Background to Somaliland

History and Recognition

Somaliland Democratisation

On 29 September 2005 the population of the Republic of Somaliland, an internationally-unrecognised country in north-west Somalia, elected a new parliament. These parliamentary elections, the first to be held in the Somali region since 1969, were an important step in establishing a constitutionally-based, democratic governmental system in Somaliland. On 26 June 2010, that process was advanced a further step with a second presidential election. The opposition won the election and the incumbent stepped down peacefully, marking an orderly transfer of power that is remarkably rare far beyond Somali areas.

Since Somaliland’s reconstitution as an independent state in May 1991, the territory has sought to build a new polity, charting a path away from violent conflict to a competitive and democratic political system. The process began with a constitutional plebiscite in 2001, and since 2002 all of Somaliland’s key political institutions – district councils, the presidency and vice presidency, and, with these latest elections, parliament itself – have been subjected to popular vote. The successful staging of these three elections has important implications for Somaliland and the political entities that emerge from the wreckage of the Somali state, as well as for the region in general.

The introduction in Somaliland of universal suffrage, and the creation of political parties that are not based on clan, mark a significant attempt to move away from the kinship-based politics of the past two decades. Furthermore, the establishment of an elected parliament has the potential to restore a more equitable balance to political authority, by curbing the excesses of the executive and the increasing corruption of political life that had begun to corrode the political project in Somaliland.

Transitional Federal Government of Somalia

The process of establishing an elected government in Somaliland has occurred in parallel with regional and international efforts to restore a national government to Somalia. This has involved the formation of the Transitional National Government in 2000 and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in 2004. Indeed, progress towards forming a national government for Somalia galvanised Somaliland’s government into holding the constitutional referendum in 2001. The subsequent elections and the demonstrated commitment of Somaliland’s people to peaceful democratic practices of governance presents an enormous political challenge to Somalia’s TFG and a dilemma for those in Somalia and the international community who oppose the aspirations of people in Somaliland for independence. At the same time the three elections demonstrate what can be feasible elsewhere in Somalia, should conditions allow.

Regional Contrasts

The elections also have regional connotations. The peaceful manner in which the polls were conducted contrasts with the violence that accompanied elections in neighbouring Ethiopia in 2005. They also provide inspiration for civil activists advocating democratic change elsewhere in the region, such as in Djibouti and Eritrea. Some analysts regard Somaliland’s experiences and achievements as a model for the new government of South Sudan.