The bumpy road to the presidency – campaigning in Somaliland
With the date for
Campaigning on alternate days in the capital Hargeisa the parties pack their supporters in (and around and on top of) buses, four-wheel drives and sedans to tour the city and pack out the downtown rallies. It’s almost as though the presidency was being awarded to the party that can fit the most supporters and banners into already overflowing vehicles and drive in the most terrifying, death-defying fashion around Hargeisa’s pot-holed, goat filled roads. To an outside observer it sometimes seems as though the election campaign is serving as a welcome outlet for public celebration, complete with music and dancing, in an otherwise conservative society. There’s certainly a party atmosphere when the marches and rallies kick into motion, complete with hundreds of flag waving children and dancing women clad in custom made partisan coloured burqas. Indeed, the wanton-abandon of the political festival is drawing fire from the some of the mosques. As well as calling for a peace and vigilant approach to the election several Imam’s Friday sermons focused on the potential moral consequences of over-excited campaigning – women hanging out of the windows of cars driven by men was a particular target of the Imams’ ire last Friday (Geeska Afrika, Hargesia June 13).
In amongst the festivities it’s impossible however to forget how much is riding on this election for
The ‘internationally recognized’ Transitional Federal Government (the TFG) has remained quiet about electoral developments in the north, though many here believe that, whilst it remains battling for survival behind the barricades in Mogadishu, it retains an interest in seeing the election fail in Somaliland. This is an interest arguably shared by the ‘Islamist’ militia groups who appear to be extending their grip over even larger areas of south central
In the international forums of the ongoing Somali story the political process playing out in the northern breakaway
If the election taking place on June 26th passes off peacefully and produces a workable and generally accepted result then not only will this constitute another remarkable achievement in Somaliland’s ongoing political history but may alter the regional playing field and invite a re-evaluation of international engagement with the northern state. The cold realities of international relations aside this is certainly a dominant perception in the minds of Somalilanders who are preparing to go to the polls. The T-shirts of at least one of the parties are complete with slogans talking about ‘change we can believe in’ (I’m sure I’ve heard that somewhere before…) and whilst even a free and fair election or peaceful transition of power may not bring a fundamental change in Somaliland’s relationship with the world, there is no doubt that a lot of eyes will be looking this way come June 26th.
For pictures of the campaign see http://petechonka.wordpress.com