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Last Updated: Feb 11, 2014 - 5:11:05 AM
Somalia: Guide to Puntland Election 2009

PUNTLAND ELECTION 2009 |  Today, Puntland cannot afford to test its future with a new leader whose political past is unknown and therefore whose future policy cannot be assessed.


The State of Puntland is a regional government within the borders of the Federal Government of Somalia. Given that "Federal Somalia" is nonexistent to date, Puntland has pursued a policy of establishing a prototype regional government that can be emulated in future cases by following the so-called "bottom-up approach" towards building a national government founded on consensus and the principles of law. The regional government, in Somalia's northeast, was formally established by a 1998 provisional constitution – a constitution that nominally remains in effect till today. Puntland has had three regional presidents since its inception: H.E. Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed (1998-2004), H.E. Mohamed Abdi Hashi (2004-2005), and H.E. President Mohamud Muse Hersi (2005-present).

Livestock export remains the mainstay of the Puntland economy. The region's close proximity to markets in the Middle East has transformed Bossaso, a mere shantytown 15 years ago, into a bustling port city and an economic powerhouse. Somalia's vital north-south highway stretches for 750km in the middle of Puntland, connecting the trading city of Galkayo in central Somalia to the northern port of Bossaso. Goods from Dubai that land at the Port of Bossaso are delivered by truck to Burao (to the west, in Somaliland region), to Beledweyne (to the south, in Hiraan region) and to parts of Somali Regional State (to the southwest, in Ethiopia). In recent years, Puntland has attracted foreign investors with promises of oil and natural gas reserves; Australian, Canadian and Chinese firms have shown considerable interest in helping Puntland benefit from its natural resources.

Will Puntland's next leader use this book?
Somalia has not had an official census taken since 1986, when the country's last national government placed the population at 7.1 million people. The 2006 Puntland Five-Year Development Plan, authored by the Puntland government and funded by the UN Development Program, estimated the Puntland population at 2.5 million people. Most of the local population is nomadic herdsmen, but recent years has seen a growing fisheries community and an unprecedented spike in urban growth. There are regional hospitals or clinics in every major town and there are a number of institutions of higher education, such as East Africa University in Bossaso and Puntland State University in Garowe, the capital city of Puntland. Also, there are vocational training centers in different parts of Puntland, with focus on skills training and job creation.

The region has been relatively peaceful since the outbreak of the Somali civil war in 1991. Puntland experienced three separate bouts of civil strife since: in 1992, when the al-Itihad militia battled Puntland clan fighters in Bossaso and Garowe, marking the country's first war against Islamists; in 1993, when Gen. Aideed's Hawiye clan militias captured Galkayo and were forced out by rival Darod clan fighters; and in 2001, when Yusuf fought to regain control of Puntland. In post-1991 Somalia, notwithstanding the aforementioned shortcomings, Puntland has played a pivotal role in assuring that the violence and anarchy in the southern regions do not spread further north, even potentially destabilizing the separatist republic of Somaliland.

The Puntland government, as espoused under constitutional clauses, is led by a regional President, who is elected by a 66-seat Parliament with delegates representing native clans. Historically, the Puntland President has wielded almost-autocratic authority vis-à-vis the legislative structure, mainly because the Parliament has never fully exercised its vast constitutional powers. On January 8, 2009, the Puntland Parliament is expected to elect the region's next leader, who will inherit a state in political, economic and security disarray.


Federalism is the cornerstone of Puntland. During Gen. Siad Barre's era (1969-1991), Somalia was divided into 18 administrative regions. Therefore, the geographic territory of Puntland was defined according to that map, with five regions (Bari, Nugaal, Mudug, Sool and Sanaag) – along with the District of Buhodle, in Togdheer region (Somaliland) – sending delegates to Garowe in 1998 to form Puntland's interim government. Two key uniting factors were at hand: a) the native clans were all "Northern Darod" and b) sharing land and kinship ties, the native clans forged a partnership to protect common interests in the face of Somalia's political destabilization and the disintegration of social structures.

Map of Somalia showing Puntland region
The concept of federalism is not a new feat in Somali politics. In the 1960s, when Somalia attained independence from European colonizers, politicians from Bay and Bakool regions (Rahaweyne clans) proposed a federal system of government. The federalism debate was silenced by the massive calls for Somali unity, emerging from different regions and clans of the country, demanding that all Somali-speaking peoples of the Horn of Africa be united under a single flag. Somali irredentism and the euphoria of national independence in effect dealt a death blow to federalism, until 2004, when the UN-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was established with ex-Puntland leader Yusuf as the interim President of Somalia's first-ever federal government.

As with all prior attempts at governance, Yusuf's ascension to power was met with a bloody revolution and the emergence of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) – an Islamist militia that came to fame in 2006 after ousting Mogadishu's notorious warlords. The ICU victory presented a threat to Western interests, who feared Islamists turning Somalia into a safe haven for international terrorists, and the U.S. government soon backed Ethiopia's invasion of southern Somalia. To Puntland, the ICU represented a different threat: Islamist rule would usher in a new era of centralism, with national power concentrated in Mogadishu once again.

Opposition to central rule is not limited to Puntland. Neighboring Somaliland, which unilaterally declared independence in 1991 but remains unrecognized internationally, might be willing to reconsider independence under favorable conditions that allow Somaliland to self-manage its politics and resources. In the southwest, the Bay and Bakool regions remain pro-federalism and the region's capital Baidoa is home to the TFG Parliament. The recent formation of "GalMudug State" in the central regions is strong indication that there is an ongoing search for the establishment of a federal state in the Hawiye heartland. Further south, in Lower Jubba, Middle Jubba and Gedo regions, the "Southern Darod" native clans support a measure of self-rule as revealed by the notion of establishing a "Jubbaland" regional government, headquartered in Kismayo. In the case of the south, the federalist formula has faced strong opposition from the warlords and – more recently – the Islamists.

Puntland's self-rule era has garnered the region both allies and enemies. Neighboring Ethiopia maintains close political and military ties with Puntland, fearing Islamist expansion further north into Somaliland if Puntland crumbles. Puntland's "southern front," concentrated around Galkayo, remains a flashpoint of civil war violence and the persistent threat of Islamist expansion or an Ethiopian army incursion remain high possibilities. The "western front," with Las Anod as its epicenter, is a colossal land war between Puntland and Somaliland – both administrations demand ownership over Sool and Sanaag regions. Both cases represent the many challenges and hurdles that must be overcome before a measure of normalcy is ever restored in Somalia. The solid argument that resolving the incessant conflict in Somalia requires the genuine involvement of Somaliland, in the peace and reconciliation process, is best reflected in the Puntland-Somaliland "border war" – when, in effect, these are only administrative and not international borders.

It is in Puntland's interests to maintain good relations with all its neighbors. As such, finding a lasting solution to the Sool and Sanaag dispute must be a top priority for the new administration – 2009 and beyond. If a solution is found in the Puntland-Somaliland "border" conflict, then Somalia will be one step closer to regaining its territorial integrity and restoring national order. In the south, Puntland's interest has always been the restoration of a national government in Mogadishu – a Herculean challenge, given conditions of criminality that have prevailed for nearly 18 years. The endless war in the southern regions continues to produce internally displaced peoples (IDP), who have poured into Puntland by the hundreds of thousands for years, presenting the threat of continued instability. The illegal human trafficking operations in Puntland thrive as long as southern Somalia is embroiled in political turmoil and violent conflict. Pursuing peace and a return to normalcy in southern Somalia is, therefore, a matter of practical policy in ensuring that peace reigns in Puntland.

A constitutional government with peaceful boundaries is in Puntland's long-term interests and the only way to attain both is consistent support for the foundations of a federalist system in Mogadishu. For ten years, the government of Puntland has generally been run by autocratic rulers with particular abhorrence for the rule of law. The 2009 Puntland election is of utmost importance for two main reasons: a) the establishment of a responsible and responsive government is fundamental for public support and the emergence of strong governing structures; and b) the success of a Puntland regional autonomy will provide an alternative argument to the rising wave of Islamist political doctrine in southern Somalia.


TFG President Yusuf's influence is Puntland remains a main concern for all presidential contenders. The Somali president has kept close ties to Gen. Muse, the current Puntland leader, following the 2002 peace deal that ended the Puntland civil war. Thousands of soldiers from Puntland are deployed in Mogadishu as TFG troops, with financial support largely drawn from the Puntland government. An ineffectual leader in Garowe, the capital of Puntland, would not present any challenge to Yusuf's grip on the region's meager revenue. Puntland has suffered since Yusuf went to Mogadishu, largely taking with him military and economic resources needed to sustain the region. For example, Puntland's security forces and civil employees have not been paid for months – due to a mixture of local corruption and current investments in Mogadishu.

The 2009 election in Puntland is, at least in part, a campaign to remove Yusuf's influence from the region's local politics. An intelligent and strong leader in Puntland would re-negotiate past agreements with Yusuf to achieve balance in the TFG-Puntland relationship, which has played to the TFG advantage for years. Puntland should share responsibility for buttressing the TFG with other regions in Somalia and this can be best done when Puntland takes a leading role in helping establish regional authorities in other parts of the country. To this end, a capable leader in Garowe would send the right message to all Somalia by running a transparent government and achieving tangible results.

The last four years largely represented a disappointment for the people of Puntland, mainly because security and development expectations have not been met. Pirate attacks along Somalia's Puntland coast have given the region a negative image, with international press erroneously reporting that piracy has become an "industry" in Puntland. The local economy has suffered as a direct result of Puntland President Muse's incompetent economic practices, such as the illegal printing counterfeit Somali Shillings, which has led to sky-high prices for common goods. Terror attacks, including twin suicide bombings in Bossaso in October 2008, represent the serious security challenges facing Puntland's next ruler.

Today, Puntland cannot afford to test its future with a new leader whose political past is unknown and therefore whose future policy cannot be assessed. There are more than 12 presidential candidates currently in Garowe competing to unseat President Muse, but only a handful of politicians are well-known locally. Puntland lawmakers must support the candidate who has a track record for good governance, is able to unite the local clans and can help the region's progress by reviewing and implementing the Five-Year Development Plan – the only document of its type in Somalia.

This report was compiled by the Garowe Online team

Source: Garowe Online

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