Source: IRIN[HARGEISA] (IRIN) - As voters in Somaliland prepared to finally cast their ballots in a tight, oft-delayed presidential election on 26 June, there was one outcome for which almost everybody in the territory, regardless of political or clan affiliation, was rooting.
The first international organization to extend recognition would have to be the African Union (AU). But the AU, noted Hogendorn, “is extremely nervous about setting a precedent of recognition for secession”.
Such recognition reluctance exists not only within the AU, but also elsewhere in Somalia, where many regard Somaliland as an integral part of the country.
This is especially true of the militant Islamist group al-Shabaab, which has publicly called on Somalilanders to stay away from the polls. (The group is suspected of planning attacks designed to either disrupt the ballot or distract media attention from the election.)
One close observer of the country’s political scene said the assumption that a well-run election would boost chances of recognition were “fair” but that any development would likely be “an incremental process, rather than a one-off”.
One reason why these aspirations are unlikely to be satisfied in the immediate future is a fear that recognition would complicate efforts to put an end to the conflict ravaging south and central Somalia.
A peaceful poll?
This election was originally scheduled for April 2008. After numerous postponements, a bitter disagreement over the registration process almost degenerated into violence in 2009.
A number of donor-funded measures, coupled with a sense that chaos would do the recognition cause no good, have helped to reduce the risk of unrest.
There is a new election commission in place that enjoys the trust of all stakeholders. Political parties campaigned on alternating days so as to minimize confrontation. There has been a huge voter education campaign, involving religious leaders, elders, and NGOs. On election day itself, only polling officials and observers are permitted to travel by vehicle.
“We are confident everything will go as planned," Commission spokesman Ahmed Hirsi told IRIN on 20 June.
UCID’s Hassan said: “I don’t think anyone will try to rig it, but if that happens there are enough observers both local and international to call the culprits to account.”
There is widespread agreement that whoever wins, a clear margin and a graceful concession by the losers would help maintain calm.
Riyale, who won a 2003 presidential election by a mere 80 votes at the head of the United People’s Democratic Party (UDUB), appears ready to go quietly should things not go his way.
"If UDUB loses, I am 100 percent sure we'll hand over power," his spokesman, Ali Mohamed Yusuf, told IRIN, insisting however that this outcome was unlikely.
This election will resonate well beyond Somaliland itself, since democratic transitions of power are very rare in the Horn of Africa.
“The election is carrying a huge burden of hope of Somali people [also in the Horn and the diaspora] for an alternative governance system, to show that another way is possible,” said the political observer.
“The stakes are very high,” warned ICG’s Hogendorn. “The election is quite likely to be very close and thus vote count will be very much contested. Close elections can prove to be very divisive, problematic and tense.”
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Supported by the Simon Cumbers Media Fund, Photojournalist Lar Boland documented the solar technology training of 4 Grandmothers (pictured with mentor) at Rajasthan's Barefoot College and their return to Togo.
Puppetry is used for training at the Barefoot College as many of the women being trained are illiterate. Photo: Lar Boland.
An Indian instructor who herself trained at the Barefoot College demonstrates the working of electronic panels to the Togolese solar grandmothers. Photo: Lar Boland.
A trainee working on the installation of a mobile solar lamp. Photo: Lar Boland.
Togoalise is one of the four Solar Grandmothers from the remote village of Agome Sevah in Togo. Photo: Lar Boland.
Akouavi is one of the four Solar Grandmothers from the remote village of Agome Sevah in Togo. Photo: Lar Boland.
Hotitode is one of the four Solar Grandmothers from the remote village of Agome Sevah in Togo. Photo: Lar Boland.
Mialo Tassi is one of the four Solar Grandmothers from the remote village of Agome Sevah in Togo. Photo: Lar Boland.
On their return to Agome Sevah, the Solar Grandmothers are greeted by the Chief of the village. Photo: Lar Boland.
Having returned to Agome Sevah after a six month training period at the Barefoot College, the Solar Grandmothers set about training others at their workshop. Photo: Lar Boland.
A group of Solar Grandmothers and helpers on their way to erecting solar panels at a small village home in Agame Sevah, Togo. Photo: Lar Boland.
Mialo Tassi, a Solar Grandmother, on her way to erecting solar panels at a small village home in Agome Sevah. Photo: Lar Boland.
Akouavi, a Solar Grandmother from Agome Sevah erecting solar panels at a small village home. Photo: Lar Boland.
Solar Grandmothers outside a newly built clinic which they are about to solar electrify. Photo: Lar Boland.
Solar Grandmothers install solar panels on the roof of the newly built clinic in Agome Sevah. Photo: Lar Boland.
A family from the rural village of Agome Sevah have their daily wash in the Mono river which seperates Togo from Benin. Photo: Lar Boland.
The much used Mono river which divides Togo and Benin. Photo: Lar Boland.
The river Mono between Togo and Benin is regularily crossed by traders. Photo: Lar Boland.
Children fishing in the Mono River. Photo: Lar Boland.
Petrol bought at a reduced price in Benin, and smuggled across the Mono river, is later sold on the streets of Togo, such as the capital Lome. Photo: Lar Boland.
Everyday life in Agome Sevah. Photo: Lar Boland.
A Togo war veteran with his grandaughter. Photo: Lar Boland.
A man builds a small dwelling in Agome Sevah. Photo: Lar Boland.
Children can now study in the evening with the help of solar power. In Togo, near the equator, it gets dark at around 5:30. Photo: Lar Boland.