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Challenges Lie Ahead for new Somaliland President

  • Michael Onyiego

Ahmed Mohamed Silaanyo was sworn in Monday as the new President of Somaliland, a self-declared independent republic in northwestern Somalia. The inauguration marks a successful democratic transition in an otherwise tumultuous region, but Mr. Silaanyo will face many of the same problems which plague the south as he assumes office.

The ceremony, which took place in the Somaliland capital Hargeisa, was attended by delegations from across east Africa, including officials from Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia.

Silaanyo was elected with 49 percent of the vote, defeating incumbent President Dahir Riyale Kahin, who received around one-third of the ballots during the June 26 poll, which was praised by observers as free and fair.

Before being sworn in, the new leader acknowledged his responsibility to Somaliland and promised justice and equality for its people. Silaanyo also announced that he would name his cabinet tomorrow in order to begin governing.

Compared with the rest of the region, Somaliland has been an oasis of stability since unilaterally declaring independence from greater Somalia in 1991. Since the overthrow of Mohammed Siad Barre in Mogadishu in the same year, southern and central Somalia has devolved into a state of near constant conflict.

The Transitional Federal Government, backed by the United Nations, has battled rising Islamist insurgencies during the past decade and maintains only tenuous control over parts of the capital.

Somaliland, meanwhile, has strengthened its democratic credentials by transitioning to a full democracy in 2002, holding parliamentary elections and two successful presidential polls. The presidential election in June also featured a peaceful handover of power.

During the inauguration, former president Kahin congratulated the people of Somaliland for successful and democratic elections, saying he was proud to hand over the presidency to his political rival, Mr. Silaanyo.

But the five-year term is not likely to be so smooth for the new president. Like the rest of the region, poverty and unemployment are widespread in Somalia. Many young Somalilanders leave the region for jobs in Europe, and the ministry of planning estimated in 2009 that 80 percent of Somaliland's economy was based on remittances.

Somaliland also faces armed threats familiar to the rest of Somalia. The remnants of rebel group al-Ittihad al-Islamiya are based in the Golis Mountains on the country's unrecognized eastern border. The group's leader, Mohammed Said Atom, has been identified by the United Nations as a principle supplier to southern insurgents al-Shabab and a destabilizing factor for the region.

Somaliland also faces internal challenges from secessionist movements in the regions of Sool, Sanaag and southeastern Togdheer, known locally as "Cayn." The groups collectively named the Sool, Sanaag and Cayn militia have called for complete regional autonomy within greater Somalia and refuse to recognize Somaliland's independence.

While there have been no reports of violence around the inauguration, the Sool, Sanaag and Cayn militia was responsible for polling station attacks during the June vote. The violence was concentrated around the Cayn region of Togdheer and left one electoral official dead.

Though the attacks did not discourage many from voting in the election, they will serve as a constant reminder to President Silaanyo of his nation's fragile peace in the tumultuous region.