Contributing to free and fair elections in Somaliland

The Somaliland Non-State Actors Forum (SONSAF) has played a significant role in Somaliland’s democratisation process over the past two years, observing, reviewing and engaging in election processes. SONSAF is now preparing a civil society forum for upcoming local elections in 2012, demonstrating progress with democratisation in Somaliland, the ability of non-state actors to complement the work of the state during electoral processes, and the forum’s own development.

In June 2010, SONSAF carried out the only coordinated Somaliland-wide domestic observation campaign for the Presidential election. After initial training over 700 local volunteer observers were deployed to over 500 polling stations across the six regions of Somaliland. Over 40 per cent of the trained observers were women.

In a report on its domestic observation role, SONSAF noted that its observers helped to promote confidence in the electoral process and deter the efforts of people trying to subvert the will of voters. The report also included recommendations on how to consolidate and improve the electoral process. Based on experience gained during the election, the non-state actor forum offered recommendations on the legal framework, civic and voter education, women’s participation, and security management to the Somaliland authorities and international community.

SONSAF’s involvement in the 2010 election helped to build the capacity of the platform but also of local volunteers and elections officials on the issue of election observation. The domestic observation campaign also provided the opportunity for civil society oversight of the government’s preparations for and handling of the election. An important precedent has now been established for future civil society involvement in elections in Somaliland. The release of SONSAF’s independent post-election report, which echoed international observers’ positive assessment of the election, also increased public confidence in the result and encouraged the peaceful transfer of power.

Consultations to review Somaliland’s multi-party elections

In early 2011 SONSAF continued its engagement on democratisation issues in Somaliland by undertaking an analysis of all multi-party elections held in Somaliland in the previous ten years. Relevant documentation was reviewed and focus group discussions and interviews were carried out by local consultants with support from SONSAF’s democratisation working group and secretariat.

The review found that there was an overall positive view of how Somaliland’s multi-party elections had been carried out. However, it also identified a number of concerns over election postponements, poor management, budget constraints, legal and judicial issues, and electoral fraud, suggesting recommendations to address them.

The review process involved a number of senior politicians and election officials, leading to an encouraging acceptance of the report by Somaliland state officials. This response, and the process itself, is evidence of the growing maturity of the democratisation process within Somaliland and those involved in it. It also demonstrates understanding by the non-state actor platform of the need to work alongside the government to pursue and achieve change. It hopefully signals the role that non-state actors can expect to play in forthcoming processes.

Looking ahead: a civil society forum for local elections

Local elections in Somaliland are due in early 2012. In preparation for this SONSAF, with support from Saferworld and funding from the UK Department for International Development, is convening and facilitating the Somaliland Civil Society Election Forum (SCISEF) to strengthen coordination and build consensus among civil society actors engaged in the democratisation process in Somaliland. SCISEF will monitor the election process and disseminate information to its members, convene coordination and dialogue meetings between members, and formulate joint advocacy positions and statements. The hope is that through joint action the forum can contribute to a free, fair and peaceful election which further consolidates democratisation in Somaliland.

More information on the work of the Somali non-state actor platforms, which are supported by Saferworld, can be found here: