Today Somaliland is holding its Presidential elections. To understand the significance of this event, one must understand the road that it has taken the Somalilanders to get to this point. This election has been delayed for over two years. This entry contains a small background on the three men on the ballot.

UCID Chairman Faisal Ali Warabe via Sallaxleynews @ flickr

Contender A: Faisal Ali “Warabe” Chairman UCID Party

Faisal and his UCID party have long been seen as the also rans in Somaliland politics.  But UCID seems to have found some resonance in its argument this term and seems to have a growing cadre of supporters.

**Name:  Faisal Ali “Warabe.” **“Warabe” means hyena in Somali.

Clan: Ciidagaale. The Ciidagale are a small-ish (but not a minority) clan within the Somaliland clans.  They are a subclan of the Isaaq who are the majority clan within Somaliland.  The Ciidagaale have a kinship-alliance with one of the major clans within Somaliland politics of the past ten years: the Habar Yunis.  This kinship-alliance is called the Galhajis.

The Ciidagaale see themselves as the linkage between the major Isaaq subclans from the west of Somaliland (namely the Habar Awal kinship-alliance between the Issa Muse and Sa’ad Muse) and those in the east of Somaliland (namely their “brethren” from the Galhajis as well as the Habar Jaclo).

These two items (their relatively small size and their geographical position between the major players) have long given the Ciidagaale an outsized view of themselves.  They have always played with the big boys, indeed for hundreds of years before and during British colonialism their sultan was one of  the most powerful in all of the northern Somali regions.  They claim that they ruled Somaliland for 500 years, but it is a bit more complicated than that.


  • Not one of the two major players.  This underdog position has allowed UCID to campaign nearly without the hassles that the other two “major” parties have had to cope with.  Most of the shots which UDUB and KULMIYE fire across one another’s bows (including claims and counterclaims of terrorist affiliation) are irrelevant to UCID.
  • Relatively free from the baggage of the SNM / Siad Barre conflict. Most Somaliland youth don’t really understand the SNM conflict except in a historical context.  To them this was something that happened before and it does not have the viscerality that it likely had in the prior Presidential elections.  Claims and counterclaims between UDUB and KULMIYE as to whether the prevalence of old SNM fighters who “liberated” Somaliland are waning as a relevant point within Somaliland politics as the years pass.  UCID, who is seen as largely free of this baggage, is in a good position to capitalize on this by pulling in those who see membership in SNM as a hindrance rather than a selling point.
  • Intellectual vigor. The team that Faisal has assembled within the UCID network contains some of the better intellectuals around Somaliland.  This is recognized as a positive by most people that I’ve talked to. UCID seems to have an energy that the other two parties do not have.  Although, this positioning, which is populist in nature, has likely not brought the finances into the campaign coffers required to deal with contingencies after the voting.  They have been very effective at targeting two major centers of the Somaliland electorate: women voters and younger voters.  Most of the rallies held by UCID have seen a larger proportion of woman than any of  the other two parties (from my limited perspective at least).  This definitely will set UCID up for long term success, even if they fail to win this election.


  • Not one of the major players. UCID’s outsider status is also their major weakness.  They have a difficult time capitalizing on the winds which blow through the Somaliland deserts because it is difficult for many to visualize their party in power.  They have difficulty dominating any news cycles or forging forward with their own spin on a given situation.
  • Wishy-Washy. Faisal is seen as wishy-washy by the Somaliland electorate.  I must say that while I understand where they are coming from, I think personally much of this comes from Faisal’s position in between the other two major players.  He is forced into a difficult position where he is required to mediate likely more than he would prefer due to his “third party” status.  This centrist positioning comes across as wishy-washy.  It is unfortunate.

UDUB Chairman and Incumbent President of Somaliland, Dahir Kahin Riyale via Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak @ flickr

Contender B: Dahir Kahin Riyale, Chairman UDUB Party, Incumbent President

Riyale and his UDUB party have been in power, more or less, since Somaliland declared its independence from Mogadishu and handed over power to a civilian government in the early 1990′s.

Name: Dahir Kahin Riyale.

Clan: Gaadabursi. The Gaadabursi are a western clan within Somaliland.  They are probably the largest non-Isaaq clan within Somaliland.  There are some other larger non-Isaaq clans, but the majority of these clans are located outside of Somaliland.  Many feel that having a non-Isaaq President has been beneficial to help keep the Isaaq from imploding and fighting with one another during the years of instability of the 2000′s.

Many other Isaaq’s feel that having a non-Isaaq President has given too much power to minority clans within Somaliland.


  • Incumbent. Let’s be honest.  This is Africa.  The incumbent has numerous advantages that any incumbent would normally have, but also those that may not be available to non-African incumbents.  Already possessing the state gives access to finances that are not available to others within the country.  As Gettleman pointed out in yesterday’s piece for the New York Times, sometimes the voting isn’t what matters, but what happens afterward.  For the afterwards, being the incumbent is a distinct advantage.
  • Experience. Many Somalilanders will endlessly debate whether the Riyale administration has done enough on the development front to get a new chance to run the country.  That said, most Somalilanders will concede that as far as experience governing the current team assembled by Riyale cannot be matched.  Although there are many former Ministers and government officials within KULMIYE’s team, and although UCID brings a lot of intellectual firepower to their team, pure raw experience seems to still be having a decent amount of resonance with those I speak to here in Hargeisa.
  • **Continuity. **If Riyale were to stay there would be some continuity to the governing system.  Riyale has proffered two arguments in his favor.  The first is similar to the argument Rove was making in 2004, don’t change horses in the middle of the war.  The Riyale administration has made a big deal out of the current and impending conflict with al-Shabaab operatives that continue to hound Somaliland.  They have argued that they have the right team to tackle this problem.  The second argument has no analogy in American politics, but it is essentially: “we’re already fat, they are skinny, who will really take less from the state coffers.”  For a while this seemed to carry a good amount of weight with the electorate, but has largely been sidelined over the weeks leading up to the election.


  • Background & Baggage. Riyale is a former intelligence officer for Siad Barre.  He was not aligned with the SNM, and he sometimes has had to distinguish aside these two arguments.  His response has oscillated between the extremes of hiring lots of SNM veterans and by trying to marginalize the SNM veterans.
  • **Engagement Level. **Many question Riyale’s engagement within Somaliland.  Since his wife mostly lives in Paris with their children rather than in Somaliland, lots of voters that I have spoken with have wondered how much Riyale genuinely cares about Somaliland.  He has had to simultaneously deflect attacks that ironically have sought to portray his administration as (1) autocratic, and (2) blind.  While I have seen the evidence pointed to by opposition members in this regard, it is Africa and there will always be some conflating of a Presidential seat vested in institutions with a Kingdom vested in the personality.

Kulmiye Chairman, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamud “Silanyo” via @ flickr

Contender C: Ahmed Mohamed Mohamud “Silanyo” Chairman of the Kulmiye Party

Silanyo and his Kulmiye party are largely seen as the primary rivals for the Presidency against Riyale. In the last Presidential election Silanyo lost to Riyale by 80 votes.

Name: Ahmed Mohamed Mohmoud “Silanyo”

Clan: Habar Jaclo. The Habar Jaclo are one of the largest Isaaq sub-clans in Somaliland.  They traditionally have occupied the farthest east of the Somaliland Isaaq clans, from Burco all the way to Ceerigavo and almost to Las Anood.  This is significant for two reasons.  First, Burco has traditionally felt second-city syndrome to Hargeisa since the British colonial time.  Second, as one of the largest subclans of the majority clan, Habar Jaclo can appeal to parts of the Isaaq electorate that none of the other candidates can due to their majority (semi-majority) status.

Many of the Habar Jaclo feel that this is their time, that they have waited as the other major Isaaq clans have had opportunities within the governance framework that they have not had access to (which is a bit of gamesmanship but that is beside the point for how they feel).  They are a tough clan and have shown little hesitation in the past to fight for what they feel they deserve.


  • Effective usage of Obama Change Mantra. Kulmiye has been exceedingly effective at hijacking the change mantra.  This is hilarious to me, as most of the team within Kulmiye are retreads from prior administrations – either from the SNM times or the post-SNM UDUB days.  However, they have convinced a large portion of the population that they will be the most effective vehicle for change.  This has allowed them to leverage growing discontentment with the current state of Somaliland as a factor in their favor – although many of them were involved in setting the preconditions or implementation of many of the policies they now argue against.
  • Post-Clanism. Another ironic, but effective, political tactic that has been used by the Kulmiye team is to preach post-clanism.  This is also ironic as many Somalilanders feel that among the three parties, Kulmiye is by far the most tied to various clan networks.  I have  no opinion as I’ve never met many of the Kulmiye officials, but certainly they have had that reputation for a long time.   The simple fact that most Habar Jaclo feel that this is their time and that Silanyo, being Habar Jaclo, is their vehicle for political success argues against the post-clanism rhetoric which has been effectively utilized by Kulmiye.
  • Crowd-sourcing.  Kulmiye, among the three parties, has probably had the greatest ability to leverage populism embedded in African big-crowd politics.  They have very energized supporters, especially among the middle-aged former SNM fighters who see their old colonels and central party members as those now wearing suits and up for Ministerial positions and other positions if Kulmiye were to win.   They also have been very effective at energizing supporters among the youth.  Those that have not gone with UCID have largely gone with Kulmiye.  Lastly, Kulmiye seems to understand the power of a crowd and routinely buses in large amounts of supporters before their rallies in order to create a scene which has an undeniable magnetic effect in the Somali world-view.  All of these show an understanding of political process, but I still have seen little evidence that their policies will be effectively implemented.


  • Baggage.  As with Riyale, Silanyo comes with his own (very large) baggage.  As the oldest of the three men, and a long-time politician within Somali/Somaliland circles, Silanyo has a long and well-known history.  Silanyo was one of the driving forces behind the formation, training, and equipping of SNM.  However, he was ousted as Chairman soon before SNM’s reentry into Somaliland.  Many claim that this ousting was due to Silanyo cutting a last minute deal with Siad for SNM not to attack Somalia and for the Isaaq to be given more autonomy.  I have no opinion on the truthiness of this claim, however it is a widely disseminated rumor and has made many Somalilanders I’ve talked to question Silanyo’s patriotism and his willingness to make a difficult decision.
  • Retreads.  Much of Silanyo’s team has been there before.  Many were leaders among the SNM and / or the post-SNM UDUB administrations of Egal and Riyale.  In many voters’ eyes this is seen as a negative.  Many within this team are felt to be hardliners that may fight before negotiating.  Whether this is true or not, it is certainly the feeling among a percentage of the Somaliland electorate.

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