Tuesday, April 15, 2008



By Jerry Okungu

As a Kenyan, I have no business meddling in Somaliland politics. However, as an African who lives in East Africa, with many great friends in that country, I feel obliged to comment on my neighbour’s affairs because the goings- on in that country affect the whole East African region directly. I need peace and security in my neighbourhood.

I have a soft spot for Somaliland. I have been there many times in the last five years; mostly in meetings with main political parties, the civil society and media organizations to help strengthen democracy. I was happy with what I saw; an oasis of tranquillity amidst the turmoil in the greater Somalia. Several late night shopping trips in downtown Hargesia reassured me that I was definitely not in Mogadishu!

The enduring peace in Somaliland has inspired many of my articles since 2005 when I first travelled there. Incidentally, it was my first time to know the difference between Somalia and Somaliland.

My biggest concern in the last four years of discovering Somaliland and its peaceful people has been why the African Union, the United Nations and the European Union have never recognized it as a state yet with all its chaotic and violent history, the world has clung to Somalia as the more legitimate state of the two in the horn of Africa.

With relentless bloodbath in the streets of Mogadishu, a weak former warlord for President and all the ingredients of a failed state, it has been difficult to rationalize world opinion on both states. One would have imagined world leaders rushing to recognize Somaliland after several successful democratic elections since 1994; yet that was not to be!

President Dahir Riyale Kahin was elected for a five year term in May 2003. His term expires in May 2008. However, several political developments have taken place that if not addressed, will not augur well for the people of Somaliland. First, the President took the unilateral decision to extend the life of the Senate for another four years in 2007 without proper justification. As if that was not enough, the same senate has now returned a good deed for the President by extending his term in office by another year to end in 2009.

In so doing, the Senate has usurped the powers of the Electoral Commission whose responsibility is to set the election calendar for presidential, parliamentary and local council elections.

The political developments in Somaliland strike scary resemblance to similar developments that have taken place in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and a host of other countries in our continent. It is the same script African leaders continue to borrow from,time and time again.

First enters a progressive and democratic leader after years of turmoil. As months turn into years, our political messiahs slowly transform themselves into the same despots they deposed.

In the final year of his presidency, Dahir Riyale Kahin has been doing exactly what President Kibaki of Kenya did during the 2007 campaigns. Like Kibaki, he has been creating unnecessary districts where they need not exist ostensibly to gain favours with the electorate and create other constituencies favourable to his ruling UDUB party. In equal measure, he has been busy tinkering with local authorities to gain favour with local leaders in preparation for the 2008 elections which he has now conspired with the senate to postpone.

If there have been sporadic bomb explosions in the capital city including inside the senate chambers, it is these political manoeuvres that must be seen to be fuelling them. If there is discontent among leading political parties like KULMIYE, who incidentally government ministers are quick to blame for the explosions, we must understand this disquiet in the context of our own experiences in our countries.

African leaders love power and only pay lip service to democracy when they are seeking political office. Once they get there, the first thing they toss through the window is the same democracy.

As power gets sweeter for them; the temptation to cling to the office by any means necessary gets compelling with each passing day. This is the reason we still have the likes of Abdulahi Yusuf next door even though he knows nobody wants him as their leader in Somalia. This is why we have El Bashir in Sudan, Mugabe in Zimbabwe and Museveni in Uganda. Need I repeat that the same impulse to perpetuate themselves in power informed Obasanjo’s attempt to change the Nigerian constitution after learning the trick from Museveni two years earlier?

Five years of staying in office; it is difficult to quantify President Kahin’s achievements. I may be wrong but since he came to power before Somaliland was recognized, one would have thought that securing a seat for his country at the UN and the AU would have been his biggest achievement. That has not happened and there are no signs that it will happen any time soon. More telling; he never made significant pitches for this to happen. I saw him once in Nairobi two years ago. I was disappointed by his approach to the task!

The gains made by Somaliland in the last fourteen years are too valuable to be allowed to go down the drain through another reckless internal strife. President Kahin must realize and accept that no individual is greater than his country. He must begin to weigh his options to avoid another Somalia like situation. If he is interested in continuing his presidency, he must be humble enough to return to the electorate on time to seek a fresh mandate. Extending his term through the backdoor with unsolicited favours will not wash with Somalilanders. The wind of democracy blowing across Africa will not allow him to remain in power against the will of his people. He must be ready to carry them along or get out of their way in a civilized manner.