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EDITORIAL: Why Somalia’s imminent elections could distinguish it from peers


EDITORIAL | The attention this week, as far as elections are concerned, may have been on Tanzania. But the lesson there was big enough to reach Mogadishu.

And with Somalia’s own elections planned for December through February next year, organizers on Mogadishu cannot afford to sit on their hands yet.

Here is how: The East African nation, traditionally one of the most stable in Africa and which belongs to a club of a few on the continent that never experienced a coup or coup attempt, was holding elections on Wednesday. As a multiparty nation, parties had been expected to compete fairly, freely, and openly for votes.

There hasn’t been an agreement between the opposition and the government on whether the polls went according to standards. The government side has dismissed all allegations of rigging, and the ruling candidate, John Pombe Magufuli, and his party CCM were headed to a landslide victory on Friday morning.

But before, during, and after voting day; the opposition was crying foul, and even rejected the results announced by the local National Electoral Commission as a fraudulent exercise. We do not pretend to take sides here on Tanzanian elections, but we hope there are lessons for Somalia’s own electoral management bodies to pick from the event.

One is that it would be vanity for the country to keep the hopes of millions of Somalis and then crash it by holding substandard elections. Granted, Somalia is a work in progress, and elections, as seen from previous episodes cannot be flawless. Yet the demand now is that every stage of progress must meet the standards befitting it.

Somalia doesn’t have direct elections where voters can be encouraged to line up and choose individually. The advantage with that is there can’t be ballot stuffing as witnessed or claimed from certain parts of Tanzania. Instead, the people place their hopes in a small group of elders who in turn help pick delegates who choose their legislative representatives. Those MPs then choose the President.

In the past, these groups were accused of voting for the highest bidder, which turned the delegates into rent-seekers. Every Somali contender now appears to know this facet, even though it is illegal and violates the electoral code of conduct.

To assume that the upcoming election will be free of this rent-seeking is to be naïve. But at least the polling authorities, contenders, and delegates can promise us one thing: That Somali elections will continue to distinguish Somalia from the rest of Africa by springing back surprises.

There is some good sense of satisfaction from uncertainty. One is that every contender for the presidency or any post believes they have a chance of winning it. In turn, this makes the competition healthy and fuels effort from candidates to actually win it.

Second, that uncertainty keeps giving the desire to break the jinx: That Somalia has hardly reelected an incumbent, for example. One way for the incumbent to please the electorate is to make the field of play even. Yet this openness allows opponents to thrust their feet forward, bringing in healthy competition for seats.

While individual politicians may not benefit from this, it actually helps build a culture of fair competition, acceptable electoral results, and verifiable numbers.

By learning from peers in Africa, Somalia will continue to build a nascent image for itself, not because it held the most secure, transparent, or objection-less elections when the time comes in December; but because it followed simple, locally amenable traditions that offer every candidate a chance to compete.


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