By Ali Hassan
The political, security, socio and economic situation in Somalia is evolving, transitional and fragile. The country has experienced one of the longest civil conflicts and insecurity in the world and still continues to grapple with high levels of insecurity, under development, absence of basic social services, weak governance structures, competing, antagonistic and dysfunctional political system. Current and previous administrations have made positive and incremental progress toward normalization and restoration of civil and security organs that have made tangible headways. We have a long way to go to realize the dreams of the Somali people for a secure, peaceful and prosperous country.
However, the situation is far from been normal. A big junk of the country is under the control of Al Shabab and access to these population centers is a no-go zone for the government and other regional administrations. Moreover, the working relationship between the national government and several federal member states has grounded to a halt. In fact, it has become confrontational with each side trying to outdo and undermine the other. There are frequent press releases from the leadership of these regional states trying to circumvent decisions from the federal government and its institutions. In short, there is schism between state and national leadership on the direction the country is moving with each side accusing the other of violating the constitution.
It is against this background that the national government is planning to hold national elections early next year. While these elections have been mentioned here and there in the past, many believe that there has been little or any meaningful preparations and consultations deemed necessary to hold elections in an environment such as Somalia does not exist.
Under normal circumstances, countries in post conflict situations spend years in planning for elections and strife to put in place the necessary infrastructure and laws required to hold these elections. This includes, among others, allocation of sufficient resources, holding wider and in-depth consultations with all stakeholders, establishing the necessary legal framework and conducting vigorous voter education and registration throughout the country.
For countries who had a history of underperforming democratic institutions such as Somalia, the timeframe could be longer and costlier. Somalia which hardly had democratic institutions even during the brief civilian administration between 1960-69 is no exception.
The last time a competitive election was held in Somalia was March 1969 with the ruling Somali Youth League (SYL) claiming landslide victory with other smaller parties immediately joining the SYL even before the new parliament was sworn in. It is believed that there were wide spread electoral fraud that led to, among other issues, the assassination of the then president Sharmarke and the subsequent military takeover in October of the same year. Siad Barre’s one-party rule lasted for over 20 years, followed by a vicious civil war that engulfed the whole country. A gap of 50 years since the last election in 1969. Five generations of Somalis have never voted and doesn’t know anything about elections.
Conflict and Post Conflict Election Environment
It has become a common occurrence that elections in Africa and particularly those organized in countries emerging from post conflict lead to conflict and destabilization. Case studies in the majority of these countries have shown that the ruling parties always win with big margins. One African Head of State was once quoted as saying that, why would one organize an election that they are not certain of its outcome.
In general, international stakeholders try to encourage countries emerging from conflicts to organize elections in order to help that particular country establish domestic legitimacy to pave the way for reconciliation and reconstruction. Equally, local stakeholders have the same objective in mind. However, both local and particularly international donors agree that any hastily organized election has the potential to re-ignite dormant conflicts.
In Africa and elsewhere in the developing world, elections are fought like wars, where the incumbent always wins by any means necessary and with big margins to avoid re-runs and treats opponents like enemies to be defeated at any cost.
Prospects of Holding One Man One Vote Elections in Somalia
Elections are not one-time events, but a process of a long-term democratization of nation and institution building to firmly put in place all the elements necessary to facilitate and support such democratization. Contrary to the perception that elections symbolize return to normalcy and an end to conflicts, the opposite is true. Holding elections in Somalia at this stage could lead to unintended consequences and displacement of thousands of people during the pandemic season of Convid-19.
The basic conditions necessary for Somalia to hold elections should include, among others; functioning governmental institutions such as the judiciary, security, civil service an independent electoral body that are able to do their work professionally and with transparency. In addition, other enablers of free society and democracy such as free media, vibrant civil society, consultations among all stakeholders on the norms and parameters of electioneering should be in existence and working.
Since the establishment of the Transitional National Government in 2000 up to the election of the current president, members of parliament have spearheaded the election of the president and although there were always accusations of vote buying, I believe that it has worked well. Transition from one administration to next went peacefully. The system has worked and I don’t see any compelling justification that warrants to change it now.
In Somalia, everyone is armed and a disputed election will undoubtedly lead to armed conflict with dire consequences. The Somali people, its leadership and the international community has to avoid such scenarios from ever happening. There are reports from Mogadishu that the Bakaraha weapon’s market in Mogadishu is brimming with high demand. This is a clear indication of what might happen next. Other destabilizing elements could take advantage of any crisis and the situation could get out of hand.
To build democracy in Somalia in this hostile environment, one needs to start from the grassroots and move higher up. It will be prudent to start with local municipal elections, district administrations, school boards, village councils, etc. and build a momentum and interest in understanding elections and democracy. This approach of building democracy from bottom up will help people understand the democratization process. I believe that this is an approach worth investing
An Appeal to All Concerned
The consequences of failing to understand the implications and the seriousness of going ahead with elections in Somalia at this critical time in our country’s history are too great to ignore. Holding elections in a country besieged by conflicts is complicated, dangerous and requires high levels of preparedness. I call on the Somali leadership at the federal and state levels as well as community and religious leaders to seize this moment and spare the country and the vulnerable population destruction and displacement.
I would like to urge Somalia’s silent majority to wake up and be part of the discussion. I also call on the civil society to take its role in opening up debates and consultations on the election issues and for the elders and particularly the business community to wake up to the dangers of Mogadishu becoming the battle ground for the political supremacy in Somalia. Mogadishu has slowly, but painfully recovered from the destruction and displacement of the civil war. Equally,
Similarly, I would like to call on the international community who are passively watching as the crisis unfolds and tensions building up to have their voices heard. Forceful and concrete actions should be taken to avoid a recurrence of conflicts in Somalia. The international community has invested in the stabilization of Somalia and spent so much time, goodwill and resources to ignore the current political impasse and political paralysis.
Finally, I would like to call upon all the federal government leadership at the executive and legislative branches to open up the democratic space and let each and every interested Somali to be part of the debate and discussions on the future governance of our country.