A national referendum on a constitution which affirmed Somaliland's independence as a democratic state with a multiparty political system. The referendum passed with 97% of the vote and the new constitution was adopted but not recognized by Somalia or international bodies.
Problems and Purpose
Somaliland, a former British protectorate and a self-declared republic in Somalia, has achieved various constitutional milestones since attainment of independence on 26 June 1960. Beginning in 2000, a drafting process began involving a "constituent assembly" made up of 150 members of local clans and political entities. On 31 May 2001, a constitutional referendum was held to enable citizens to vote on a draft before it was approved by the bicameral parliament. The adoption of the draft constitution would make it possible for a multiparty system to be established and would also provide for a wider reform of the country’s political structure, transforming it from a purely clan-based to a democratic political system.
The "constituent" assembly and subsequent referendum on the new constitution set the precedent for Somaliland's democratization despite some irregularities in the administration and execution of the process of public participation.
Background History and Context
Somaliland's first constitution was enacted after attained independence from the United Kingdom on 26 June 1960. Among the provisions of the constitution were its establishment of a Council of Ministers led by a Prime Minister, which was the executive authority of the new Somaliland and dependent judiciary body. It also introduced a Legislative Assembly of 33 members and a Speaker (First Somaliland Constitution, 1960). The constitution, however, was became non-operational just after five days following Somaliland's merger with Italian Somalia to create a "Greater Somalia", an elusive dream intended to bring together all Somali-inhabited regions in the Horn of Africa. Despite the people of Somaliland boycotted it, a new constitution was adopted in 1961 in which it was abrogated in 1969 by a military regime after they deposed the civilian government and came to power in a coup.
Followed by the overthrew of the military regime by Somali National Movement in 1991, Somaliland reclaimed its independence from Somalia. Unlike Somalia which descended into chaos, Somaliland has shown remarkable achievements in peace and state-building as well as a genuine process of constitution-making and promoting democracy. After extensive deliberations, a national constituent assembly at a Grand Conference of Somaliland clans in Borama town approved in 1993 a National Charter (Axdi Qarameed), consisting of 31 articles. This charter, which was provisional, intended to serve for two years, as per article 5 of the charter, and was to be replaced by a constitution approved in a public referendum (National Charter, 1993). The legality of the charter, however, was extended by the House of Elders of the Parliament for eighteen months starting from September 1995. On February 1997, an interim constitution of 156 articles was adopted by another constituent assembly of 315 members in Hargeisa. The two Houses of Somaliland have subsequently reviewed the interim constitution in which they approved on 30 April 2000 (Aguilar, 2015).
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The constitutional referendum in Somaliland was administered by a National Referendum Committee (NRC). The NRC was established under the Law of the Referendum on the Constitution of the Republic of Somaliland (2001) which was approved by Somaliland Parliament in 2001. Article 1 of the Referendum Law made clear the objective of the referendum in which it states "that the purpose of the referendum is to allow every [Somaliland] citizen to cast his/her vote for or against the constitution." The subsequent article (2.1) ensures credible voting "the voting should be personal, free, direct and all votes must be equal." While the range of articles follows elucidates administration of the referendum including date of the referendum (Art. 5), conditions for participation in the referendum (Art. 6 & 7) and the number and locations of polling stations (Art. 8) etc.
The major challenge facing the committee, and the government at large, was the high costs demanded to conduct by such large scale project. The Initiative and Referendum Institute, who observed it, stated in their report (2001) that the Somaliland government has approached the international organizations operating in Somaliland to provide assistance on the referendum, but they refused to provide support because of Somaliland's lack of international recognition. However, as an indication of its seriousness, the Somaliland Parliament allocated almost five percent of its annual government revenues – more than $650,000 – to carry out the referendum.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The initial drafting of the constitution used a "constituent" assembly orocess involving 150 selected delegates representing the various clans (and sub-clans) of Somaliland (Jama, 2009). The assembly members were already active in the political sphere and were thus predominantly men. The process involved little engagement with the public except for technical experts and clan leaders who were called on in situations when members fail to reach an agreement.
Apart from the 6-member National Referendum Committee - whose selection was not made public - an unspecified number of experts were appointed by the government and subsequently approved by the two houses of Somaliland parliament in March 2001 to provide technical support to the NRC. Thousands of poll workers were also recruited to cover around 600 polling stations in six regions spread out over 54,000 square miles (Initiative & Referendum Institute, 2001).
While the Law of the Referendum of the Somaliland Constitution outlined the procedures to be followed in the referendum, it is silent on the number and selection criteria of the members of the National Referendum Committee or of the polling officials.
Government authorities at regional, district and village levels, receiving support from the traditional elders, religious leaders and civil society organizations, have actively participated not only designing of the referendum, but also played a vivid role for educating the public on the referendum. For instance, IRI reported (2001):
'the Ministry of Information held a two-week long seminar in Hargeisa for the mayors and regional governors on how to educate the people. These trainees then returned to their regions and districts to educate the clan elders. In time-honored Somaliland tradition, clan elders have always met with members of their village or clan to discuss issues affecting the clan, the village or the nation, and it is through this traditional network that the Ministry of Information sought to spread information on the referendum.'
Despite women and youth actively participated the referendum, either as a voter or as a polling station official, women and youth played no role during the entire process of constitution making in Somaliland. The process was the domain of men and the voice of women were not heard and considered, albeit women and girls constitute over 50 per cent of the Somaliland population.
Methods and Tools Used
A three-month long "constituent" assembly involving mostly government officials (clan-members and representatives) drafted the constitution to be put to referendum. This process involved little, if any public involvement except some experts and other political representatives or clan officials. The referendum on the draft was open to all citizens over the age of 18.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Constitution Drafting via "Constituent" Assembly
The constitution making process of Somaliland was not a separate effort, but was an integral part of the broader state formation process and contributed for the enhancement of reconciliation among the various clans in the country. The first major achievement towards making the constitution of the new republic was the adoption of a National Charter which provides a framework for decisions about the adoption of constitution making process.
A "constituent" assembly, consisting of 150 selected delegates representing the various clans (and sub-clans) of Somaliland, was established to deliberate and subsequently approve the charter (Jama, 2009). The assembly members who were predominantly men had no, or little, engagement with the public. The only part of the society who had a modest access to them were a handful of technical experts and clan leaders who were occasionally intervening situations when members fail to reach an agreement over a particular matter. Its ostensible that the capacity of the assembly members involved in the process of constitution making were not enhanced, but their debates form the bedrock of the charter and it took almost three months to complete its historic task of drafting and passing the national charter.
Since the national charter was transitional, the House of Representatives of Somaliland parliament has embarked a constitution making process after they appointed a constitutional committee of 10-members in 1994. In contrary, the Somaliland president has appointed a Sudanese lawyer to produce a draft constitution in an effort countering parliament's effort to lead the constitution making process (Jama n,d). The two groups have produced two different draft constitutions which is giving dissimilar powers to the executive and the legislature branches of the government. Both process, however, have characterized by lack of effective public participation. There was no framework in place for citizen's engagement and a handful of political leaders, namely the executive and parliament, have dominated the entire process and the general public had little access to information about the process and consequently had no opportunity to participate meaningfully in the process.
There was also an increased politicization of the process since the members of the parliamentary committee claimed that the president is adapting a constitution which is giving excessive power to the executive (i.e. president's power to intervene the judiciary). Under this circumstances, another grand conference was convened in Hargeisa and the participants were proposed to marry together the two drafts of the constitution to make it a single document. A 156-article interim constitution was produced and was finally endorsed by constituent assembly of 315 members in Hargeisa. The government tried to make some amendments, but a joint parliamentary committee formed to review the interim constitution has rejected government's proposal and finally a 130-article constitution was submitted to the parliament for approval in which the parliament passed on 30 April 2000 (Jama, 2010).
A national referendum was organized to hold nearly one year after the parliament passed the new constitution. Despite limited financial resources coupled with lack of voter registration, the referendum was carried out in line with the internationally accepted standards. 1.1 million eligible voters over the age of 18 years cast votes in which 97% of them approved the country's new constitution with less than 3% voted against (Initiative & Referendum Institute, 2001). There was no reports of intimidation against people campaigning for a "no" vote in the constitutional referendum.
The government of Somaliland have successfully utilized a simple but effective campaign to educate citizens on the constitutional referendum. Apart from employing both government and privately owned media as well as posting stickers stressing the importance of voting, a series of awareness programs, involving elders and clan leaders, on the significance of voting were organized through clan meetings. While the latter approach of information sharing was outstanding, the absence of political parties as well as strong civil society organizations encumbered to provide the public the substantive analysis of the various articles of the constitution.
The process of making Somaliland constitution was largely similar to other cases (Eritrea, Cambodia for instance) where a certain degree of stability was attained through the adoption of a national charter, but what was unique in this case is that it empowered traditional institutions not only to solve disputes, but also play a bigger role of easing political tensions. The inclusion of traditional elders in the governance system as Upper House (Gollaha Guurtida) of the Parliament was a milestone. This remained to be an integral part of Somaliland's upward trajectory of political stability in a turbulent region of the Horn of Africa and it proved to be an innovative approach of combining together modern governance system to an informal traditional structure.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
This newly adopted constitution was seen as a milestone and a significant move towards democracy. Several articles in the new constitution (2001) reflects this vision. It defines the most fundamental rights for democratic society: article 8 guarantees equality of citizens, article 9 allows several political parties to be formed, article 22 "political, economic, social and electoral rights," article 23 "freedom of movement and association," etc.
Soon after the constitutional referendum was over, a number of laws were enacted which paving the way for the first one-man-one-vote election for local councilors. Among them are the Political Parties Law, signed into law on August 2000; Somaliland citizenship law and the Law of the Regions and Districts, both were signed into law by the president in 2002.
On December 2002, the first widely participated local government election was held throughout Somaliland. Three out of six contested political associations have became full-blown political parties as per article 3 of the political parties law. This major achievement has sparked a set of elections to ensue including first presidential election (2003), parliamentary election (2005), second presidential election (2010), elections of local councilors (2012) and third presidential election is to take place on 13 November 2017 (Jama, 2009)
Above-mentioned electoral successes has inspired international partners to contribute Somaliland's democratization process particular the provision of technical and management expertise to ensure that there is adequate support to the election process.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The constitution making process in Somaliland as well as the constitutional referendum ensued have both considered the country's success stories. Without receiving broad foreign support, Somaliland have made important efforts for achieving a constitution that has been regarded as legitimate and democratic through a home-grown model of employing traditional structure.
Though the process of making the constitution presents many opportunities to the people of Somaliland, but it has been shown many flaws as well. One obvious critic is the lack of public involvement in the constitutional elaboration processes. The general populace had never participated in the whole process of constitution making, from its genesis to final approval of the parliament. One could argue that since the people were not given the freedom to air out their views, this constitution has a limited ownership or moral authority of the citizenry. In the same token, there was neither attempt made to consider public opinions on the provisions of the constitution nor the civil society organizations were allowed to submit their thoughts as well.
Apart from the domination of minority politicians in the process who locked out the citizens to have a voice in the process, these politicians had even competing interests and each arm of the government, the executive and the legislative, had strived the new constitution to grant them a strong powerbase. On several occasions, the members of the parliament have denounced provisions in the constitution and claimed it suits aspirations of the president. Under this constitution, the president enjoys greater power including the capacity to appoint judges and supreme court chief and the ability to dissolve the parliament if the public has agreed in a referendum.
With regard to the referendum, the government was determined voting to take place in a credible, free and fair manner, but serious financial constrains slowed the process down. Other significant challenges facing to conduct the referendum was the high illiteracy rate in the population which made it difficult large swathes of the population to understand principles of the constitution. Difficulties associated with the identification of the eligible voters due to absence of voter registration system coupled with little voting experience were also another major challenges.
People also conceived wrongly the primary intention behind the referendum. Instead of voting on constitution which will be the supreme legal instrument of this nation, people were more eager to send a signal to Somalia as well the international community showing their desire for an independent and to disassociate Somaliland from the war-torn Somalia. Other critics are including inadequate number of polling centers. Only 600 polling stations showed impossible to cope with the number of voters of a country with an estimated population of 3.5 million people.
Aguilar, M., 2015, 'The Constitution of Somaliland: The Problem of Constitutional Generations and Clan Dissolution', Scientific Research Publishing, 13 October, p. 249.
Briggs, P., 2012, Somaliland: with Addis Ababa & Eastern Ethiopia, The Global Pequot Press Inc. USA.
Initiative & Referendum Institute, 2001, Final Report of the Initiative & Referendum Institute's Election Monitoring Team on Somaliland National Referendum on 31 May 2001, Citizen Lawmakers Press. Washington, D.C. pp. 13-24.
Jama, I., 2009, Somaliland Electoral Laws: Somaliland Law Series, Progressio, Hargeisa.
Jama, I., 2010, Making the Somaliland Constitution and Its Role in Democratization and Peace, Somali Peace Process.
Somaliland Government, 1960, First Somaliland Constitution, viewed 6 November 2017, from http://www.somalilandlaw.com/somaliland_constitution_1960.HTM#Top
Somaliland Government, 1993, National Charter, viewed 6 November 2017, from http://www.somalilandlaw.com/somaliland_national_chartercha.htm#Title
Somaliland Government, 2001, The Law of the Referendum on the Constitution of the Republic of Somaliland, viewed 4 November 2017, from http://www.somalilandlaw.com/somaliland_referendum_law.htm
Full Text of the Somaliland Constitution
 Since the first article of the constitution clearly declares Somaliland’s unilateral separation from the rest of Somalia, Somalilanders view it as a signal to the world of their steadfast desire to live in an independent Somaliland
 Estimated based on the totalpopulation (3.5 million) of which 2 million are eligible voters and the turnout of the referendum was 1.18 million of which only 34,460 voted against.