Nurturing Democracy in the Horn of Africa: Somaliland's First Elections, 2002-2005

A decade after the former British protectorate of Somaliland severed ties with the rest of Somalia and declared independence, the fledgling state took the next steps toward democracy by holding direct elections. This transition occurred over the course of four years and three elections, during which the people of Somaliland elected district councils in 2002, a president and vice president in 2003, and a parliament in 2005. Somaliland’s democratic elections, the first in the Horn of Africa since 1969, were landmark achievements, as traditional social and political mechanisms legitimized the results and reinforced stability in the aftermath. The inexperienced and under-resourced National Electoral Commission successfully navigated the development of political parties, avoided the potential for violence when the margin of victory in the presidential election was only 80 votes, and managed an improved parliamentary election by introducing innovations that made the electoral process operate more smoothly. By avoiding violence and building consensus for peaceful, democratic transitions, Somaliland’s first elections highlighted a mix of traditional and democratic innovations conducted in a resource-poor environment.
Richard Bennet and Michael Woldemariam drafted this policy note on the basis of interviews conducted in Somaliland during October 2010. For a detailed look at the establishment of civilian government in Somaliland from 1991 to 2001, see the companion case study, “Navigating a Broken Transition to Civilian Rule.”
Associated Interview(s):  Adan Yusuf Abokor, Shukri Ismail, Mohamed Fadal
election commission
Election Management Body
Focus Area(s)
Reducing Divisive Effects of Competition
Building a Reform Team and Staff
Getting the News Out/Managing Expectations
Critical Tasks
Election schedules
Legal framework
Poll worker management
Vote counting
Voter education
Core Challenge
Dispute resolution (compliance)
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Richard Bennet and Michael Woldemariam