including multi-party systems, which these states have been required to establish in the 1990S were not familiar to most of the inhabitants. It is therefore difficult to see how a stable Western-type democracy can exist if the structures through which ordinary people are expected to express their decisions are unfamiliar to them.(17)

The second point of interest therefore, is the presence of this ‘unfamiliar’ multi party democracy. This is very rare in Africa. Though many nations have embraced democracy, the majority of African states are one-party states. Regions of relative peace and political stability in Africa are still host to democracy’s led by majority one party rule. Yet Somaliland has joined the ranks of progressive states, alongside nations like South Africa, as the few multi party democracies in Africa, contradicting modern political theories.

Another feature unique to Somaliland is the peaceful handover of power. President Rayal was in office for 8 years, since 2003. When compared to the rest of Africa, which is host to numerous lifelong presidents, Somaliland stands as a poster child of frequent and peaceful political turn over. Omar Bongo of Gabon was the longest serving African president, his term lasted 41 years.(18) Gaddafi of Libya has been in power for 41 years to date, Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea 31 years, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe 30 years, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt 29 years, Paul Biya of Cameroon 28 years, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda 24 years, and the infamous Omar Al Bashir of Sudan 21 years.(19) How is it possible that Somaliland has managed to change presidents after two terms while other African nations within regions of relatively more peace and stability have failed?


The democratic election of Somaliland’s 2nd president is testament of the determination of the people of Somaliland and their leadership to democratic principles. Though the ‘Republic of Somaliland’ lacks international recognition, it still stands as a symbol of hope for the remaining undemocratic states in the Horn of Africa. The tale of Somaliland is especially momentous due to the geographic position it finds itself, a state within a state crippled by corruption, violence and institutional failure. Somaliland has emerged as the exact opposite.

The NEC made sure that the elections followed international standards of accountability and transparency, employed the latest technologies to avoid fraud and overall supervised a credible and successful election. The 2010 election showed the capability of a nation to establish democracy in an area of conflict.  Aptly noted by the government of Ethiopia in their public statement to Somaliland, “The people of Somaliland once again demonstrated their sense of responsibility and commitment to maintaining the peace and stability of the country, as well as its on-going democratisation. The Somaliland political parties have also remained true to this high standard of citizenship demonstrated by their people. It does not matter who has prevailed in the election - the winners are the people of Somaliland and they need to be congratulated.”(20)

Indeed, it the people of Somaliland who have steered their society in this positive direction, and with no international pressure or coercion, Somaliland has chosen democracy. The Parliamentary and District election scheduled for later this year, show that Somaliland is determined to continue on this road of democracy for the foreseeable future.


(1) Contact Shingirai Maparura through Consultancy Africa Intelligence's Africa Watch Unit ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).
(2) Brons, M H (2001), Society, Security, Sovereignty and the State in Somalia: From Statelessness to Statelessness? the Netherlands: International Books.
(3) Bradbury, Mark , Abokor, Adan Yusuf and Yusuf, Haroon Ahmed(2003) 'Somaliland: choosing politics
over violence', Review of African Political Economy, 30: 97, 455 - 478
(4) Ibid.
(5) Somaliland Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2002), ‘The Case for Somaliland’s International Recognition as an Independent State’, Hargeisa: Somaliland Government.
(6) Ibid.
(7) Ibid.
(8) Ibid.
(9) Somaliland Press, ‘SOMALILAND: President approves election date’,  Hargeisa: Somaliland Press, 15 May 2010. http://somalilandpress.com.
(10) Ibid.
(11) Iqbal Jhazbhay, ‘Press Statement on 26th June 2010 Somaliland Presidential Elections’, Somaliland Press, 4 July 2010, http://somalilandpress.com.
(12) Somaliland Press, ‘Kulmiye party wins Somaliland election’, 1 July 2010, http://somalilandpress.com.
(13) Ibid.
(14) Ibid.
(15) Ibid.
(16) Jhazbhay I. (2003) Somaliland: Africa’s best kept secret, A challenge to the international community? African Security Review 12(4) pp76-82.
(17) Makinda S. (1996) Democracy and Multiparty politics in Africa. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 34, 4.  pp. 555-573.
(18) Bongo died in 2009.
(19) Updated statistics , originally from Adusei, L. A. (2009, Feb 9). African Union Is it a Failure or Success?, Ghana News http://www.modernghana.com.                
(20) Ibid.


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