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.
- In September, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) announced that the presidential election—scheduled to be held at the end of incumbent president Muse Bihi Abdi’s mandate in November—had been postponed until July 2023 due to "time, technical, and financial constraints." The opposition later accused Bihi of deliberately disrupting the work of the NEC in order to secure such a delay.
- In October, the parliament’s upper house, the Guurti, extended Bihi’s mandate by a further two years to November 2024, and unilaterally extended its own mandate by five years. The opposition refused to recognize these extensions as legitimate. Elections to the Guurti, scheduled for May, did not take place.
- The direct election of the country’s three official political parties was set to be held in December, when the incumbent parties’ licenses expired, but did not take place before year’s end.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||1.001 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 the Peace, Unity, and Development Party (Kulmiye) won with 55 percent of the vote, while runner-up Abdurahman Mohamed Abdullahi of the Somaliland National Party (Waddani) took 40 percent. International observers concluded the process was credible; some instances of bribery and intimidation at polling places did not significantly affect the final result.
In late 2021, the Bihi government began pushing for changes to the electoral calendar that would delay the presidential election scheduled for November 2022. In September 2022, the NEC announced that the presidential election would be postponed until July 2023 due to "time, technical, and financial constraints." However, in October, the parliament’s upper house extended President Bihi’s mandate to November 2024, giving the president two extra years in office rather than the nine months requested by the NEC. Somaliland’s main opposition parties refused to recognize Bihi’s presidency as legitimate past the original November election date.
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 1 because the electoral commission postponed the presidential election until 2023, while the parliament’s upper house illegitimately extended the incumbent president’s term by two years.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||1.001 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 the Justice and Welfare Party (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 vote.
The Guurti has repeatedly extended its mandate since its members were initially selected in 1997. Guurti elections scheduled for May 2022 did not take place. In October, the Guurti unilaterally extended its own mandate by five years. The reason for this decision remained unclear as of year’s end.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 due to the upper house’s unilateral extension of its own term by five years.
|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.
Three open seats on the seven-member NEC were filled in September 2022, when the parliament unanimously approved two nominees put forward by the president and one put forward by the Guurti. Members of the opposition had initially rejected the nominees in June. Delays caused by the confirmation process for the new commissioners contributed to the NEC’s postponement of the November presidential election. Opposition leader Faisal Ali Waraabe of the UCID accused the president of having “tactically disbanded” the NEC in order to delay the vote.
|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. In 2021, the parliament amended existing electoral laws to establish the direct election of political parties; the three that take the most votes are declared eligible to contest national elections for a period of 10 years and compete freely in practice. The system is meant to encourage alliances across clan divisions, but clan and party affiliation remain closely aligned.
The first direct election of political parties was set to be held in December 2022, one month after the scheduled presidential election. A dispute between the ruling party and the opposition over the order in which the two polls should be held remained unresolved at year’s end following the postponement of both elections.
|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.
|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. No women won seats in the May 2021 parliamentary elections.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||1.001 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.
Chronic election delays have at times undermined the legitimacy of the elected government, including in 2022. In September, the NEC announced that the presidential election, scheduled to be held at the end of incumbent president Bihi’s mandate in November, would be postponed until July 2023, due to “time, technical, and financial constraints." In October, the Guurti further extended President Bihi’s term to November 2024. The Guurti also unilaterally extended its own mandate, which had already expired, for five more years. The opposition refused to recognize these term extensions as legitimate, though both Bihi and the Guurti remained in office at year’s end.
The direct election of Somaliland’s three official political parties was set to be held in December 2022, when the incumbent parties’ licenses expired, but did not take place before year’s end.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 due to the ambiguous postponement of presidential elections and the illegitimate extension of the incumbent’s term.
|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. An anticorruption commission created in 2010 has been ineffective.
|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.
Journalists have faced arbitrary arrests, threats, and assaults; impunity for such crimes is common. In April 2022, police arrested 10 journalists who were covering an attempted mass prison break in Hargeisa; security forces also raided the offices of independent media outlet Horn Cable TV in an attempt to prevent broadcast coverage of the incident. In August, Horyaal 24 TV cameraman Abdinasir Abdi Nour and reporter Ahmed-Zaki Ibrahim Mohamood were arrested while covering opposition protests in Hargeisa and detained for nearly two weeks.
|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 have contributed to greater self-censorship online among residents.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||1.001 4.004|
The constitution allows for freedom of assembly, but organized public demonstrations are infrequent, and authorities sometimes employ 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.
In August 2022, security forces used tear gas and live ammunition to forcibly disperse opposition protesters who had taken to the streets to demand that the government not delay the upcoming November presidential election. The demonstrations were marked by violent clashes between protesters—some throwing stones and burning tires—and security forces firing live ammunition. At least 5 people were killed and 100 injured during the protests.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because authorities violently repressed opposition protesters demonstrating against the postponement of the presidential election, resulting in at least 5 deaths and 100 injuries.
|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 can face harassment for their work.
|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 partisan, and selected based on clan or political affiliation.
However, in January 2022, the Supreme Court ruled against the government to affirm the legality of existing electoral laws, rejecting amendments that would have prevented incumbent political parties from contesting elections until a direct election of the country’s three official parties could be held.
|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 run-up 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 are criminalized, 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.
|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 due to social pressures against such complaints. The Sexual Offenses Bill, which criminalized many forms of gender-based violence, was signed in 2018 by President Bihi, but was subsequently suspended by the Ministry of Religious Affairs following outcry from religious leaders. In August 2020, the House of Representatives approved the Rape, Fornication, and Other Related Offenses Bill, which would allow for child marriages, criminalize reports of rape deemed “false,” and narrow the definition of rape. As of August 2022, the bill remained awaiting approval by the Guurti.
|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 and internally displaced people are also vulnerable to exploitation.
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Global Freedom Score44 100 partly free