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Some hope for Somaliland

By Independent Team & Agencies

Opposition win pressures world to recognise enclave of peace

In the run-up to the June 26 election in Somaliland, a candidate for the position of vice president, Mohamedrashid Sheikh Hassan, told IRIN that peaceful and well-conducted polls will lead to international recognition of Somaliland.

On July 1 Somalilands National Electoral Commission (NEC) announced Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo as the winner of the presidential election.

Ahmed Mohamed Mahamoud, universally known as Silaanyo, leads the Development and Solidarity Party, or Kulmiye. He served in various ministerial positions in Somalia before joining the armed opposition to Mohammed Siad Barres government.

His Party won 49.59 of all votes cast while the party on the incumbent leader, Dahir Riyale Kahin, got 33.23 percent of the vote. A third party contesting the election got 17.18 percent of the vote.

This is an important election for the people of Somaliland; it is also a major step toward the democratisation of the country, said Chairman Mohamed while announcing the results of the election.

The election was free and fair as witnessed by the international observers and this is a step that will lead to the recognition of the country, he said.

There were 1.09 million registered voters in the region of 3.5 million people.

Observers from the International Republican Institute (IRI), a US government-funded body involved in programs on democracy, said the election was peaceful, without major incident and generally met international standards.

IRI said in a statement published the Somaliland press that the international community should credit such democratic progress and the example it sets for others.

Silaanyo, elected for a five-year term, expressed gratitude to outgoing president Dahir Riyale Kahin, from the Gaddabursi clan, for his services to the nation, including the holding of democratic elections.

Kahin accepted defeat gracefully.

This was a friendly match and at the end somebody had to emerge as a winner. I congratulate President Ahmed Mohamud Silaanyo and his Kulmiye party for winning the presidential election, Kahin told journalists.

I will remain in the country as an opposition leader and I will hand over my responsibilities immediately, in accordance with the law, he said, adding that as the founder of democratic pillars in Somaliland he did not want to undermine that achievement.

The newly-elected president vowed to campaign “vigorously” for international recognition.

The world must recognise our democracy, Silaanyo told AFP a day after the announcement of his election victory.

The first part of recognition of our independence is acquired as our people recognise themselves as a free country. What we are seeking is recognition by the outside world, he said in an interview.

Silaanyo, a member of the dominant Issak clan, studied economics in Britain.

A former British colony tacked on to Somalia when the latter gained independence from Italy in 1960, Somaliland has remained reasonably stable, spared the clan warfare that has dogged Somalia thanks to the domination of the Issaks.

It broke away from Somalia in 1991, after the overthrow of Siad Barre plunged the country into chaos and anarchy.

Most Somalilanders are eager to get international recognition for their country and government. Everything else follows from there. Without it you cannot have development, said Said Ahmed Hassan, the president of Gollis University in Hargeisa.

It is difficult to do business without recognition, so the new government must strive for recognition so as to set up proper financial institutions which will ease a lot of transactions, said trader Khadar Ahmed.

Somaliland unilaterally declared its independence in 1991, but, despite its relative stability and the establishment of democratic institutions, it is still considered by the outside world to be part of Somalia.

There is a degree of foundation for Somalilanders optimism, according to E.J. Hogendorn, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, who noted that regional powerhouse Ethiopia recently upgraded the status of its consulate in Hargeisa to a trade office.

Recognition is discussed at high levels in European circles, in [the UKs] House of Lords and the European Parliament, for example.

But there is a consensus that, if recognition were to occur, an African country would have to take the lead. If a major African state were to recognise Somaliland, pressure on others to do so would be significant, and could lead to a cascading effect, he said.

The first international organisation to extend recognition would have to be the African Union (AU). But the AU, noted Hogendorn, is extremely nervous about setting a precedent of recognition for secession.

Such recognition reluctance exists not only within the AU, but also elsewhere in Somalia, where many regard Somaliland as an integral part of the country.  This is especially true of the militant Islamist group al-Shabaab, which publicly called on Somalilanders to stay away from the polls. (The group is suspected of planning attacks designed to either disrupt the ballot or distract media attention from the election.)

An official of the al-Shabaab militia that controls much of southern Somalia said: The election is a sham and a dictation of anti-Islamic forces.

Silaanyo must denounce secession and implement Sharia (Islamic law). As far as the Shebab are concerned Somalia is united and we wont succumb to division, said the official who did not want to be named.

One close observer of the country’s political scene said the assumption that a well-run election would boost chances of recognition were fair but that any development would be an incremental process, rather than a one-off.

One reason why these aspirations for recognition are unlikely to be satisfied in the immediate future is a fear that it would complicate efforts to put an end to the conflict ravaging south and central Somalia.

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