Freedom in the World
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Somaliland’s political rights rating declined from 4 to 5 due to the extension of the president’s term and the postponement of the presidential election until 2009.
In April 2008, the upper house of the parliament voted to extend President Dahir Riyale Kahin’s term in office for an additional year, through May 2009. The government and opposition eventually agreed to hold the presidential election in March 2009. In October 2008, suicide bombers attacked the presidential palace, a UN complex, and the Ethiopian trade headquarters in Somaliland’s main city, Hargeisa. Somaliland officials accused the Shabaab, a Somali jihadist group, of carrying out the attacks.
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 Siad Barre took power in Somalia, ushering in a violent era of clan rivalries and political repression. As flood, drought, and famine racked the country, the struggle to topple Barre resulted in civil conflict and banditry that lasted until January 1991, when he was finally deposed. Heavily armed militias, divided along traditional clan lines, fought for control in the ensuing power vacuum. The current Somaliland, largely conforming with the borders of the former British Somaliland in the northwestern corner of the country, seized the opportunity of Somalia’s political collapse to declare independence.
In a series of clan conferences following the 1991 independence declaration, Somaliland’s leaders formed a government system combining democratic elements, such as a parliament, with traditional political structures, such as an upper house consisting of clan elders. Somaliland’s first two presidents, Abdirahman Ahmed Ali Tuur and Muhammad Haji Ibrahim Egal, who ruled until his death in 2002, were appointed by clan elders. In 2003, Dahir Riyale Kahin became Somaliland’s first elected president. Clan elders also appointed members of Somaliland’s lower house of parliament until direct elections were held for the first time in 2005. While the 2003 presidential election and the 2005 legislative elections did not meet international standards, there were no reports of widespread intimidation or fraud. In the 2005 legislative poll, the president’s United People’s Democratic Party (UDUB) won 33 seats, followed by the Peace, Unity, and Development Party (Kulmiye) and the Justice and Development Party (UCID), which won 28 and 21 seats, respectively. Separately, residents of Somaliland had overwhelmingly supported independence in a 2001 referendum.
In May 2006, President Riyale drew opposition criticism by postponing elections for the upper house and extending its term by four years; under the constitution, only the lower house was empowered to extend the term. Authorities detained three opposition members for several months beginning in July 2007 for attempting to create a new political party. In October 2007, the government and opposition members agreed to postpone local and presidential elections, originally scheduled for December 2007 and April 2008, respectively, until later in 2008.
In April 2008, the upper house voted to extend President Riyale’s term in office, which was set to expire on May 15, through May 2009. Opposition members threatened to reject the president’s legitimacy after May 15, but a series of negotiations between the government and opposition yielded a new electoral timetable; the presidential election would be held in March 2009, and the municipal elections were postponed indefinitely, to be organized by the new administration. Voter registration, which began in October, was plagued by logistical and financial difficulties. In addition, on October 29, suicide bombers killed at least 23 people in Somaliland’s main city, Hargeisa, in coordinated attacks on the presidential palace, a UN Development Programme complex, and the Ethiopian trade headquarters. Somaliland officials accused the Shabaab, a Somali jihadist group, of carrying out the attacks. The violence led the election commission to temporarily halt the voter registration process due to security concerns, but registration started up again in early December.
Somaliland’s relations with neighboring Puntland, which claimed autonomy but not independence from Somalia, have been strained in recent years due to border disputes over the Sool and Sanaag regions. In 2007, Somaliland troops seized the city of Las Anod in Sool, which was formerly controlled by Puntland. In July 2008, Somaliland forces also briefly occupied the disputed town of Las Qorey, although reports indicated that they eventually withdrew.
Nearly half of all Somalilanders are livestock herders, and livestock-related products are among the leading exports. Somaliland’s port city of Berberra has become a critical commerce hub, generating well over half of the government’s revenue. Remittances from abroad also constitute an important income source for many Somalilanders. Given that Somaliland is not internationally recognized, it receives little assistance from foreign governments and international lending institutions. The European Union, however, agreed to fund the voter registration process in advance of the 2009 elections, and other international contacts have been growing, including cooperation on antipiracy and antiterrorism initiatives.
According to Somaliland’s constitution, the president is directly elected for a maximum of two five-year terms and appoints the cabinet. Members of the 82-seat lower house of the bicameral 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. In April 2003, nearly half a million voters took part in the presidential election, which Dahir Riyale Kahin won by a margin of less than 100 votes, although the runner-up accepted the legitimacy of the outcome. The most recent elections for the lower house took place in September 2005, while elections to the upper house have been postponed since its six-year term expired in 2003. In May 2006, President Riyale approved the extension of its term for another four years.
Somaliland’s constitution allows for a maximum of three political parties, and parties defined by region or clan are technically prohibited. Nevertheless, support for the three parties tends to be divided along clan lines: the UDUB, the president’s party, is loosely affiliated with a subclan of the Dir clan; the UCID is largely supported by members of other Dir sub-clans; and members of the Darood clan tend to support Kulmiye.
There have been accusations by local media of pervasive corruption among high-ranking public officials, although Transparency International did not rank Somaliland separately in its 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedoms of expression and the press are guaranteed by Somaliland’s constitution, and journalists typically enjoy much more freedom than their counterparts in the rest of Somalia. However, the government began to restrict press freedom more aggressively in 2007 in advance of the expected 2008 presidential election. Somaliland’s conflict with Puntland has also led to reduced press freedoms. In May 2008, authorities questioned Radio Las Anod journalist Abdiqani Ismail Goh for allegedly criticizing the Somaliland government; two other journalists from the station were reportedly arrested for similar reasons during the year. Goh was arrested again in September following a complaint from the Somali Red Crescent that he had reported unfavorably about the organization. Separately, authorities sought to restrict coverage of the October suicide bomb attacks in Hargeisa. A freelance journalist was arrested in November for filming the blasts, and two journalists with the state-owned Mandeeq newspaper were reportedly detained temporarily on the day of the attacks.
Two independent television stations began broadcasting in recent years, but the government is reluctant to liberalize the airwaves, arguing that open access could lead to the instigation of clan violence. The primary radio station is the government-run Radio Hargeisa, although the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is available in the capital. There are several private newspapers in Somaliland in addition to the state-owned Mandeeq, although they have limited circulations and are heavily subsidized by journalists’ relatives and Somalilanders living abroad. The internet is widely available at competitive prices and serves as an active forum through which the diaspora contributes to the local media environment.
Nearly all Somaliland residents are Sunni Muslims, and Islam is the state religion. Proselytizing by those of other faiths is prohibited.
Freedom of association is constitutionally guaranteed, and international and local nongovernmental organizations operate in Somaliland without serious government interference. In February 2008, a German aid worker was kidnapped by suspected Shabaab militants but was released unharmed later the same day. The government is wary of large protests, but there have not been reports of systematic crackdowns on public gatherings. In January 2008, during government-supported proindependence rallies throughout Somaliland, several anti-Somaliland protesters in Las Anod were injured when security forces dispersed their group. Demonstrations in April against the presidential term extension proceeded peacefully, however.
According to the constitution, the judiciary is independent and the laws cannot violate the principles of Sharia (Islamic law). The courts function relatively well, but there have been questions about their independence in practice. Local Islamist groups have pushed for the more explicit application of Sharia.
Somaliland police and security forces, while well organized, have been accused of using excessive force. However, the scale of abuse does not approach the poor human rights conditions in the rest of Somalia or other countries in the region.
Somaliland is ethnically and religiously homogeneous. Societal fault lines are largely clan-based; most Somalilanders belong to the Dir or Darood clans, which are made up of multiple subclans. Larger, wealthier clans have more political clout than the less prominent groups, but clan elders often intervene to settle conflicts.
Society in Somaliland is patriarchal. While women are present in the workplace and hold some public positions, the political decision-making process is almost totally dominated by men. As in the rest of Somalia and other places in East Africa, female genital mutilation is practiced on the vast majority of women.