Somalia at 50: bullets in the south, ballots in the north

Somalia marked its 50th anniversary of independence from colonial rule June 26 with bullets on one end of the country and ballots on the other. In Mogadishu, the official capital in the south, the president of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, gave a hopeful but solemn address—even as violence continued in the city. On June 27, a Mogadishu market came under mortar bombardment as Shabab insurgents attacked TFG troops and African Union peacekeepers, leaving three dead and nine injured. Since the beginning of the year, 200,000 Somalis have fled Mogadishu. Many have sought refuge in the camps that ring the city, such as the Afgooye Corridor, home to the world’s largest concentration of displaced people—more than 360,000.

Meanwhile, in the unrecognized independent republic of Somaliland in the north, some 1 million voters lined up at polling stations under tight security to elect a new president—despite threats from al-Shabab in the south to attack voters. In an audio message, Shabab’s leader, Sheik Mukhtar Abdirahman Abu Zubeyr, called democracy “the Devil’s principle” and warned people in Somaliland not to adopt it.

“I am so happy that we are voting democratically, and I hope that the election will end peacefully,” said current President Dahir Riyale Kahin of the ruling party UDUD after casting his vote in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. The UDUB, challenged by two other parties in the race, pledges to respect the outcome. “If we lose, we’ll give up power,” promised Said Adani Moge, a spokesman for Somaliland’s government. “The most important thing is peace.” (The East African, June 28; Before It’s News, June 27; Raxanreeb Online, Suna Times, June 26; CNN, NYT, June 26; The Horn, Hargeisa, via AllVoices, June 25)

The US-funded International Republican Institute (IRI) found that Somaliland’s election was peaceful, without major incident and generally met international standards. However, violence was reported in eastern Sool, Sanaag and Cayn districts—known as the SSC Regions. While most of Somaliland is dominated by the Isaq clan, the SSC Regions are controlled by the Dhulbahante clan, some of whose leaders have declared their own breakaway enclave. Ten peoples were reported killed in clashes in Sool district after militiamen tried to bar polling from the enclave. Somaliland’s government said the militia had invaded from Puntland, a neighboring de facto independent region accused by Hargeisa of having territorial designs on the SSC Regions. (Northern Somalia News via AllVoices, AllVoices, Somaliland Press, AP, June 27)

See our last posts on Somalia and Somaliland and Puntland.

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  1. Somali “government” uses child soldiers
    While the unrecognized Somaliland government holds elections in the north, here are the niceties of the “official” and US-backed TFG that doesn’t even fully control Mogadishu… From the New York Times, June 16:

    UN Voices Concern on Child Soldiers in Somalia
    HARGEISA, Somalia — As the United Nations Security Council expressed a “deep concern” on Wednesday over the continued use of child soldiers and a “readiness” to adopt sanctions against individuals who deploy them, an American lawmaker warned that the United States might have broken several laws by providing assistance to the Somali military, which uses children in conflict.

    The United Nations lists the Somali government as one of the “most persistent violators” in the world of using child soldiers, and this week The New York Times documented several child soldiers, some as young as 12, toting assault rifles and working for the Somali transitional government in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital.

    While the American government has expressed concern about the matter, it has given the Somali military millions of dollars in arms and paid soldiers’ salaries. On Wednesday, Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said that assistance might violate the Child Soldier Prevention provision of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008; the Durbin-Coburn Child Soldiers Accountability Act; and the Durbin-Coburn Human Rights Enforcement Act.

    “I recognize that the Somali Transitional Federal Government is trying to bring some measure of stability to that war-torn country,” he wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton dated June 16. “However, it should not do so on the backs of its precious children, and certainly not with the help of the American taxpayer.”