ADDIS ABABA (Somalilandpress) — Following disputes over the conducting of elections in Somaliland which were initially slated for September 2009, Sub-Saharan Informer’s Samson haileyesus caught up with Mr. Jama Mohamoud Omar, previous chairman of Somaliland’s National Electoral Commission (NEC) and discussed with him on the crisis leading up to the political stalemate, the challenges, roles played by donors and the way forward. Excerpts:
SSI: Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Jama Mohamoud Omar: My name is Jama Mohamoud Omar the last position I served as the chairman of the national electoral Commission (NEC). I am a born Somalilander and have worked previously as a career diplomat serving first as a first secretary and later on as councilor in Sweden during the reign of Said Barre and had to leave my position because the problems I had with then government and became Chairman of the Somaliland National Movement (SNM) from 1988 to 1994. Later on I joined the civil society and was working with international organizations working on peace building and was in charge of Life and Peace an organization in Ubbasala funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA). Following the debacle of the UNISOM mission on March 31st, 1993 I was part of a program that assessed the tradition peace building mechanism of the Burao conference we have also seen the top down conferences in Addis Ababa with the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG) and we have compared the two and we have seen the real grassroots peace building in Burao worked then since then I have worked in various capacities working towards strengthening traditional peace elders’ empowerment in peace building and also for the revival the civil society organizations in good governance .
SSI: How would you asses the two mediation processes in Somaliland and that of the TFG?
Jama Mohamoud Omar: In line with my assessment, one when the UN and the international community made Mogadishu and Somalia the tip of the iceberg of the Somali problem and all UN and international resource was going to Somalia to reach stability and good governance and Somalia being the first failed state in the history of the world. The international community’s efforts left no mark on development there. Somaliland, however without a single support from the international community and was even often being discouraged with the belief that if Somaliland’s independence was encouraged the Somali peace process will be hampered so we have being going on our own and from the colonial days Somaliland’s has adopted the traditional elders [mediation] art of conflict management and as a result we have built a stable government. We have also made a transitional Charter; we have conducted a referendum and endorsed a constitution in 2001.
In addition we have conducted three elections that is something, which the international community needs to remember. It has to be recorded, it has to be praised; it has to be given recognition – that has not been happening instead many people were against.
I have to be very thankful to the Ethiopian people and government for many reasons one would be in Somaliland when we were fighting during the Somaliland National Movement (SNM) days we were in eastern Ethiopia our people were given good treatment, the psychological barrier between the Somalis and Ethiopians have went out and we have now very good relations and I think Ethiopia is the only country in the region who sees Somaliland as a sovereign state of course there are interests. Somaliland is covering the long border of Somaliland and Ethiopia, which is being fully, protected Somaliland because of the security that is in our hands the rest of Somalia is not secure. The Ethiopian people and government should understand that we are also supporting Ethiopian peace because of the border, because of the ongoing Islamists and in the area Somaliland is very important and Berbera port and now we are upgrading ourselves.
I have to assure that apart from the donors Ethiopian government we have met the Ethiopian state minister for foreign affairs [Dr. Tekeda Alemu] he stayed in Hargeysa and he facilitated the mediation between the parties which is really commendable was the only minister that was seeing Somaliland as a sovereign state and we have to be very thankful Somaliland is giving the support in the security of the region, we are also giving lessons on our democracy which is home grown and a democratization process which is not imported.
SSI: Could you tell us why your commission had to leave office?
Jama Mohamoud Omar: what went wrong is when it comes to the formation of the national election board (NEC) – within the second NEC, there was an eight month delay in the process of the Somaliland stakeholders to nominate their candidates to the Commission which resulted in the building of NEC to come across a delay and as outgoing chairman of NEC we have encountered something not deserved. Number one parliament said the previous commission whom their mandated had expired to stay and on then it told the political parties to choose their nominees. So we joined NEC when eight months of the timeline of the elections has already been spent the, timeline of the elections was hampered by the stakeholders themselves.
When we were given oath we have been invited by the donors in Nairobi under the host of the British embassy in Addis Ababa a course they call it an orientation course somebody from Nairobi representing the steering committee of the donors immediately said ‘the voter registration is something that we are going to pay but we are not giving you the money directly, we are going to invest the money to Inter Peace’. I challenged them on the decision, they said no it is our money, and we know how to handle our money and the program will be dealt by Inter Peace.
The international observers that had observed previous elections in Somaliland, presidential, local governments and parliament have said that these were well organized elections but lacked voter registrations. Previously NEC and inter peace have tailored the voter registration as they have also tailored the voter registration proposal, they have also built all the purchase lines we came and inherited a program, which we don’t know, and of course we have immediately seen conflicts in interest. Donors were very kind I have to stress that the donors that were supporting Somaliland’s democratization were Sweden, Denmark, Norway, UK, USA and the EU.
Theirs was a very generous support without them it would have been a dream to conduct a voter registration but they invested the money in the wrong hands Inter Peace were not the right organization due to capacity and executive implementation and they have not monitored the work there was no evaluation there was monitoring. We appealed a number of times saying that the work is not going as expected then they said we know things are going on the right track then they put preconditions.
Somaliland has been going on its own through these past 18 years and has built a thriving democracy, when our politicians, the three political leaders have handed Somaliland’s destiny of elections into foreign hands, which means up to now we have through the conditions they have bridged we the Commission have left office – not for legal reasons we but we have said since the people are now agreeing we should say no we have gone and still three months and a half on the donors and others are saying that the voter registration and elections matters were being refined I don’t see what has happened so everything rests with the international experts.
SSI: What were the problems experienced with the voter registration?
Jama Mohamoud Omar: As NEC and as human beings we were having our own weaknesses we for the first year could not manage to build a team. I have to admit that there was no good team work some of the Commission members were speaking on their own to the press that has weakened our position but the whole responsibility of the voter registration was under the hands of inter peace they were the contracted authority there were issues, all these were done on their own and we did not believe that the companies were genuine. Competent companies were not contracted.
It is a program that would have been very viable and very good for the country but how the organization hired by the donors handled the matter was not really genuine. Numbers on the Somaliland people have with enthusiasm joined the work they were giving all logistic support to those work and they were also providing security. Even more when the terrorist attacks occurred people thought that there are elements that were working towards derailing Somaliland from the path of democratization and people with emotions registered for the elections. What went wrong was that the system brought and the equipment that was brought was not of the standard that has been promised. The companies contracted were not really genuine we have complained and that means the donors are collecting money from tax payers that money has went into improper companies.
The system itself was default, a biometric system should have a finger print capture feature there was the element of option given that you can ignore the capture so if you already set it on ignore it means that you are inviting people to multiply without putting in their finger prints. Then later we introduced facial recognition we have said that facial recognition system software must be added. Whenever we challenged the donors, when we say this is wrong, that is wrong, they say they have put pre-conditions and that the Commission’s leadership has to be changed, consensus has to be bridged. As allies the international community need to know that mistakes need to be looked into Somaliland’s destiny falls on more than a couple of diplomats to cover your diplomats’ wrong doing it would be counterproductive in Hargeisa.
We as a commission stressed that there is no list first of all we have driven Inter peace out of Somaliland for the reason they spoiled and said that elections have to continue on as planned on 27th September without voter list. The list should be enhanced for future elections. the political parties, the donors shouted hard the president also agreed and the donors could not easily come to Somaliland maybe through Ethiopia the state minister they said you have to come in and it was very good that our brothers have come around because as a neighbor and a good friend of Somaliland we have listened well and the Ethiopian government was really sympathetic and dealt with us as a sovereign state.
The terms we were dealing with were of mutual interest; Ethiopia without stable Somaliland will not be easy. And also now we are ambitious to have our landlocked neighbor to advance our services on the Berbera port to make the region stable where eastern Ethiopia can be serviced from Berbera also we are keen on that recognition and economic cooperation in this small world is very important.
As you are also aware Somaliland people were in eastern Ethiopia that is also another privilege when we were in the Somaliland National Movement (SNM) fighting we were based in eastern Ethiopia, we were well received by the people there. Towards ending the political stalemate the International community and the Ethiopian government has tailored a six point agreement for the first time that the Somaliland traditional system went out of hand but a six point agreement was made, the commission was party.
SSI: Three months on how do you assess the work being done by the new Commission?
Jama Mohamoud Omar: From my perspective the new commission is doing well. one I have to praise is that there are very silent they are very much looking like a team, challenges will come later but the initial start they are a cohesive body and they are not talking much that is something that has to be encouraged I have to commend and I am also encouraging Somaliland people wherever they are to support the commission. In regards to the affairs among the six points, the international experts have to look towards the voter list, they have to refine it, and they have to come up with recommendations on how to refine the timing. The timing will depend on the list production that will be determined by the election timetable and that will depend on how the experts would recommend, when the recommendations will be implemented and later on the timeline of the elections is made so nothing is in the hands of Somalilanders it is in the hands of international donors who are paying for the money who are contracting the experts so I am saying that the international interventions that is taking longer than expected already and there is in the Guurti the council of elders one important thing that needs to be underlined is that through the history of Somaliland the rational Guurti house that has been started in the SNM days who were fighting. When the SNM entered Hargeysa, all the people from Hargeysa went out and asked the military wing of SNM whether the SNM conquered them or has it liberated the population and the SNM said ‘we have not really conquered but really liberated’.
Then the people said if we are liberated we should be part of the governance, they have built that and in eastern Ethiopia a town called Madaweyn and that house contributed to the logistic and financial support to the traditional system of the elders, the same house in Borama meeting accommodated with tribes that were outside the SNM has formed Somaliland elder of council as a constitutional body and then that went on the only good thing was that he Guurti was nominated among clans through norms and criteria that seems to be going out of hand .
For the first time a politician chair has joined, somebody the parliament leader in the Guurti called Sheikh Ibrahim who was also in charge of the SNM died and somebody outside form the Guurti asked someone form his clan step down so he can join. From the traditional perspective a politicians who joined a traditional system could be something difficult that is what we are hearing these days. Various groups have tried various opportunities to take power.
The other mistake is that when the mandate of the government was expiring the Guurti chairman and the parliament chairman thought of having a dream of using a vacuum and enter power – it also created a mess. The only good thing is that the Somaliland people were tolerant they have not succumbed to the shouting’s of the oppositions nor the government but have behaved maturely and there was no demonstrations and I have to commend the people of Somaliland on their maturity in containing their hard won peace and stability. So foresee now basically that the government should take the responsibility into looking at the election budget in the future.
Nothing in foreign hands can help Somaliland, now things are in the hands of foreign hands, Ethiopian government as a neighbor whom could be easily affected if Somaliland peace goes down should also work hard to push the international community and international experts to speed the process on how elections could be conducted in the country- without elections it is going to be very difficult.
Third the three political leaders including the president and the opposition partiers should take to heart the wishes of the people. They should be mature enough to discuss together, to discuss situations, to see if the donors are not working hard donors could have their own agendas the idea of greater Somalia, the dream of the international community is still there we do believe in Somaliland that the Union of Somaliland with Somalia was a wild dreamt is over.
Our Ethiopian-Somalis have to live in Ethiopia, our Kenyan-Somalis have to be live in Kenya, our brothers in Djibouti have already went on their own the idea of five start flag of greater Somalia is over, any international community who is advocating Somalia to be one, I am saying if you only want Somaliland to join Somalia if you wake the wild dream do Somalia the Ethiopia, stability, Kenyan stability will also affected, why don’t you leave every Somali brother to live where they are now they are 100 % Ethiopia, they are 100% Kenyan and they are 100% Djiboutian . Somaliland will not become a sandwich to bring Somalia and I say the international community should look into Somalia the price that can easily be given top Somaliland is stability and recognition.
SSI: How do you see the way forward?
Jama Mohamoud Omar: Elections need to be conducted and we have to be given the opportunity to utilizing international cooperation, bilateral development, we are not looking for recognition based on visits by ambassadors and diplomats and people coming in we need development, we want the Bretton Woods organizations involved. Somaliland is rich in oil, sea resource, livestock and stability continues. We have to be very wary of the new Islam because traditionally we are all Muslim, we know what to do, a new prophet has not appeared and we know Islam started in Ethiopia prophet Mohammed has sent a message the first Hijra to Negash. Islam has spread in this part of the world through Negash rather then through Mecca because the people who took the message to negash have spread it here so we have 1,400 years of Islamic history we don’t know the other elements that are coming up so what I am saying is that the international community when it comes to Somaliland should be very serious. Any loophole of peace and stability in Somaliland will attract other destructive forces and the region is very volatile you know of Eritrea and its actions in this region, Yemen has a growing Islamists problem and Mogadishu is the same.
Djibouti is a close friend of Somaliland we both enjoy cordial relations, of course there is a competition between the two ports but Ethiopia’s huge needs for ports can satisfy both ports. To be very frank, we are encouraging our Ethiopian brothers. For the international community we are saying that hey are doing good in terms of supporting democracy and putting money. Where your money has gone into, what went wrong which proper companies were contracted what went wrong has to be looked into our great emphasis has to be addressed. Because you say the commission left, we left because of not of legality but because of compromise so we are saying’ what went wrong? ’ Already there are signs that we have left already the donors have admitted that the voters lists needed to be revised if there is a new list o be revised why were they pushing us to go? . They are putting experts to look into the matter.
If there is something why don’t they say experts to join all these questions have to be asked to be very frank and I have to also say that Somaliland people to be cooperative a politicians should be very keen. For me I am very neutral, I am very independent I don’t belong to any political party, I have been running as a chairman of the electoral committee I have been running it as a neutral body many people maybe were not pleased but history will tell what went wrong, whether I was right but still I am encouraging that all stakeholders should work hard on Somaliland elections. Elections are the only way for Somaliland. [ad#Google Adsense (336×280)]
SSI: What role do you see Ethiopia could play?
Jama Mohamoud Omar: Donors and Ethiopia have intervened to solve the problem. Ethiopia is not a donor but it is a neighbor whose interventions have been a catalyst for progress. Ethiopia’s approach was based on fostering relations and security matters and donors did recognize that there was room where Ethiopia could play a role I am saying that they have been there, a mediation whereby six points were outlined. But that mediation will not last long unless other measures are not speeded and additional implementations are agreed upon.
Ethiopia and donors should push for the speedy implementations of the agreements, the voter registration list should be refined and refining means we should ask where are we are three months since the electoral commission was replaced. Have the international community highlighted the shortcomings; if the shortcomings have been reveled the public has to know that if something went wrong that it is going to be fixed. And in order to save the country one has to say donors and inter peace has to admit saying this and that has gone wrong. So people would know that it was not in our hands, it is in the hands if international organizations so blame has to go somewhere and then people have to say that this has gone wrong.
Still I believe that voter registration is an important part for the security of the country to have a national voter registration system biometrics is very good for our security, it is making Somaliland a modern country. But where should the blame lie, the commission has left, the new commission arrived still the problem is there why don’t the international community who have been congratulating in the earlier days not admit the mistakes and something went wrong, it is not the blame of Somaliland it is the blame of others so, Ethiopia could say speed the elections promised, speed the experts report that has be worked, it should not be hidden. Ethiopia is the only country in the region that could suffer if there is unstable Somaliland already Somalia has gone out of hand. This has to be the only hope for the region and the Red sea and also from our side we are very encouraging.
One thing you have to understand that Somaliland’s’ determination of sovereignty and regaining independence comes from the grassroots we fought in a way that started from the people in the grassroots it was not personalities, there was no country supporting and now stability is under the hands of the community so people are policing their affairs. So we are saying form the traditional indigenous homegrown good governance of Somaliland can only be preserved by Somalilanders. The international community in its part should support Somaliland’s stability, good governance through recognition and allowing Somaliland to join the global community.
Source: Sub-Saharan Informer, 11 March 2010