It’s afternoon in Somaliland’s second largest city, Burao. While everywhere muezzine call to prayer, Abdiraxiim Yama Yasin sits in front of his shop. Indicators, V-belts and oil bottles are stacked on the shelves. The 38-year-old trades in spare parts for cars. But in the past three years, hardly any customers have come. “I used to close my shop altogether. There were times when I would sell an item or two for $45. Today, I don’t even get $10 for it,” he says.
The current drought in the Horn of Africa is having a disastrous impact on Somaliland’s economy. According to estimates by the UN emergency relief agency OCHA, over 36 million people in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya urgently need help. Somaliland – a region in northern Somalia that declared independence in 1991 but is not recognized as a separate state – has also never fully recovered from the effects of previous droughts. Political developments make the situation even more difficult.
Abdiraxiim Yama Yasin’s business is bad
Actually, presidential elections should have taken place in November of this year. But in September, the influential Council of Elders Guurti extended President Muse Bihi Abdi’s term by two years. There may be an election next year, but this is not certain yet. Somaliland’s finance minister, Saad Ali Shire, takes it easy. He has been a member of the government since 2010 and was planning and foreign minister. “The terms of office of both predecessors of the President were each extended by two years. It’s true that it’s five years [die verfassungsmäßige Amtszeit] five years. But that has become our habit.”
Opposition is upset
The opposition, however, sees it differently. The largest opposition party, Waddani, emphasizes that it has not recognized President Abdi as the legal head of state since November 13. The elections were originally supposed to take place that day. “All previous mandate extensions have been accepted by all those responsible. The Guurti should have consulted with all the actors in advance, which didn’t happen,” says Waddani founder Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi. He came second in the 2017 presidential election.
The opposition also criticizes the fact that the Council of Elders decides on mandate extensions. He has never been elected since the state was founded, but has always extended his terms of office himself. “In the beginning, they were older, wise, respected men,” says Abdullahi. Today the children would have taken the seats without meeting the criteria.
Postponement could harm opposition
The situation is further complicated by a peculiarity of the Somali country’s constitution. In order to prevent the party landscape from fragmenting, only three parties are permitted for ten years each. Their licenses expire on December 27th. Waddani emerged stronger from last year’s parliamentary elections, winning one seat more than President Abdi’s Kulmiye party. Waddani has therefore insisted on presidential elections before the party alliances regroup.
None of this has a good external effect. Although Somaliland has a government, its own passports and its own currency, it is only recognized internationally by Taiwan. The country has been fighting for membership of the African Union for decades. If that succeeds one day, then there would be access to loans from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Now the economy depends on remittances from the diaspora and the livestock industry. “Conflicts always hold back investments,” says finance minister Saad Ali Shire. “People in the diaspora in particular who aren’t there have a different impression of the security situation.” Neither they nor foreign investors are encouraged to come and invest in the country.
Unlike Somalia, Somaliland has always emphasized that it is safe and, above all, democratic. That should also help with the recognition. But the restriction of fundamental rights is increasingly being criticized. In August, five people died during a demonstration against the postponement of the elections. At least 100 were injured according to the opposition. “Arbitrary arrests have increased in the past two years due to the political situation,” criticizes Khadija Mousa from the local NGO Human Rights Center. The constitution guarantees freedom of expression and assembly. Therefore, there are no reasons to arrest journalists, for example.
No more women in Parliament
Khadija Mousa also criticizes the fact that parliament – which has not had a single woman since the 2021 election – has written reports after demonstrations, but nobody was held accountable. “In our culture, society and democratic environment, any social disobedience is viewed as anti-government.” This also has a negative impact on international reputation.
In Burau, the auto parts dealer Abdiraxiim Yama Yasin didn’t sell anything again this afternoon. He hopes that the elections will take place as soon as possible so that the situation in the country can change. “If there are no elections, I don’t want to stay here anymore. Then I’ll emigrate.”