Escalating tensions ahead of a presidential vote in the self-declared
republic of Somaliland are raising fears that a prolonged political
crisis may give the al-Qaida-linked Somali militant group, al-Shabab,
the opportunity to spread its extremist ideology.
associate professor of religious studies and Arabic at the University
of South Africa, Iqbal Jhazbhay, says political bickering between the
government and opposition parties in Somaliland is threatening to
derail much-delayed elections there, scheduled for September 27.
says the feud must be resolved quickly before it inflicts irreparable
damage on the breakaway territory's democratic system.
no doubt that this is a defining moment," he said. "This polarization
could pose a threat to peace and security in the sense that it would
polarize the populace, lead to possibly things spilling out of control,
the possibility of extreme Islamic elements like al-Shabab seeing this
as an opportunity to advance their agenda."
At the center of
Somaliland's brewing crisis is the question of whether the territory
can hold an election without a voter registration list.
U.N.-partnered organization called Interpeace had been helping the
government of incumbent President Dahir Riyale with the voter
registration process, and was planning to monitor the election.
last week, the government expelled the head of Interpeace from
Somaliland, accusing the organization of, among other things, illegally
sharing voter information with officials of Somaliland's two main
opposition groups, Kulmiye and UCID.
Interpeace has denied any
wrongdoing. But it acknowledged that the voter registration system
was, in its words, seriously abused while being implemented. Some
government supporters have charged that multiple registrations in favor
of opposition parties had taken place in several districts.
National Election Commission ruled that the presidential election could
proceed without the voter registration list, and the president quickly
endorsed the ruling. Kulmiye and UCID said the decision to abandon
the list is tantamount to high treason. Opposition members of
parliament are now said to be preparing a motion to impeach President
Professor Jhazbhay says he fears if a compromise cannot
be reached soon, the feud may cause some Somalilanders to become
disillusioned with democracy, and he fears that could strengthen the
hand of al-Shabab extremists. Al-Shabab, which is listed as a
terrorist organization by the United States, is currently battling to
overthrow a U.N.-backed government in the Somali capital Mogadishu, and
has vowed to fight until all of Somalia is united under an
ultra-conservative Islamic caliphate.
"In the case of
Somaliland, they have tried to shape an agenda and a discourse saying
that advancing democracy is a Western exercise, where countries like
Somaliland end up being led and following an American agenda," he said.
"It is an attempt to mobilize people and alienate them from what is
clearly a home-grown democracy of Somali customary laws and Islamic
Top al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane hails from the
Somaliland capital, Hargeisa. Godane is suspected of ordering the
deadly suicide attacks in Hargeisa last October at a U.N. compound, the
Ethiopian consulate, and the presidential palace.
current president, Dahir Riyale, was peacefully elected to his first
five-year term in 2003, and, until recently, the territory was held up
as an example of what the rest of Somalia could achieve through
democratic reforms and good governance.
But the presidential
vote that should have taken place in August 2008 has been postponed
several times. The delay has raised concern from key allies, such as
the United States and the European Union, about Somaliland's commitment
In recent years, Somaliland has been closely
cooperating with the West in combating terrorism and piracy, in
exchange for the international diplomatic recognition it has sought
since declaring independence from Somalia in 1991.