Horn of Africa bulletin

2017 elections: making Somalia great again?

This issue focuses on the elections in Somalia and their impact on the future of Somalia. It also addresses the interface between the elections in Somalia and their impact on ‘Somaliland’. Interestingly, the issue of the HAB was overtaken by the Somalia elections which proceeded more rapidly than anticipated; the elections in Somalia began in 2016 and after repeated postponements were finally concluded on the 8th of February 2017.

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Horn of Africa Program
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January-February 2017 / Volume 29 / Issue 1

Summary

This January-February issue focuses on the elections in Somalia and their impact on the future of Somalia. This issue also addresses the interface between the elections in Somalia and their impact on ‘Somaliland’. Interestingly, the issue of the HAB was overtaken by the Somalia elections which proceeded more rapidly than anticipated; the elections in Somalia began in 2016 and after repeated postponements were finally concluded on the 8th of February 2017. Legislators elected Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (also popularly known as Farmaajo) as President, which led to widespread celebrations amongst Somalis in Somalia as well as neighbouring countries and the Diaspora. Faduma Abukar’s article is particularly insightful in this regard being based on direct reportage of events just before and after the elections. Her article captures the unrestrained joy and hope that greeted the news of Farmaajo’s victory and provides a very interesting overview of the outsized role of social media in the Somalia elections. As several articles in this issue of the Horn of Africa Bulletin attest, Farmaajo’s victory was viewed not only as a victory for clean politics in Somalia, but also as pointing the way towards the end of the perennial conflict and foreign involvement in Somalia . The article by Najum Mushtaq explores this overarching theme in detail and provides an overview of the challenges facing the new president of Somalia. Najum’s article ends on an optimistic note and suggests the possibility that the new president’s thinking and priorities augur well for the future.

The larger canvas is also critical in this context. The recent elections in Somalia have generated high expectations in Somalia regarding peace and reconstitution of the fragmented Somali state, but at the same time leave the door open to disillusionment, if the new president does not perform as expected. Therefore, expectations and hope will need to be tempered especially bearing in mind the intractable challenges that the new president is facing.

In the political science literature which focuses on democratic transitions, elections have customarily been viewed as an institutional and procedural hallmark of democratic political systems, as well as a key legitimation tool for political systems and elites. While the process and outcome of the current elections is to be commended, the reality is that the elections in Somalia were based on a very narrow franchise. The 275 members of the lower house of the legislature (House of the People) were elected by 14, 025 electors, while the 54 members of the upper house of the legislature were elected by the state assemblies of the different regional administrations in Somalia. The members of the various state assemblies are not elected through universal adult suffrage. The article by Mohamed Amin focuses on issues of gender and politics and sounds a sombre note in underlining the continuing obstacles to political participation by Somali women which are exacerbated in the constricted spaces allowed for in the existing political system in Somalia.

Keeping in mind developments in Somalia and political state of play in the rest of the Horn of Africa, Somaliland stands out for being a political entity that has organized successive free, fair and competitive elections. Interestingly Farmaajo’s electoral victory and his calls for reconciliation with Somaliland have led to renewed expectations that Somaliland may yet be integrated with Somalia. Peter Chonka’s panoramic and analytic take on the complex political manoeuvring and tensions between the Somali Federal Government and authorities in Somaliland in the context of the elections in south central Somalia is a riveting and necessary read for all those interested in the recent elections and what they portend for the future of Somalia. He concludes by suggesting that fluidity and dynamism defines the relationship between political elites and entrepreneurs in Somalia (including Somaliland) which could lead to multiple possible political outcomes.

The article by Aly Verjee discusses the often-mentioned but seldom adequately studied topic of electoral finances and the impact of financial resources in Somaliland elections. His article is based on a collaborative research project that studied the role of financial resources and inducements in the 2005 legislative and 2012 local council elections in Somaliland. Aly’s article highlights some of the salient effects of electoral spending by parties and political entrepreneurs and how this has affected the electoral system. The article underlines the gaps in approaches that reify elections and electoral processes while at the same time ignoring larger socio-economic dynamics.

A recurrent theme in several of the articles in this issue of the HAB focuses on foreign involvement in Somalia. The articles while showcasing the perceptions and dominant Somalia narrative regarding foreign involvement in Somalia, fail to engage adequately with the range of foreign actors engaged in Somalia and their divergent interests and motivations.

Demessie Fantaye - Editor

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Article Summaries

Somali elections online: View from Mogadishu

By Faduma Abukar Mursal 

This article describes how social media users have commented on the events around the Somali presidential election, and observations of tensions and celebrations in the streets of Mogadishu and online. It aims to illustrate the ways the Internet provided a space for political discussions between Somalis.

SOMALIA

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Somalia under Farmaajo: Fresh start or another false dawn?

By Najum Mushtaq 

When the US ambassador to Somalia, Stephen Schwartz, met the new president of Somalia, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as ‘Farmaajo’, a US citizen, he presented him with a Trump cap with the slogan “Make Somalia Great Again.” The ambassador’s gesture echoed the widespread celebrations in Somali communities across the world—from Mogadishu to Nairobi to Buffalo and Minneapolis—and an unprecedented level of optimism and expectations in the new administration. In order to understand the upbeat response to Farmaajo’s election and his popularity, the context of his electoral victory must be taken into account.

SOMALIA

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Somalia’s recent election gives Somali women a glimmer of hope

By Mohamed Amin 

The election of a new Somalia President on the 8th of February was a promising sign for Somalia’s nascent democracy especially for women and members of minority groups to dream of becoming President of Somalia one day. The elections were promising in the sense that the incumbent lost by a wider margin than anyone had expected, despite having all the advantages of incumbency such as money, influence and connections. It is a hopeful sign for women and other marginalized groups that someone can win the presidency partly due to their competence.

SOMALIA

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‘Regional’ representation and resistance: Is there a relationship between 2017 elections in Somalia and Somaliland?

By Peter Chonka 

Is there a relationship between 2017 elections in Somalia and Somaliland? The answer is ‘yes’ – albeit with the rejoinder that ‘it’s complicated’. Much of this complexity lies in the ambiguities of the political-geographical terminology used and intense competition over the politics of naming ‘states’, ‘territories’, ‘administrations’ and ‘regions’.

SOMALIA, SOMALILAND

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Money and drought: Beyond the politico-security sustainability of elections in Somalia and Somaliland

By Aly Verjee 

Politico-security dimensions are often privileged in considering the question of electoral sustainability in countries in transition. Somalia is no exception, even as it is an outlier. It is striking that in the last decade, from Afghanistan to Iraq to the Central African Republic, all countries mired with persistent and unrelenting security challenges, comprehensive, near universal suffrage elections have been held. Somalia has not joined these ranks. Its repeated recourse to ‘selectocracy’ demonstrates the persistence of the fragmented central state authority, nominally existing in Mogadishu, and how power continues to be contested in ways few other states still face.

SOMALIA, SOMALILAND

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