Somaliland’s first presidential debate: a milestone for democracy in the Horn of Africa

PHOTO: Yusuf Dahir - Somaliland's three presidential candidates taking the stage on October 19th.

HARGEISA – Somaliland did not only achieve a democratic milestone by holding the first-ever televised presidential debate on October 19th – the debate also set a positive example for neighbouring countries in the region.

Not only did all three presidential candidates participate, the debate was also broadcasted by all media outlets in Somaliland, and was watched by 11.9 million viewers around the world, and trended on social media on both nights.

The debates, were jointly organized by a new think tank called Inspire Group, and Somaliland Independent Broadcasters Association (SIBA).

Photo: Yusuf Dahir

The presidential debate, which was more popular than the vice-presidential debate that was held the following night, on October 20th, was split in two parts: domestic issues, and foreign affairs.

All three presidential candidates, Musa Bihi Abdi (Kulmiye), Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi Irro (Waddani), and Faisal Ali Waraabe (UCID), pitched their platforms and stances on a number of key issues, and gave Somalilanders more reasons on why they should be elected.

The debate also marks the first time that many voters in Somaliland will be heading to the polls with the intention of voting for the candidate who best represents their ideals, and not clan affiliation.

After democracy was fully restored in Somaliland in 2003, many citizens found themselves aligning with political parties based on clan affiliation. Parties were formed based on clan alliances rather than ideologies, and electoral districts were created based on the clan-representation system.

Last week’s presidential debate, however, now gives hope to many Somalilander youth – who are the majority age demographic – and is paving the way to change Somaliland’s democratic system from clan-based to a democratic system based on ideology.

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It is also important to note, that Somaliland’s neighbouring countries in the Horn of Africa: Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia, have never held leadership debates, and do not enjoy the same democracy and freedom Somaliland currently enjoys.

The debate, which viewed across the Horn, has left a lasting mark on democracy in the region, and could potentially serve as a catalyst for future democratic uprisings in the region.

Although the debate was aired in Somali, The National has summarized and translated the responses from the presidential candidates and their policy positions, for those who don’t speak the language.

Click here to read the comprehensive guide on the policy positions of Somaliland’s three presidential candidates.

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