Somaliland Elections as a Mechanism for Peace: A Historical Context and Contemporary Necessity

Somaliland Election 2021: Why this Election is Different?

By Mohamed Osman Guudle (PhD)

Somaliland, the only stable democracy in the Horn of Africa, has carved a unique path since its unilateral separation from Somalia in 1991. Despite lacking international recognition, Somaliland has established a modicum of peace and stability absent in much of the region. Regular elections are a cornerstone of this achievement, fostering political legitimacy, managing clan tensions, and providing a peaceful avenue for political competition.

Understanding Somaliland’s historical context is crucial. The brutal civil war in Somalia during the late 20th century left the country in ruins. Somaliland, however, managed to forge a different path. Clan elders played a pivotal role in negotiating a ceasefire and establishing a new political order based on traditional power structures and a commitment to democratic principles (Richards, 2013). This fragile peace was solidified through the 1997 Borama Conference, which enshrined a multi-party democracy and established a timetable for regular elections.

The first presidential election in 2003, hailed as a success by international observers (BBC, 2003), cemented Somaliland’s reputation for peaceful democratic transitions. Subsequent elections, with varying degrees of participation and allegations of irregularities (Freedom House, 2023), have nonetheless provided a mechanism for managing dissent and legitimizing leadership.

Looking at the contemporary necessity of elections, several factors come into play. Firstly, regular elections offer a safety valve for political grievances. Somaliland’s population is young and increasingly urbanized, with aspirations that may not be fully reflected by existing political structures. Elections provide a platform for new voices and ideas to enter the political arena, mitigating the risk of frustration boiling over into unrest (interview with local activist). 

Secondly, elections are crucial for maintaining international support. While lacking formal recognition, Somaliland relies on international cooperation for development and security assistance. Credible elections bolster Somaliland’s good governance and commitment to democratic principles, strengthening ties with potential partners.

Thirdly, elections serve as a tool for managing inter-clan tensions. Somaliland’s social fabric is built on clan affiliations,which can be a source of both cooperation and conflict. Elections provide a framework for channeling clan competition into a peaceful contest for power, mitigating the risk of violence erupting along clan lines ( interviews with members of the political elite).

However, challenges remain. Electoral irregularities and limited inclusivity can undermine public trust and exacerbate tensions. Strengthening electoral institutions, promoting voter education, and ensuring fair competition for all parties are critical for sustaining the peace process.

In conclusion, Somaliland’s experience offers a compelling case for the role of elections in fostering peace in fragile states. Regular elections have provided a platform for peaceful competition, legitimized leadership, and managed inter-clan tensions. While challenges persist, continued commitment to credible elections is essential for ensuring Somaliland’s long-term stability and international recognition.


About the Author 

Dr. Mohamed Osman Guudle is an Associate Professor at the School of Graduate Studies of the University of Hargeisa, Somaliland. His expertise lies in economics, development economics, economic security, political science, and postconflict issues in the Horn of Africa. Dr. Guudle holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and International Relations from Istanbul University, an M.Sc. in Economics from Bilgi University in Istanbul, and attended an M.A. in Development Economics at Unity University in Addis Ababa.

Beyond academia, Dr. Guudle has served as a consultant for governmental and non-governmental organizations in Somaliland and the region. His research is published in various academic journals, and he frequently participates in conferences and workshops on issues relevant to the Horn of Africa.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Horndiplomat editorial policy.
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