Somalia has been undergoing a mixture of state-building and peace-building processes.
What can Somaliland learn from Somalia?
Strange question, isn’t it?
Perhaps you are aware of the current political tension in Somaliland where the opposition parties have rejected President Muse Bihi’s term extension.
Well, the question used to be the other way round for the past two-three decades when neighbouring Somalia was undergoing a series of civil wars manifested in warlordism, violent terrorist extremism and international interventions.
But, to say the least, the Somali saying “isma dhaanto iyo dhasheedii (siblings have similar traits)” seems to be applying to Somaliland as it is deviating from its democratic path that was hybrid with local cultural norms to more authoritarian rule like has been in Somalia
Since the advent of the democratization process that started with multipartyism in 2001, Somaliland has held 3 presidential elections, 2 local council elections and 2 parliamentary elections (for the House of Representatives, all in a peaceful manner with some degree of freedom and fairness.
On the other hand, from the year 2000 onwards, Somalia has been undergoing what can be described as a mixture of state-building and peace-building processes.
This started with the Grand Reconciliation Conference in Arta, Djibouti ending with the election of clan-based 4.5 formula power-sharing, followed by a pure state formation process in Eldoret and Imbigaati, Kenya that started in early 2004 and ended with the election of president and parliament based on the same formula in 2006.
The new government faced locally rooted challenges from the Union of Islamic Courts but the negotiated agreement was reached on August 18, 2008, in Djibouti between Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the ARS group, resulting in the ARS leader winning the election and leading the TFG until August 2012.
From 2012, Somalia took state building and peacebuilding process that included three parliamentary and presidential elections at the federal level and more than ten Federal Member State level elections.
During the last 20 years (2002-2022), Somalia and Somaliland need to learn a lot from each other. One obvious lesson that Somalia should not learn from Somaliland is muddo-kordhin, (presidential term extension), which Somaliland has abused.
The most unbecoming bit to Somaliland’s political maturity, democracy and even stability is the muddo-kordhin which has conventional.
The second and very prominent President Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal (may Allah rest his soul in paradise) started this culture with his first extension in 1995 adding two years to his term and for the other two chambers of the parliament (Guurti and House of Representatives) to appease them, using the civil war that he started as justification.
The successive presidents Dahir Rayale Kahin, Ahmed Silanyo and now Muse Bihi have orchestrated their term extension although unlike Bihi the others prepared the ground for a more acceptable and conducive environment for their extensions through consultations, while Bihi is using government forces to suppress opposition and cling on to power.
But the most shocking is the Somaliland House of Elders which has been sitting for 25 years without elections and just recently its term by a further five years which makes their term 30 years, six times their constitutional 5-year tenure.
More worrying is that this chamber is conferred with so much power such as conflict resolution and the ability to extend for the president which is the main anchor for their unquestioned extension.
However, the greatest absurdity is that this House extends its term with no reference to the constitution.
There is no single article or sub-article that indicates Guurti can extend its term.
Compare this with the Federal Government (of Somalia) which has no loopholes for term extensions either for the president or parliament.
An attempt which was made by former President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajoo backfired.
Some Federal Member States especially Puntland have experienced violent unrest and conflict after previous presidents tried to extend their terms.
This is one great lesson that Somaliland should learn from Somalia.
Another lesson that Somaliland should learn from Somalia is inclusivity, especially for women and minorities.
One of the black spots in Somaliland’s democracy is that there is not a single woman elected in parliament or Guurti.
Worse still, there are only less than 10 women in the 305 local councillors and none of the local councils of major regional capital cities has 50% female representation.
Moreover, there were only 13 female candidates for the 246 parliamentary seats and none was elected.
On the contrary, the Federal Government has more than 22%, a little short of the earmarked 30% and every Federal Member State has a minimum of 10% of women in their parliaments.
Furthermore, Banadir Region has the practice of appointing at least 3 women as district commissioners while Somaliland has none. Definitely, this is one lesson that Somaliland must learn from Somalia.
The unfortunate part is in Somaliland president Bihi blocked and rejected reserving any quota for women, mainly due to the influence of his inner circles and supporters.
Regarding minorities, Somalia has reserved a good quota, 31 MPs for minority groups including marginalized ones while Somaliland has only one elected recently- Hon.
Barkhad Batun is an outspoken activist, a lawyer by profession and a spokesperson for the opposition Waddani party.
Worse still no one from minority clans was elected to the 300+ local councils in the 20 electoral districts of Somaliland.
Somaliland can also learn from their brothers how they have put structural mechanisms to ensure inclusivity, representation and political participation.
International partners have invested in Somaliland’s state-building and democracy but it seems their support has not been effective in addressing structural deficiencies.
For example, they have put too much effort into ensuring women’s quota in the Somalia federal and regional parliaments but have not done the same in Somaliland.
Secondly, they have witnessed periodical recurrent conflicts over the president’s term extension since 2008 and 2009 when President Rayale attempted to extend his term without consensus and consultation with political stakeholders.
The national election commission which is the main vehicle for any democratic system is always captured by the incumbent president.
Another very important lesson that Somaliland should learn from Somalia is the power distribution to diverse clans and inclusivity in the top leadership.
The president, speakers of the parliament, chief justice, military, police and security agency leaders are distributed to major clans in Somalia whereas the central clan, Isaaq takes almost all top positions in Somaliland.
In Somalia, it is against the norm for the president to appoint close relatives and family members to big and sensitive positions.
In Somaliland, the president appoints from his clan and even family.
Currently, the chief justice, military commander and key ministries are occupied by president Bihi’s clan while the former president appointed his in-laws to top positions.
Political inclusivity and power distribution to diverse clans bring social cohesion and consolidate people’s trust in the governance system.
The culture of appointing family members to top and sensitive positions was one of the major root causes that triggered the collapse of the Somali Democratic Republic.
So, Somaliland should learn this from Somalia.
Somaliland has been greatly honoured and respected due to its democratization trajectory and record.
However, there were growing negatives in Somaliland’s credentials that are now threatening its stability.
It seems Somaliland is deviating from its consultative, dialogue and consensus-based approach to conflicts while its institutions are not yet mature and credible to gain full independence from the ruling class.
Somaliland intellectuals and prominent traditional leaders previously had a significant role and enjoyed ascribed status to intervene and mediate when politicians deviate.
In fact, this was the main difference between Somaliland and Somalia.
It is time for Somaliland to become self-critical and pay attention to the structural inequalities within their venture to modern democratic governance.
The author is a leading scholar and analyst on Horn of Africa politics