Freedom In The World 2011 – This is a detailed report of Somaliland’s status on the yearly Freedom House releases.

Somaliland (2011)

Capital: Hargeisa

Population: 3,500,000

Political Rights Score: 4*
Civil Liberties Score: 5*
Status: Partly Free

Ratings Change

Somaliland’s political rights rating improved from 5 to 4 due to the successful conduct of a long-delayed presidential election and the peaceful transfer of power from the incumbent to his leading rival.


In a long-delayed presidential election in June 2010, incumbent Dahir Rayale Kahin lost to his leading challenger, Ahmed Mohamed Mahamoud “Sillanyo,” and power was transferred peacefully to the new president. International observers declared the balloting a success, but overdue legislative elections were postponed once more.


The modern state of Somalia was formed in 1960 when the newly independent protectorates of British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland agreed to unite. In 1969, General Siyad Barre took power, ushering in a violent era of clan rivalries and political repression. Barre was deposed in early 1991, triggering a fight for control between armed militias divided along clan lines. Current Somaliland, largely conforming to the borders of former British Somaliland in the northwestern corner of the country, took advantage of Somalia’s political chaos and declared independence later that year.

In a series of clan conferences, Somaliland’s leaders formed a government system combining democratic elements, including a parliament, with traditional political structures, such as an upper house consisting of clan elders. The first two presidents were appointed by clan elders. In 2003, Dahir Rayale Kahin became Somaliland’s first elected president; although he won by less than 100 votes, the runner-up accepted the outcome.

Direct elections for members of the lower house of parliament were held for the first time in 2005. The president’s United People’s Democratic Party (UDUB) won the most seats, with the Peace, Unity, and Development Party (Kulmiye) and the Justice and Development Party (UCID) following close behind. While the 2003 and 2005 elections did not meet international standards, there were no reports of widespread intimidation or fraud.

In 2006, Rayale violated the constitution by postponing elections for the upper house and extending its term by four years. His decision set a precedent for other constitutional breaches. Local and presidential elections were repeatedly delayed, provoking a political crisis that lasted until 2010.

At the heart of the dispute was a failure to compile an electoral roll that was acceptable to all sides. The process was mishandled by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) and plagued by fraud. Registration was almost derailed by coordinated suicide bombings in Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa, in 2008, which killed at least 23 people. Somaliland officials blamed the Shabaab (Arabic for “the youth”), the Islamist militant group that controlled much of central and southern Somalia.

The presidential election was postponed twice more in 2009. An opposition motion to impeach the president led to brawls in the parliament as well as street protests. The police responded to the protests with live ammunition, killing four people.

A transitional agreement was eventually reached between the parties, clearing the way for the presidential election to take place. After several more delays, the poll was finally held in June 2010. Kulmiye leader Ahmed Mohamed Mahmoud “Sillanyo” won just under 50 percent of the vote, easily defeating Rayale, who took 33 percent.

Turnout among the roughly one million eligible voters was about 50 percent, having been affected by the nonparticipation of some residents living in Sool and Sanaag, a disputed area on the border with Somalia’s semiautonomous region of Puntland. Monitors from Europe and the United States identified some irregularities but declared the vote to have been free and fair. Sillanyo was sworn into office in July. While the presidential election was a success, the long-overdue legislative elections were postponed again in September.

Poverty is rife in Somaliland, and the government struggles to provide basic goods and services to the population. Conditions are exacerbated by the limited access to foreign assistance and international loans that stems from the territory’s lack of diplomatic recognition as an independent state, though the successful presidential election was expected to strengthen Somaliland’s campaign for recognition.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

According to Somaliland’s constitution, the president is directly elected for a maximum of two five-year terms and appoints the cabinet. The presidential election of June 2010, originally scheduled for 2008, resulted in the smooth transfer of power from the UDUB party to the main opposition group, Kulmiye. While the outcome was peaceful, the campaign was conducted amid considerable political tension. The opposition accused incumbent Dahir Rayale Kahin of using public money to fund his campaign.

There were also some outbreaks of violence. The Al-Shabaab threatened to stop the vote, and in June Somaliland’s police claimed to have disrupted a terrorist plot in the city of Burao. In addition, militia groups supporting Puntland’s claims to Sool and Sanaag attacked polling stations, killing four people. Fake voting cards were found to be in circulation on Election Day, and there were some reports of underage voting and ballot-box stuffing. The NEC made credible efforts to address most complaints. Domestic and foreign election monitors found that the vote generally met international standards and that its outcome reflected the will of the people.

Members of Somaliland’s 82-seat lower house of parliament are directly elected for five-year terms, while members of the 82-seat upper house (Guurti) are indirectly elected by local communities for six-year terms. Both houses extended their terms in September 2010, arguing that Somaliland could not organize another election so soon after the presidential poll. The Guurti voted to increase its term by another three years, having originally been due for elections in 2006. The House of Representatives, whose elected term was to expire in December 2010, gave itself an extension of two years and eight months. Both decisions were made with the apparent blessing of the new president, Ahmed Mohamed Mahmoud “Sillanyo.”

Somaliland’s constitution allows for a maximum of three political parties, and parties defined by region or clan are technically prohibited. Nevertheless, party and clan affiliations tend to coincide.

Corruption in Somaliland is a serious problem. There were persistent accusations that Rayale’s government improperly diverted millions of dollars in public funds. Upon taking office, Sillanyo set up a good governance and anticorruption commission with a mandate to tackle the corruption problem.

While freedoms of expression and the press are guaranteed by Somaliland’s constitution, journalists face interference and harassment. Three reporters were arrested in June 2010 for taking photographs of a house displaying the Kulmiye party flag; they were released without charge later that month. Rayale’s government displayed little tolerance of independent media and banned private broadcasters from operating inside Somaliland. The new administration followed suit.

In October, the satellite broadcaster Universal TV, which operates from Britain, had its license suspended. It had been accused of favoring the interests of Puntland. The main radio station is the government-run Radio Hargeisa. There are seven private daily newspapers in Somaliland in addition to the state-owned Mandeeq, though they have limited circulations. While Somaliland has a small number of online news sites, they have limited reach within the territory because of low internet penetration.

Nearly all Somaliland residents are Sunni Muslims, and Islam is the state religion. Proselytizing by members of other faiths is prohibited. Academic freedom in Somaliland is greater than in neighboring Somalia. The territory has at least 10 universities and colleges of higher learning, although none are adequately resourced.

Freedom of association is constitutionally guaranteed, and both international and local nongovernmental organizations operate without serious interference. However, the country’s political crisis and precarious security situation was used as a justification to ban public demonstrations in 2009. While restrictions were eased in 2010, police used heavy-handed tactics against protesters in Hargeisa and Borama shortly after the new government took office in July. The UDUB opposition accused police of firing live ammunition into a crowd of demonstrators, though there were no reports of injuries.

According to the constitution, the judiciary is independent, and the laws cannot violate the principles of Sharia (Islamic law). In practice, the Rayale government bypassed the courts and used secret security committees to try many defendants without due process.

A report compiled for the House of Representatives in March 2010 revealed that of the 765 inmates at Somaliland’s main prison, 300 had not been charged with any offense but were being detained on the orders of the authorities. Upon taking office, Sillanyo pledged to uphold the rule of law and implemented reforms at the Ministry of Justice to reduce executive interference in the judiciary. A pledge to release all prisoners who had not been charged with a crime, apart from those suspected of terrorism or theft, had not been fulfilled by year’s end.

The judiciary is underfunded, and the Supreme Court is ineffective. Somaliland has approximately 100 judges, most of whom do not have formal legal training. Somaliland’s police and security forces, while more professional than those in Somalia, have at times used excessive force.

Societal fault lines are largely based on clan. Larger, wealthier clans have more political clout than the less prominent groups, and clan elders often intervene to settle conflicts.

While society in Somaliland is patriarchal, women have made modest advances in public life. Sillanyo appointed two women to his 20-member cabinet in July 2010. As in the rest of Somalia, female genital mutilation is practiced on the vast majority of women.

Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

Map of Freedom in the World

2011 Edition

Freedom In The World 2011 - Somaliland Country Report

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