Freedom in the World reports assess the level of political rights and civil liberties in a given geographical area, regardless of whether they are affected by the state, nonstate actors, or foreign powers. Disputed territories are sometimes assessed separately if they meet certain criteria, including boundaries that are sufficiently stable to allow year-on-year comparisons. For more information, see the report methodology and FAQ.
Somaliland—whose self-declared independence from Somalia is not internationally recognized—has seen a consistent erosion of political rights and civic space. Journalists and public figures face pressure from authorities. Minority clans are subject to political and economic marginalization, and violence against women remains a serious problem.
- Long-delayed parliamentary and local elections were held in May 2021. The two opposition parties, the Somaliland National Party (Waddani) and the Justice and Welfare (UCID) party, won 31 and 21 seats, respectively, enough to form a coalition government. The former ruling party, the Peace, Unity, and Development Party (Kulmiye), won 30 seats. Election observers noted few irregularities in the polls, and voter turnout was 65 percent.
- Police detained almost a dozen opposition Waddani and UCID candidates in the leadup to the May elections. Some candidates were accused of associating with Somali politicians, which is considered treason, but were released following pressure from civil society groups, the Supreme Court, and the NEC.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The president is directly elected for a maximum of two five-year terms and appoints the cabinet. In 2017, after two years of delay, Somaliland held its third presidential election. Muse Bihi Abdi of Kulmiye won the contest with 55 percent of the vote, followed by Abdurahman Mohamed Abdullahi of Waddani with 40 percent, and Faisal Ali Warabe of UCID with 4 percent. International observers concluded the process was credible; some instances of bribery and intimidation at polling places did not significantly affect the final result.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||2.002 4.004|
Members of the 82-seat lower legislative chamber, the House of Representatives, are directly elected for five-year terms, while members of the 82-seat upper chamber, the Guurti, are clan elders indirectly elected for six-year terms.
Long-delayed parliamentary and local elections were held in May 2021. The two opposition parties, Waddani and UCID, won 31 and 21 seats, respectively, enough to form a coalition government. The ruling party, Kulmiye, won 30 seats. Election observers noted some irregularities in the polls, and voter turnout was 65 percent. Despite the credibility and competitiveness of the elections, fighting between clans in the Togdheer, Sool, and Sanaag regions killed dozens of people in the months leading up to the elections.
Score Change: The score improved from 0 to 2 because competitive parliamentary elections were held, despite some challenges.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||2.002 4.004|
The legal and administrative framework for elections is largely fair, but ambiguities in some laws as well as technical and logistical challenges have led to chronic election delays. The House of Representatives approved a new composition for the National Electoral Commission (NEC) in June 2020 and announced revisions to electoral law to address the logistical challenges in October.
In July 2020, a Technical Election Unit, which was envisioned to be comprised of three members from the international community, was established to advise the NEC. A voter-registration drive for the 2021 polls began in late November 2020.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||3.003 4.004|
The constitution allows for a maximum of three officially recognized political parties. The three groups that receive the most votes in local council elections are declared eligible to contest national elections and compete freely in practice. The system is meant to encourage alliances across clan divisions, but clan and party affiliation remain closely aligned.
Police detained almost a dozen opposition Waddani and UCID candidates in the leadup to the May 2021 elections. Some candidates were accused of associating with Somali politicians, which is considered treason, but were released following pressure from civil society groups, the Supreme Court, and the NEC.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||3.003 4.004|
The political system allows democratic transfers of power between rival parties. In the parliamentary and local elections held in May 2021, the two opposition parties, the UCID and Waddani, overtook the formerly ruling Kulmiye party to form a ruling alliance. Opposition parties similarly won mayoral positions in Hargeisa and four other major towns.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 due to a strong showing by the opposition party in parliamentary and local elections.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||2.002 4.004|
Clan elders play an influential role in politics, both directly with their kinsmen and through the currently unelected Guurti, which has the authority to extend officials’ terms in office and approve election dates.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||2.002 4.004|
Women and various clans formally enjoy equal political rights. However, larger clans tend to dominate political offices and leadership positions. Cultural barriers also limit women’s political participation. In a 2019 report, the Hargeisa-based Centre for Policy Analysis noted that only 12 of 173 appointments that had been made by President Bihi were given to women. No parliamentary seat was won by a woman in the May 2021 parliamentary elections.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||2.002 4.004|
The 2021 elections provided a new legislative mandate to elected representatives. Decisions made by national authorities are implemented in most of Somaliland’s claimed territory.
Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 due to the competitive parliamentary elections that provided the body with a new legislative mandate.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||1.001 4.004|
Somaliland has few institutional safeguards against corruption and nepotism. Prosecutions of officials for malfeasance are rare. Former president Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud “Silanyo” took some measures to combat corruption, but the anticorruption commission he created in 2010 has been ineffective. A new commission chairman was appointed in February 2020.
In September 2020, Auditor General Ahmed Yusuf Dirir disclosed the arrests of several officials over corruption-related charges. The auditor general also disclosed that several other individuals were accused of forging documents.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2.002 4.004|
The government operates with relative transparency in many respects but is more opaque regarding contracts for major projects. Journalists and civil society activists who attempt to scrutinize government activities often face harassment.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
A variety of print, television, and online news outlets operate, but many have political affiliations, and the state-run broadcaster has a monopoly in the radio sector. The penal code criminalizes defamation and other vaguely defined press offenses, such as circulation of “false, exaggerated, or tendentious news.” The government has restricted the registration of new newspapers. A 2020 ministerial decree requires independent media houses to register with the Ministry of Information and for social media– and YouTube-based media to pay between 30 and 40 percent income tax.
The Somaliland Journalists Association (SJA) documented fewer arrests and harassment of journalists and media houses in 2020, the most recent statistics available. The SJA also noted that the media environment to report on and monitor the May 2021 parliamentary elections was more open to reporters and other media workers.
Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because harassment of journalists has decreased.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||2.002 4.004|
Islam is the state religion. The constitution allows for freedom of belief but prohibits conversion from Islam and proselytizing by members of other faiths. Places of worship must obtain government permission to operate, though there is no mechanism to register religious organizations.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||2.002 4.004|
Teachers and professors are often able to pursue academic activities of a political and quasi-political nature without fear of intimidation. While funds allocated for public schools are uneven across the regions, they are generally free from overt political manipulation.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||2.002 4.004|
While individuals can express themselves with relative freedom on political matters, remarks on sensitive social and cultural issues are subject to censure and retribution. Arrests and convictions for controversial social media posts has contributed to greater self-censorship online among residents.
Though in June 2021 the government arrested 42 people for displaying the Somali flag, arrests for public speech in have declined in recent years. The majority of those arrested in June were released in July.
Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because fewer people were arrested for online speech.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution allows for freedom of assembly, but organized public demonstrations are infrequent, and authorities have sometimes employed violence to disperse protests. Despite initially experiencing harassment from security forces, opposition parties were able to hold public events and rallies in the lead up to the May 2021 parliamentary elections.
Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because election rallies were permitted to proceed.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||2.002 4.004|
Local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) often operate without serious interference, but such groups can face harassment for their work. NGOs documenting human rights note that their work and events are not covered by government media outlets.
In October 2020, the Somaliland government suspended cooperating with UN agencies, after the United Nations finalized a sustainable development cooperation framework with the Somalian government. In early November, Somaliland officials began holding talks with the United Nations on a new relational framework, which were not concluded by year’s end.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution does not explicitly protect the right to strike, though it does permit collective bargaining. The right to belong to a union is generally respected.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||2.002 4.004|
Although some progress has been made in reforming the judicial system in recent years, the judiciary lacks independence, sufficient funding, and proper training. Judges are often selected based on clan or political affiliation and are subject to interference from the government.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||2.002 4.004|
Due process is observed unevenly. Poverty and political factors play a role in how cases are charged and investigated, and whether there is adequate and timely representation for the defendant. Both customary law and Sharia (Islamic law) are used alongside civil law, which complicates adherence to statutory procedure. In practice, police arrest individuals arbitrarily and hold detainees without charge for extended periods. Lawyers are frequently denied access to detained clients. Long delays in court cases are common.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||1.001 4.004|
Somaliland’s police and security forces have been accused of using excessive force, and conditions in detention centers are harsh and overcrowded. Fighting between clans in the Togdheer, Sool, and Sanaag regions killed dozens in the runup to the May 2021 elections.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
Members of smaller clans face discrimination, limited access to public services, and prejudice in the justice system. Clan connections play a critical role in securing employment. Women also suffer from inequality, including in the Sharia and customary legal systems. Same-sex sexual relations is a criminal offense, and LGBT+ people are generally not publicly open about their sexual orientation or gender identity.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||2.002 4.004|
Freedom of movement is respected to some extent, but traffic between Somaliland and Puntland is restricted, and the Somaliland government limits travel to and from Somalia’s federal capital, Mogadishu. Clan divisions hinder individuals’ ability to relocate within the territory.
In October 2021, Somaliland authorities began expelling Somali nationals from the disputed Sool region, claiming they were a security threat.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
Individuals can own property and operate private businesses without undue interference from the government. However, land disputes are common, as tenure is often complicated by lack of documentation and inconsistencies among different legal systems and state authorities. In 2019, police and military officials forcefully evicted several families to build a new presidential palace. No compensation was paid to the affected families.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||1.001 4.004|
Personal social freedoms are constrained by several factors. Marriages between members of major and minor clans are stigmatized. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is common. In 2018, the Ministry of Religious Affairs released a religious edict banning one common type of FGM, but human rights groups criticized the edict for not fully prohibiting the practice.
Domestic violence remains a serious problem, and rape is rarely reported to authorities due to social pressures against such complaints. The Sexual Offenses Bill, which criminalized many forms of gender-based violence (GBV), was signed in 2018 by President Bihi, but was subsequently suspended by the Ministry of Religious Affairs after an outcry from religious leaders. In August 2020, the House of Representatives approved the Rape, Fornication and Other Related Offences Bill, which would allow for child marriages, criminalize reports of rape deemed “false,” and would narrow the definition of rape. Whether the bill became law after approval by the Guurti is unclear.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||1.001 4.004|
The informal sector, including traditional pastoral activities, accounts for much of the economy, and many households rely on remittances from relatives working in other countries. Trafficking in persons for forced labor or sexual exploitation abroad is a serious problem. Refugees from neighboring countries, including Yemen and Ethiopia, and internally displaced people are also vulnerable to exploitation.
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Global Freedom Score49 100 partly free