Op-Ed: Culture and Democracy in Somaliland Context

citizens of Somaliland head to the polls to elect their local municipal council representatives.photo by dailysignal
citizens of Somaliland head to the polls to elect their local municipal council representatives.photo by dailysignal


This brief article focuses on Culture and Democracy in Somaliland Context. In general, the culture is largely focused on the role of the clan in the democratization process in Somaliland and the rule of law. This article summarizes and quotes various articles and reports from various headlines, as well as other observations, events, facts and interviews with reports published by independent media and international Reliable organizations.

1.2. Democracy and the Clan based Elections

Democracy indicates different meanings to different societies, yet it is claimed as a ―universal value‖ that nearly everyone shares together (Sen, 1999). However, the concept of democracy is very confusing to Somalis in a number of ways. For example, the term democracy is associated with holding elections and yet not all elections are democratic as referenced by many elections that took place in many areas of the world.

So far, a number of democratic conceptions have been raised. Democracy is conceptualized around the relationship between state and its citizens, institutions, and quality governance. The relationship between state and citizens has to be constitutionally guaranteed, and citizens must have the right and freedom to elect their representatives, and to hold their representatives accountable. In addition, citizens must have the right to organize groups so that they can mobilize and advocate for certain issues. This can be either in the form of a political party or a civil society. State institutions must be able to facilitate and strengthen the dual relationship in a way so that government can effectively and efficiently respond to citizens ‘demands by either informing, persuading, rejecting or proposing policies to create a better society. The state must also make sure they govern using democratic principles, in which both leaders and citizens are mutually responsible to each other under the rule of law.

When we express and look at Somali culture and democracy, there are many contradictions in the way each of them stands because Somali culture itself is a separate system of governance with its own administration and candidates, for example when In a Somali culture, each clan has its own chiefs and suldans, and even after all, each sub clan or family has its own sub chief or elder who decides everything and calls the family together. Whole the nation system above the clan and tribe rules compared to and referred to the recent actions and lessons for the last elections especially, presidential elections held in November of 2017. For instance, Clans are the most influential and more above than anything else in Somali culture. The person who votes for the election prefers anything to choose and vote a member whose is the same family, tribe or clan rather than to someone who knows the system of government and the laws of the country and is sure more suspicious and knows that he/she can make a lot of advancement and economic development .this is a major indication of the extent of clan influence and its impact on finding the right person for knowledgeable leadership and good governance. Several candidates banned and arrested during their campaigns and preparation of the elections and there was no any clear allegations that the government referred of that cases, despite the stoppage and the same sub clan of the president of Muse Bihi Abdi, and the many people belief and told that the main reason of that arrests and allegations is just for the confusion and confrontation of the culture and democracy.

  • Role of the clan in a Multi-party system

Clan is significant part of our Somali culture and played an important role many times for the reconciliation and the peace and conflict resolution in our nation building and peace settlement, as soon as the Somali National Movement (SNM) took over the country, the clans reside in  Somaliland held successive conferences in Burao and Borama in 1991 and 1993 respectively. At these conferences, the Somaliland clans agreed on peace building and a national charter issued at the Borama Conference 1993. Somaliland’s residency clans have played an invaluable role in bringing peace to Somaliland in all the different stages it has gone through. of course, they have taken on this important role many times and also compete and participate in the economic and infrastructure development of the country and initiated and completed numerous development projects, for example, when you look at this side, each clan and tribe in Somaliland building and contribute the ongoing development projects such as, roads and enrolling many students for the high schools and universities and they are paying the tuition fees. All of these aspects are positive and functional aspects of the clans and sub-clans that make up this nation of Somaliland. It is a great achievement and doubtlessly is what we make us better or different from other Somalis in the Horn in terms of stability, peace building and democracy.

However, after that Somaliland today has an independent and self-governing country for 30 years. The multi-party system is the system that Somaliland has adopted for the last two decades. This system is a constitutional as enshrined in the Somaliland constitution. The main objective of the multi-party system was to overcome the challenges of the clan. Somaliland has held elections during its existence and it has long been credited with holding free and fair elections although it has never been free from clan influence. Elections are what the wide world and the international community still admire and respect in Somaliland for its democratic process. Although some elections have been delayed and are widely believed to be a black mark on Somaliland’s democracy; is sitting and has not yet been elected to the Senate elected in 1997.

So, the question of many Somaliland people is asking themselves today is whether the multi-party system has changed the clan and or not?. Somaliland’s multi-party system has often been criticized by many external and internal people on the grounds that are claimed that the parties are one man’s show and monopoly and that there is no change between them. Some of the national parties have one presidential candidate for the last 20 years as well as one party leadership. While others have been accused of being run by clans and allied elders and clans deciding who will run for president and party chairman. Others are accused and criticized for not having any differences between them and for not accepting or has a zero tolerance for the differences of opinion. Many academics, scholars and intellectuals in the Somaliland people believe that the Somaliland’s multi-party system is not totally working and that the parties are closed and kidnapped by individuals who claim or belief that they are owners of the political parties.

Moreover, Clans have a direct and indirect influence on the multi-party system in a Somaliland and the whole development of Somaliland democracy. If the parties were formed to leave and eliminate the challenges and the obstacles of the clan and tribalism today they practice and prioritize clan’s desire rather than the candidate and the person who is in the party without his/her clan. How can we survive and save the Somaliland people and democracy? The direct influence of clans on politics and the transparency of the multi-party system and the transition positions inside the parties many Somaliland people apposing and accused the parties of being tribal based rather than party-minded.




  • Clan and Rule of Law

Somaliland has its own constitution, currency, flag and laws, all of which have been in place and enacted since it declared its independence from the Somalia 30 years ago today. From that period Somaliland has practiced its own constitution and the other laws and regulations and the areas many scholars and academics believed that the clan has the most significant influence embrace is the rule of law and practicing other important laws of the country. The rule of law is one of the most important pillars of democracy, the rule of law means that in a democracy, to abide by the constitution and other laws that are important to the state and the existence of the nation and the society.

In contrast, the clan has a significant influence on the process of enforcing of the rule of law, maintaining and sustaining for it. For instance, accomplishing and   many things in a system based on mutual understanding based on a clan that violates the law and the constitution of the country is a great threat to the democratic process in a Somaliland. In many cases, the process of resolving the issue and cases are the traditional practice and clan based approaches, which should be a challenge and obstacle to the formal democratic process and make nonsense and meaning less the practices constitution and to the rule of law and the supreme constitution and the laws of the country.

  • Clan and Women’s Decision Making process and Political Participation

Somaliland’s constitution includes the commitment on gender equality, but these are not achieved. The most important forums and platforms for making important and long lasting decisions are those that are completely under-represented by women.  In key decisive forums such as local civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations, and nation’s government positions completely women’s participation is very limited and unseen due to cultural and clan affiliation challenges and the strong patriarchal system in a whole Somali society.

There are various reports on this issue regarding women’s participation in politics and holding various government positions or national responsibilities as well as participation in the decision making process and platforms to decide and plays their role which will influence today their lives and has a huge impact in the near future. For example, the role of the clan in women’s participation in politics and the holding of public offices and national positions, elections for members of parliament, councilors, ministers, party chairmen, and candidates and so on are selected by elders, Chiefs, and Suldans and leader and in general clan is decided who will present that forum or position and this has a significant impact on women, because traditionally when selecting issues like these, men are given priority.


Very few women occupy political positions in Somaliland. Saferworld and Somaliland Non State Actors Forum (SONAF) (2018: 5) reported that there was one woman in parliament and none in the upper house of Elders, while only three out of 32 cabinet members were female. Likewise, there has been little progress in the last decade in representation in local government. Despite “a record number of women” standing for office in the 2012 local council elections (140 female candidates in a field of 2,368 – almost 6 per cent), only ten were successful (2.6 per cent of the 379 positions contested) 2(Impact Initiative, 2019: 2). In 2018, all 23 district mayors, all 13 regional governors and their deputies, and all of the political party leaders were men (Gaheir &Jama, 2018: 5). In all regions men have dominated “the formal business sector, the various civil services of the regional administrations and the paid political posts, as well as police and defense forces” (El-Bushra & Gardner, 2016: 4533).

However, In addition to the information and reports provided and shared by the various agencies mentioned above, it is also important to note and emphases that there is an important issue to be addressed. That is the majority of the people who got voter card and voted the last two elections as showed the reported from the Somaliland Nation Electrol Commission (NEC) and the majority of the people you see in the long queues during the election day are women and so the question is why the women did not vote for the women candidates who are running parliament and local councils?. Of course, what we can say is the influence of clan and culture on the Somali person.

Women’s roles and position in Somaliland society are defined by the clan system and customary law, which shape individual and collective rights, and inter- and intra- clan relations (Walls et al.,2017: 21; Walls, 2013: 168).

The clan system continues to be strong today, underpinning the current political settlement in Somaliland (Walls et al., 20174). A patriarchal system prescribing subordinate roles for women, it is a key factor limiting women’s participation in Somaliland’s political and peacebuilding decision-making (Walls et al., 2017; Parke et al., 2017; SIHA Network, 2018; Rayale et al., 2015). Studies identify that clan identity has been politicised, as the clan system Incorporates and shapes government, from local councils to legislative, judicial and executive institutions (Walls et al., 2017: 26; Parke et al., 2017: 3, 155). Clan support is key for political candidate section, and urban and rural women struggle to get clan support: there is a perception they have divided loyalties due to their dual affiliation to their father’s and husband’s clan (Verjeeet al., 2015: 30-31; Walls et al., 2017: 26; Parke et al., 2017: 3; Walls, 2013: 17). Moreover, under the clan system deals are often made in “hidden” informal men-only spaces which women cannot access (Walls et al., 2017: 35; see also NAGAAD, 2019: 7)

Research suggests that the clan system has become more entrenched, as it is perceived to be “the foundation” to Somaliland’s peace (Walls et al., 2017: 60). Moreover, women’s exclusion from political decision-making roles has been exacerbated by recent rapid urbanization, driven by conflict and climate change (Impact Initiative, 2019: 2 – a summary of the findings from Walls et al., 2017). The shift from pastoralist systems to a more urban and settled way of life has deprived “pastoralist women of some of the opportunities they had for political participation but has not created any new ones” (Impact Initiative, 2019: 2).



This review searched for literature on how and why the culture and democracy are not well working in Somaliland to achieve formal political representation and to take on informal decision-making roles on local peace and political matters, from community to national levels. It found a very small evidence base, with few up-to-date in-depth analyses of the barriers limiting women’s participation in peacebuilding and political decision-making in Somaliland. This article also looked for the rule of law and initiatives supporting women’s empowerment in peacebuilding and political decision-making.





About the Author

 Abdirahman Ali graduated with a bachelor degree in Social science and humanities especially social work from the University of Hargeisa. And worked for a different social service organization with various positions, and currently working at Horn advocates law firm as an Admin assistant. his professional interest focuses on human rights, humanitarian and social work practitioners for the last four years. also served as a Social worker voluntarily at various districts in Hargeisa capital city. I’m also a member of a Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI Network)



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