Somaliland President Muse Bihi. PHOTO: COURTESY

Somaliland, a semi-autonomous state that has prided itself as the most stable in the Horn of Africa region notorious for civil strife, is tottering towards collapse.

From poor leadership, failed presidential elections, interference with electoral schedule and executive control of the electoral commission, crackdown on opposition adherents and the media to clan wars, Somaliland is losing every credibility it has worked hard over the years. Somaliland is calling.

As a result, the country once described in CSIS thinktank back in 2002 by Dr. David Shinn, American former Ambassador to Ethiopia that has been attracting foreign investors is now making negative headlines internationally due to the growing political tensions and inter clan warfare.

At the center of it all is President Muse Bihi who despite his official term in office ending on November 13 last year, has continued to stay in office and gone ahead to unconstitutionally extend his term by another two years, thanks to a decision by the outdated House of Elders.

After the May 2021 Municipal and Parliamentary elections held for the first time in over a decade went on smoothly with the opposition parties WADDANI and UCID gaining parliamentary majority (52 out of 82 seats), it was hoped that the presidential elections would also be held without any hitches by November 13, 2022.

However, the ruling party created conflict within the Election Commission of the time while commissioning an audit investigation in May 2022, only 2 weeks before new round of voter registration was about to start. This marked the first automatic delay of the presidential election.

When new commissioners were appointed in about 3 months, despite contestations from the opposition, orchestrated delay was already reality on the ground, and the electoral body announced it was not in a position to hold the presidential election due in November for what it termed as “time, technical, and financial constraints” and declared they needed minimum 9 months to prepare for the presidential election.

But the script seems to have already been written when the parliament’s House of Elders, the Guurti which is made up of close associates of President Bihi, extended his mandate by a further two years to November 2024 and unilaterally self-extended its own mandate by five years. The Guuti has been in office since 1997.
Parallel to the crafted extensions, the President declared new special election for the political associations to substitute to the presidential one. This angered the two opposition political parties who did not accept both the delay of the presidential election and substituting it with the political associations’ election which according to the law should be combined with the Municipality Election.

Bihi, having won by just 52 percent against the Waddani party challenger in 2017 and his party (Kulmiye) having lost in the parliamentary elections seems not ready to face the same opposition candidate in the upcoming presidential elections hence the move to have political associations elections before presidential elections.

Political tensions have escalated, dark clouds over democratic practices, political and press freedoms and even basic human rights emerged. Total state capture of all key institutions such as the Supreme Court, House of Elders and using security forces and intelligence agencies for protecting the incumbent leadership. For the first time, most of Somalilanders wondered whether the “Beacon of Hope in the Horn of Africa”, as expressed by analysts back in 2011, could sustain its nascent state and democratic credentials. Three mediation efforts, first by prominent traditional leaders, followed by speakers of the two houses of parliament and prominent business leaders have all failed, mainly due to intransigence of the president who is pushing his agenda. International partners have tried to facilitate consensus based roadmap to the political dispute with not avail.

Just over a week ago, the Electoral Commission rubber stamped the decision by the Upper House when it announced the presidential elections schedule setting the date for the polls for November 2024. The National Electoral Commission also set the date for new special and stand-alone political parties and associations to December 2023, an election that has no any existing law to date. Ironically, even though they carried out consultations with different societal sectors, their decision was exactly the direction which President Bihi gave them in a speech that he delivered upon their swearing ceremony in September last year.

The decisions by the electoral body are unconstitutional and goes against the spirit of democracy that Somaliland has worked so hard to maintain. But it is a clear manifestation of the leadership that the country has had since November 2017 when Bihi took over.

Over the last six years, Somaliland has experienced continued political crisis and conflicts coupled with the erosion of political rights and civic space. Journalists and public figures face regular pressure from authorities. Minority clans are subject to political and economic marginalization, and violence against women remains a serious problem. A prominent and highly regarded female journalist Bushaaro Baanday remains behind bars without any charges for more than two months.

Since Bihi came to power, the country has witnessed three different electoral commissions. In March 2018 the main opposition party WADDANI expressed its dissatisfaction with the electoral body and the manner it had managed the 2017 presidential elections.

At the time there were large-scale accusations of underage children voting as well as mismanagement of the distribution of voter cards prior to the elections. New commissioners were controversially appointed in 2020 as the president named KULMIYE party members who were active politicians in violation of the electoral laws. The commission was dissolved again in 2022 and another team constituted last year.

This latest move by the electoral commission to draw a timeline without taking into consideration of the legal shortfalls has left many asking if indeed the government and the electoral commission are committed to having the elections held at all.

All the opposition and well-meaning Somaliland nationals want is an establishment of a credible mechanism to resolve this impasse. And while the constitution gives freedom to picket, the government has met any opposition protests with an iron fist.
The tenure of president Bihi synonymous with violence and political turmoil.

In August last year, the government used armed security forces beat up peaceful protestors who were demanding for presidential elections to be held as scheduled. At least 7 people were killed and 100 injured during the morning protests. More than 300 innocent citizens were arrested for opposing extensions and demanding free and fair presidential election on time.

In 2018 Somaliland army moved further east towards the disputed border with Puntland in the town of Tukaraq which resulted in armed confrontation, displacement of residents and countless deaths of personnel from both sides.

An outright war broke out in Lasanod in October 2022 after unarmed protesters were indiscriminately shot by Somaliland security forces killing 20 in three days and injuring hundreds. The current administration has been engaging in indiscriminate shelling of Lasanod city, murder, and displacement of more than 200,000 people according to the United Nations. The international community has consistently warned about the continuation of the armed conflict and restoration of the election. Concerned about the dwindling security situation, the United States canceled a planned joint military exercise planned in Berbera. The European Union has also raised their concerns about the conflicts.

Currently, the intra-Somaliland clan conflicts are taking place in several regions, Soo, Togdheer, Sanaag, Sahil, Awdal and Marodijeh.

It is quite unfortunate that for a country that was an example to the rest in the Horn of Africa for its respect for democracy, peace and stability Somaliland’s ranking is now at its all-time low and the government has lost its credibility both locally and internationally.

Somaliland has been an anchor for the peace and stability in the Horn of Africa. The region must act and protect Somaliland from self-inflicting chaos and disaster. It goes without saying, that Al Shabab militants will surely take advantage of any failure of Somaliland.

Yohan Musa

The author is a political scientist and an author on politics in the Horn of Africa

As per usual the opinions expressed in this articale are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions of