HARGEISA, 12 February 2010 (Somalilandpress) – Although the country of Somaliland has made significant strides in its democratic development, some groups remain largely outside the political structure. Over the course of the past year, the International Republican Institute (IRI) has worked to address this issue through a number of initiatives designed to increase the political participation of marginalized groups.

In late April and early May 2008, IRI provided 10 Somalilanders with the opportunity to travel to Uganda as part of a study tour examining that nation’s success in integrating marginalized people into the political system. The delegation met with some of the country’s most prominent leaders on disability issues, including the parliamentarian Honorable William Nokrach, a polio survivor who has difficulty walking.

Nokrach explained that marginalized groups in Uganda had successfully lobbied for legislation on affirmative action policies and special seats for underrepresented groups in the Ugandan parliament. If the Somalilanders wished to emulate this success, Nokrach advised, they would need to focus on creating a unified identity and purpose for their lobbying efforts.

Following their return from Uganda, the delegation formed an umbrella organization to advocate for the rights of all marginalized groups, the Somaliland Marginalized Advocacy Group or SOMAG. Each of the participants represented one of four distinct marginalized groups; women, youth, persons with disabilities and minority clans

SOMAG provided the marginalized groups with a unified voice to challenge the significant political obstacles these groups face in their efforts to actively participate in the governance of Somaliland. Recognizing that the communications gap between marginalized people and their elected representatives prevented the government from effectively understanding or responding to the needs of the people, SOMAG and IRI decided to initiate a series of public dialogues between ordinary Somalilanders and top political leaders.

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The First Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honorable Abdiaziz Mohamed Samaale, opened a dialogue on August 20, 2008 with a call for marginalized groups to, “continue lobbying and advocating for their inclusion in mainstream political processes.”

The dialogues provided a venue for the exchange of information between Somaliland’s elected officials and their constituents. In some cases, this involved politicians informing Somalilanders of their constitutional rights, such as when Honorable Mohamed Ahmed Obsiye of the House of Representatives pointed out at an August 21, 2008 dialogue that, “the Somaliland constitution guarantees the rights of women and states that all marginalized groups are a part of the society.”

In other instances, the politicians learned from the audience. After listening to the remarks of the participants at the August 21, 2008 dialogue, Keyse Hassan Egah, Secretary General of the Kulmiye political party, noted that he had, “a newfound understanding of the depth of the marginalized groups’ desire for inclusion in the political process.”

The political dialogues provided advocates for marginalized groups the chance to show their fellow Somalilanders that political involvement could make a positive difference in their daily lives. At each of the dialogues, attendees received information on the steps they could take to increase and formalize their political participation, including information on voter registration and joining political parties.

Ultimately, IRI and SOMAG co-hosted six public dialogues between June and November 2008, providing a forum for more than 750 Somalilanders to voice their opinions directly to members of parliament and leaders from each of Somaliland’s three political parties: UDUB, UCID and Kulmiye. IRI’s work with SOMAG has inspired many other civil society organizations in the country to become more active on the political front and to start public advocacy campaigns of their own.

Source: IRI