Somaliland: The Strains of Success

Somaliland: The Strains of Success
The Strains of Success
Crisis Group Africa Briefing N°113
Nairobi/Brussels, 5 October 2015
Somaliland’s hybrid system of tri-party
democracy and traditional clan-based gov-
ernance has enabled the consolidation of state-like authority, social and economic
recovery and, above all, relative peace an
d security but now needs reform. Success has
brought greater resources, including a special funding status with donors – especially
the UK, Denmark and the European Union (E
U) – as well as investment from and
diplomatic ties with Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), though not inter-
national recognition. It is increasingly part
of the regional system; ties are especially
strong with Ethiopia and Djibouti. Given the continued fragility of the Somalia Federal
Government (SFG), which still rejects its
former northern regi
on’s independence
claims, and civil war across the Gulf of Aden
in Yemen, Somaliland’s continued stabil-
ity is vital. This in turn requires politica
l reforms aimed at grea
ter inclusion, respect
for mediating institutions (especially the
professional judiciary and parliament) and
a regional and wider internationally backed framework for external cooperation
and engagement.
Successful state building has, nevertheless,
raised the stakes of holding – and los-
ing – power. While Somaliland has remained largely committed to democratic gov-
ernment, elections are increasingly fraught. Fear of a return to bitter internal conflict
is pushing more conservative politics: repr
ession of the media and opposition, as well
as resistance to reforming the increasing
ly unsustainable status quo. Recurrent po-
litical crises and delayed elections (now
set for March 2017) risk postponing much
needed internal debate. The political elites
have a limited window to decide on steps
necessary to rebuild the decaying consensus, reduce social tensions and set an agenda
for political and institutional reform.
Stronger executive government has driven a shift from government through clan-
based consensus to ostensible democratisation, but it has not widened participation
of individuals (distinct from their clan-base)
, or developed strong institutional checks
and balances. There is a growing perception
that the Isaaq clan dominates, while its
sub-clans jockey for primacy through control of particular political parties, government
institutions and big businesses. The governme
nt’s inclination to rely on a close-knit
group of advisers identified with particular clans and regions rather than non-partisan
state institutions, feeds a growing sense of
marginalisation among certain constituen-
cies both in the centre and the peripheries.
Poor public services and high unemploy-
ment (the few available jobs are obtained through patronage) leave the overwhelmingly
Somaliland: The Strains of Success
Crisis Group Africa Briefing N°113, 5 October 2015                                                          Page 2
young population, many of whom emigrate, vulnerable to religious extremism and
Militarised rule in the restive and previous
ly lightly “occupied” eastern borderlands
with Puntland (a “semi-autonomous” federal state of Somalia) – specifically the regions
of Sool, Sanaag and southern Toghdeer – is not new but has become the default setting.
The presence and degree of popular acceptance of more conservative Islamist gov-
ernment and society has grown. The government’s soft approach to extremists in its
midst is more evident following terrorist attacks with alleged links back to Somaliland
in neighbouring Djibouti and Puntland an
d the existence of a discreet Al-Shabaab
presence across the country.
In the short term, especially now that elections are postponed, the government
and its international supporters must find
ways to support greater dialogue between
political parties and key inte
rest groups, particularly pa
rliament’s upper House of
Elders (the Guurti) and the business community, or risk further fragmentation of au-
thority. This requires national consultation
over the election (or reselection) of the
Guurti, the parliament’s upper house; the 2001
constitution calls for its election every
six years, but it remains largely unchange
d since 1997. The over-used constitutional
contingency clause that allows the Guurti to rule on election postponement in the
interests of “stability” shou
ld be urgently reviewed.
The newly reformed judiciar
y needs public backing from the government, opposi-
tion and the Guurti, especially respecting it
s constitutionally-defined responsibilities
to support the institutions charged with delivering free and fair elections and to re-
solve disputes. Greater transparency is also
needed, to prevent further politicisation
of the small, fragile economy and increase government accountability. The House of
Representatives should be free to exercise constitutional oversight of public-private
development contracts and potential conflicts of interest.
Somaliland also needs to renew commitmen
t to talks with the SFG, despite polit-
ical risks, not least in recognition of the intimate clan and familial ties that still bind
its elites and population in multiple ways to Puntland and the SFG as a whole. These
include marriage, religious networks, clan trea
ties that manage peace and war, politics,
business and even extremist groups. Progre
ss on security and economic cooperation
and electoral preparations (2016, Somalia;
2017, Somaliland) require a better frame-
work, including appropriate representation
from Puntland, the region (potentially
the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, IGAD) and wider international
community (potentially the African Un
ion and Gulf Cooperation Council).

Source: Somaliland1991