09 September, 2009

Trouble in Somaliland

Somaliland is the unrecognised country comprising the northern bit of Somalia. Compared to the rest of Somalia, it is an oasis of calm. Unfortunately, the country's tranquillity was on Monday shattered by its parliamentarians. When officials announced that a motion to impeach Dahir Riyale Kahin, the country's president, could be debated, a bar-room brawl erupted, with rival politicians exchanging punches. There are reports of one MP brandishing a fire-arm, though no shots were fired. Police had to enter the chamber to restore order.

Unlike the rest of Somalia, Somaliland has a functioning political system, with a president, an elected parliamentary chamber (where the brawl broke out), and an upper house comprising elders of the country's various clans. Tensions have apparently been rising recently over the timing of a presidential election and a disputed register of electors.

It would probably be premature to see all this as a sign that Somaliland is about to slip into the chaos of the rest of Somalia. Parliamentary fist-fights are always good for a laugh, but they do not necessarily presage democratic collapse. That this was just a fist-fight suggests that things in Somaliland are nothing like as bad as they could be.

The disputes over the presidential election are maybe more worrying. One danger facing Somaliland is a slide into Somalia-style anarchy. Another, though, is a transition to the kind of authoritarianism that bedevils many of its neighbours. If the disputes over the electoral register and the election's timing are symptoms of a power-grab by the president then people should be concerned. As Somaliland's independence is unrecognised, it may well be the case that the international observers who scrutinise elections elsewhere will not engage with the country's electoral process. This is unfortunate; in a potentially shaky situation, external oversight could deter either electoral chicanery by the government or vexatious claims of fraud by bad losers.


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