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  • Inter-Peace & Somaliland’s Presidential Election – By Ahmed M. I. Egal

    Posted by on August 7, 2009

    hand writingIntroduction: There has been a lot of statements, press releases, commentary by all and sundry on the repercussions of the expulsion of the Interpeace representative from Somaliland and the implications of this action on the Presidential elections scheduled for 27th September this year. Clearly this is watershed, or defining moment (to use President Obama’s favourite term) for Somaliland’s successful experiment in developing, establishing and maintaining an indigenous, representative democracy in Africa. The consequences of the actions taken by all parties at this critical time, i.e. government, opposition parties, press and foreign donors, will determine the relative ease or difficulty of Somaliland’s path to political maturity and true multiparty democracy.  

    Having said that, it is equally important for the political actors mentioned above to understand, and factor into their calculations, that the success of Somaliland’s experiment in representative government is not due to their perspicacity or their actions, but to the genuine wish of the people of Somaliland for peace, national reconciliation and self government. Indeed, to some extent the population of Somaliland have maintained the stability and reconciliation that underpins the peace of their country, in spite of the machinations of the political class.

    Who is Interpeace & What is/was Their Mission?

    Interpeace was established in 1994 under the name of War-torn Societies Project (WSP) by the United Nations “…to help divided and conflicted societies build sustainable peace.” In 2000, the WSP was re-formed as an independent NGO based in Switzerland under the name of Interpeace but with strong links to the UN, which continues to play a crucial role in the organisation’s activities (the UN has a Management Services Agreement with Interpeace and charges the organisation management fees [US$129,403 in FY2007]) and with which it maintains a partnership under the sobriquet the Joint Programme Unit (JPU). Interpeace is headed by a Governing Council including some well known international diplomats, e.g. Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, Paddy Ashdown of the UK and Mohamed Sahnoun of Algeria, and populated by senior UN staffers/ex-staffers. The organisation is managed by a group of well qualified, development professionals from within and outside the UN, its related organisations and international NGOs.

    On the face of it, Interpeace is like many other NGOs with laudable aims, notable and respected international figures on its Governing Council, and with a wide-ranging remit to conduct research and promote its lofty aims among the wretched of the earth. I am sure that the organisation does good work in many of the countries in which it operates, or has operated, e.g. Eritrea, Mozambique, Rwanda, Burundi and Liberia to mention a few in Africa. Cursory review of its financial statements also depict the usual picture of a certain type of international NGO, with some 94% of its revenues coming from governmental contributions and some 73% of its expenses attributable to staff expenses and their travel. Only 9%, or US$1.25 million, of total expenses is spent on workshops, professional services & reporting (which presumably include the cost of the external auditors [KPMG] who are not cheap).

    When one examines Interpeace’s activities, it is clear that their central mission is to conduct research on conflict resolution, peace and reconciliation and promote same in countries where there is, or has been, civil war or violent, internal conflict. In what Interpeace terms the “Somali Region” the organisation started operations in Puntland in 1996 where it established the Puntland Development Research Centre (PDRC). In 1999 it came to Somaliland and established the Academy for Peace & Development (APD), and in 2000 it went to Mogadishu to establish the Centre for research & Dialogue (CRD).

    The principal result of the organisation’s activities in the “Somali Region” to date has been a 111 page publication entitled “Peace in Somaliland: An Indigenous Approach to State-Building” which is billed as “…a chapter in a forthcoming publication representing the findings of the peace mapping study.” Whatever Interpeace’s own view of Somaliland’s independence may be (and it is perfectly understandable and non-controversial if it does not coincide with that of Somalilanders’), it is clear that the focus of its study is macro in nature, i.e. covering all of the “Somali Region” as they characterise it.

    The local NGOs that it has established in each of Puntland, Somaliland and south-central Somalia undertake the basic research and documentation (written as well as audio-visual) underlying the peace mapping study, while the Interpeace cadres design the scope and methodology and write and edit the final publication. This reminds me of the arrangement whereby Somali postgraduate students used to (and maybe still do) undertake the research that underpinned the scholarly papers and books of their “regional expert” professors at European universties.

    Be that as it may, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that, although some may prefer that Somaliland academics write the scholarly treatises which rest upon their research and knowledge. The question that needs to be asked is: given Interpeace’s area of expertise and engagement, i.e. conflict resolution studies & peace promotion, how did they get engaged as the consultant to oversee the development, preparation and implementation of the Voter Registration List for Somaliland’s upcoming Presidential elections? It is not clear at all, at least to me, that Interpeace had extensive experience in this particular activity, nor that it had the requisite skills and capability in the computer programming field necessary for the implementation of the project.

    In addition, when Interpeace came to Somaliland in 1999, the major internal conflicts in the country, i.e. the inter-clan wars, were over and the country was moving towards multi-party politics. Thus, was Interpeace primary concern to research and document Somaliland’s successful, indigenous conflict resolution methodology, or was it seeking to promote inter-Somali (i.e. Somaliland-Puntland-Somalia) reconciliation through its Participatory Action Research (PAR) methodology that entailed “…building consensual approaches to address the social, economic and political issues necessary for a durable peace” among “…the three partners to engage with each other in collaborative studies and shared projects across their borders – such as this peace mapping study – while managing their respective components of the Dialogue independently” as stated in the preface to their above mentioned publication?

    The Presidential Elections – The Way Forward

    I don’t have the answers to these questions, but they must be asked and answered. What is clear is that the Voter Registration Project has failed in its primary task of providing a final, agreed and incontestable Voter List by the designated date. It is also clear that while Interpeace may not have been the right consultant to have entrusted with this project, the blame for this failure belongs to many in varying the degrees, i.e. the National Election Commission (NEC) which owned the project, the Government since the project was undertaken in the name of the people of Somaliland, the three political parties since all they contributed, as far as I and many others can tell, was childish squabbling and obfuscation in their varied attempts to secure electoral advantage.

    The government and/or the two houses of the legislature must appoint an independent commission of inquiry to get to the bottom of this fiasco and ensure that the Voter Registration Project is completed properly, professionally and expeditiously after the Presidential election. Finally, it is clear that the election cannot proceed with a Voter List that is preliminary, contains thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of duplicate and erroneous registrations and that is subject to programming flaws in matching the biometric data to the individual voters. It was right and proper to remove Interpeace from this project.

    We are thus faced with the question of what to do about the Presidential elections. In view of the fact that the election has already been delayed several times, the resultant public frustration with the said delays, and in order to maintain credibility in our democracy, the polls must proceed as scheduled. This should not pose any insurmountable problems, after all we have held three national elections (Presidential, Parliamentary and Municipal) that were judged by all observers as free and fair before we ever heard servers, biometric programming or delivered our democratic process into the sole hands of Interpeace.

    The NEC, three political parties and the two houses of the legislature should get together and agree on the arrangements for holding the elections without a Voter List, as we have done in the past. The fact that voters have been issued with ID Cards pursuant to the registration exercise should facilitate matters. The government, for its part, must make available the funds and other resources (security personnel and other resources that are required) as per the arrangements agreed between the NEC, political parties and legislature.


    As stated at the beginning, we are at a defining moment and all parties, government, political parties, politicians and the press, must get off their respective soap boxes and put the interests of the country before their personal ambitions and interests. While this is asking the seemingly impossible from politicians, they should be aware that the voters will sorely punish those that they perceive to be elevating their narrow and naked ambition over the interest of the nation at this critical juncture. Somaliland’s voters are not only well informed and sophisticated, they are also utterly and irrevocably committed to the existence, stability and independence of their country, and woe betide any self-serving politician who either ignores or discounts this fact.

    In short, holding elections is neither rocket science, not is it new to us, so let’s get on with the job of governing ourselves and hold the election. Posturing that it is impossible to do so in the absence of magical presence of Interpeace, or an incomplete and fatally flawed Voter List (as confirmed by Interpeace itself) is untenable and will not be accepted by the vast majority of Somaliland citizens. Therefore, to those who say that we can’t hold the Presidential elections on 27th September as scheduled, we reply with Obama’s famous, triumphant riposte “YES WE CAN”.

    Ahmed M. I. Egal


    Ahmed M.I. Egal is based in the Arabian Gulf. He is a regular contributor to Awdalnews Network.

    © 2008 Awdalnews Network .


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