Woman puts voting slip in box at polling station in Somaliland

Given this was a presidential election there was bound to be a personal focus on the three candidates and their running mates. Indeed policy stuff was not really present and where it was it was often contradictory – as though promises made in one location would not be reported elsewhere. So one of the candidates could promise to institute sharia law in a more religious area, while advocating a near-feminist approach elsewhere. The same candidate wanted a lean state (they all said that) while advocating a big road-building, health and education programme.

In 2005 the parliamentary elections got a bit tasty as parties ignored their pledges to campaign on separate days. This time they obeyed the code of conduct and had different days. The campaign buses full of schoolkids on holiday were enthusiastically packed. Young excited women in particular leant out at alarming distances from the buses – a great opportunity to get out and about, free from the usual restrictions. Near the presidential palace a car draped with a huge flag in the green and yellow colours of Kulmiye was being driven by a young woman dressed all in black including the veil over her face – though with designer shades on top. She was bellowing slogans into a loudhailer. 

If the voting age had been lowered to 10, the smallest of the three parties would have won in a landslide. In fact in the president’s home area everyone seemed to be pulling out the stops for him. Sheaves of voting cards were given out to kids who queued as patiently as the adults in the hot sun. Some were turned back but other ‘slow growing nomads’, as Somalis put it, apparently got through the system. However, given the freeness and fairness we witnessed elsewhere, this did not seem to affect our verdict on the election being an authentic expression of the will of the people.

Aside from a tragic killing in the east of the country (where allegiances are divided between Somaliland and Puntland), the whole campaign was marked by peace and stability. The result was decisive – a relief for those who remembered the knife-edge result of the 2003 presidential elections. And the incumbent – as did the other losing candidate – accepted and acknowledged his defeat.

Our core team won praise (deservedly so) for an unstinting three or four weeks work (plus the two years waiting for the election to happen). Special mention to Ed the logistics guy, who in his first trip to Africa spent so long indoors we called him the Mole and reckoned he went on a sunbed and pressed ‘suck’.

Here’s to the next elections…

Steve Kibble, Progressio’s policy and advocacy officer for Africa, the Middle East and Asia, was part of the coordinating team for the international election observers who were in Somaliland from 10 June to 4 July 2010.

Photo: a woman places her vote in the box during the Somaliland elections 2010 (photo © Claudia Simoes/Progressio)