On Monday, citizens of the self-proclaimed Somaliland lined up at over 1500 polling stations to elect their fifth President. Everyone, including the young and the elderly, was eager to make their choice.
But on top of choosing their leader, the residents also hoped to use the third presidential election to prove their democratic credentials and show the world that they are a maturing democracy. It also offered a perfect chance for them to strengthen their push for independence from the troubled Somalia.
Occupying the northern part of the Horn of Africa country, Somaliland, which enjoys more political and ethnic stability than many countries in East Africa, broke away from the rest of Somalia in 1991 and has since been pushing for autonomy.
The former British protectorate gained independence in 1960, but later joined with the now war-torn Somalia. The tiny state has been under President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud since 2010 but he is not seeking re-election.
Monday’s election, which had attracted three candidates, went on smoothly, with the vote counting exercise commencing immediately after the voting closed. Among the three contenders were Muse Bihi, a seasoned politician, Abdirahman Iro and Faysal Ali Warabe.
The election was supposed to be held in 2015 but problems of drought and technical glitches forced the government to push it to 2017.
While its southern counterpart has not known peace since the early 1990s, Somaliland has always enjoyed peaceful and democratic transition of governments after every five years.
In fact, Somaliland is considered to be one of the most democratic states in East Africa. A good example of the extent of democracy in the tiny state is the just concluded election, which involved televised presidential debates and the use of biometric voter identification systems – a luxury that voters in southern Somalia don’t have.
Actually, the election was the first in Africa to use an eye-scan biometric technology, which authorities say prevented people from voting twice. More than 700,000 registered voters are said to have participated in the poll, whose results are expected to be announced before Friday.
It’s an election that should serve as an example to the rest of Somalia and Africa in general, where elections have become a deadly affair. The Somaliland poll shows that African countries have the capacity to hold free, fair and credible elections, and people don’t have to die over alleged electoral malpractices when simple and verifiable voting systems exist.
It is also a big challenge for the people of southern Somalia to put their differences aside and embrace peace. The fact that their brothers and sisters in Somaliland have been able to coexist for years without any major disruption of peace is an indication that they too can find a lasting solution to their problems.