Somaliland: Women’s Election Campaign

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Women queuing in front of a polling station in Hargeisa on 13 November. © STR / AFP / Getty Images
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The elections in Somaliland focused above all on the development of democracy. Party political differences faded into the background. That could teach Europe something.

By Michaela Maria Müller

At 6 pm on the 13th of November the polling station No. 316-2 in the school Sheek Madar in the capital Hargeisa will be closed. The citizens of Somaliland have just elected a new president for the third time in the country’s short history, which unilaterally declared independence from Somalia in 1991. Ahmed Sillanyo, who has been in office since 2010, has not competed and three candidates have applied for his successor.

Two policemen and a policewoman stand in front of the classroom. Inside, school desks are moved. The head of election counts in a blue folder, how many of the registered voters have cast their vote. 459 voters from 540, she notes in her documents.

Two-thirds of the voters were female, the election chief estimates, and the election campaign was mainly supported by women. In the rallies they appeared numerous, dressed in the colors of the parties, the number limited the constitution of Somaliland for stability reasons to three: The followers of the Kulmiye party were tailor-made yellow-green dresses, the supporters of Waddani came in Orange, the voters of Ucid in dark green. The baseball caps, which had actually been made for the men, were simply carried on their hijabs. In the motorcade, they sat down on the lowered windows and were hustled through the city with vociferous songs supporting their candidate.

Hard work for recognition

The women in Somaliland have understood that elections are one of the levers that allow them to have more say in society. The clan structures, which have for centuries provided for the man to be the leader, will change as soon as possible. In Islam, as practiced in Somaliland, women should not play a significant role. But the political process, which since independence manages the balancing act between tradition and modernity, between patriarchal tribes and nationally-organized democratic participation, has allowed them to make a difference .

In Somaliland, three groups in particular have the say: The clan elders have always regulated conflicts as an informal supreme authority in their community and between the tribes. Then there are the Somali countries that have come up with money and material resources abroad. They are increasingly returning from the diaspora and are now particularly interested in the economic progress of the country. And finally there are the sheikhs as religious leaders. You have the option of shared views. For the hardliners, the choice is always haram (forbidden, taboo). Less strict sheiks accept democracy as long as the state is kept strictly in line with Sharia law.

“I voted for the third time,” says Maryam, a woman in her late forties. “Once for the independence of Somalia, in the recent local elections and now in these presidential elections, we are working hard on recognition and it will finally change,” she hopes.

We, the editors from 10 to 8, are a versatile and changeable author collective. We find that our society needs more female voices in public. We think that these voices should be diverse. We do not represent ideology and disagree. But we think feminism is important because justice in society concerns us all. We would like to exchange ideas with our readers. And with our guest authors.

Around three million people live in Somaliland, in the Horn of Africa. It is still not a recognized state under international law. Most states, and most NGOs as well, recognize only the government of Somalia as a negotiating partner, and almost all development aid goes to Somalia . Nevertheless, the Somali countries are gradually creating realities that first of all bring them respect. While the civil war in Somalia is not ending, peace is reigning in Somaliland, Somaliland has already opened diplomatic missions in eight countries, and eight countries, including Britain, Belgium, Kenya and neighboring Ethiopia, have recognized the Somali passport as an official document. Somaliland is promoting recognition in the world as a separate state, and citizens know that free and fair elections bring them closer to this goal.

Peace and elections

This also means that the competition of the positions is openly played out and staged medially. For the first time in Africa a presidential debate took place on the American model, which was broadcast live on TV and on Facebook. The three candidates competed against each other. Muse Bihi Abdi, who, like current President Silanyo of the Kulmiye party, and his challengers Abdirahman Irro (Waddani) and Faysal Warabe (Ucid) debated their country’s future: 45 minutes on foreign affairs, 45 minutes on domestic affairs, 45 minutes on economic and social issues. Muse Bihi Abdi promised peace, stability and economic advancement, Abdirahman Irro campaigned for the interests of artisans and promoted the slogan ” Bedaluu! “(Change), Faysal Warabe, also known as” Little Donald Trump, “provoked statements about immigration policies, such as the Ethiopian refugees working as cheap labor in the hospitality industry should be deported.

However, this also means that commonality is demonstrated: Despite all the arguments, the candidates were always three in public. ”Nabad ku Codee”- Peace and Elections – is the slogan that everyone pledges to declare.

In the polling station Sheik Madar-2 now begins the counting of votes. The representatives of the three parties take place in front of the urn. Alongside them are three independent election observers from a Somali-speaking organization and two observers from the international team. Transparency is important in the democratic process of the young country: The government itself has trained 600 election observers, 60 international election observers are coordinated by a team from University College London (UCL).

michaela-maria-mueller
Michaela Maria Müller, born 1974 in Dachau. She works as a journalist and author in Berlin and writes about migration, human rights and East Africa. She is a guest author from “10 to 8”. © Christian Kielmann

Recognition of independence

Also with international support, an iris scan procedure was used for the first time to rule out a multiple vote. 800,000 voters were registered. After the iris scan, they were given a so-called voter card, a plastic card the size of a bank card, and reminded them before the election: “There are elections on Monday, do not forget to bring your card with you,” loudspeakers resounded Cars drove through the streets. On election day itself, the streets are deserted. Only those who have mounted a special permit or a custom-made red-white license plate of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) on the car, may be on the road.

After midnight, counting at the Sheik Madar-2 polling station is over, and it is clear that the Kulmiye party and its candidate Muse Bihi Abdi have won by a considerable margin. The results for the whole country are only after a week, because objections of the opposition party Waddani first had to be resolved before the National Electoral Commission. Ultimately, however, the common desire to develop the country democratically was stronger than party-political differences.

New president is Muse Bihi Abdi. He will lead the country in the next four years, perhaps in international recognition of Somalia’s independence. Somaliland is a role model for many on the African continent, and perhaps something can be learned from it

Original German language story titled  “Somaliland: Der Wahlkampf der Frauen”   by Michaela Maria Müller and we translated using google translator

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