Somaliland Election Observation

Dennis Polhill
May 26 through June 8, 2001

In 2001 the Initiative and Referendum Institute was invited to be the official election observer for the election ratifying the constitution of Somaliland.  Somalia became a nation when European nations divested themselves of colonies throughout most of the world.  Somalia had been 2 parts: Italian Somalia (south) and British Somalia (north) also known as Somaliland.  Because both were given independence within a week of each other, there was an immediate local clamor for “one Somalia.”  Only problem, the north did not agree to the merger terms of the south and conversely, the south did not agree to the merger terms of the north.  The south is about twice the size of the north in area and population.  The world community came to recognize one Somalia.  Yet those in the north never considered themselves part of the south.  Many African nations were pawns of the Cold War.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Somalia fell into anarchy as warlords dominated.  This event allowed those in the north to assert their position.  They declared independence, set up a government and wrote a provisional constitution.  After a few years the Constitution was to be ratified by vote of the populace.  IRI agreed to take on the task and Dennis Polhill being Chairman of the Board of Directors of IRI was the leader of the group of election observers.  Like the old cowboy movie, “The Magnificent Seven” I headed out collecting compatriots as we made our way to our destination.

May 26, Saturday — Debby and Tyler drove me to DIA. Stopped for late lunch at Hops. One hour line at Lufthansa to check in. No concern with 14 canisters of pepper-spray in my suitcase. Karen Benker, former RTD board member was on the flight to Frankfurt and sat on other side of airplane and one row ahead of me. I was forced to say hello to her as we both searched for connecting flights. Departed DIA at 5:30 pm and arrived in Frankfurt at 11:30 am.

May 27, Sunday — Arrived on time in Frankfurt. Had 2 hours between flights. Stacy, Alex and Sasha who flew together from DC and I boarded the plane to Dubai together. Scott from Chicago, Dave Byrd from DC, and Derek and Dave M from San Francisco were to be on the same flight but no one knew them. After boarding Stacy found Scott and Dave M. I got the flight attendant to make an announcement and we found the remaining two. Derek was sitting in the seat in front of me. We departed Frankfurt at 1:20 pm and arrived in Dubai, capitol of United Arab Emirates, on time at 9:30pm. Although it would have been more direct to go over Saudi Arabia, the flight went over Tehran, Iran. We were met by a Ramada Inn representative who helped us thru security and customs. At the hotel we were met by 2 representatives of the Somaliland Forum who offered snacks and drinks. Adrian from Switzerland was already at the hotel. Our group now numbers 9. Everyone was anxious to clean up and rest.

May 28, Monday — We received wake up calls at 1:30 am in order to get to the airport in time for our 4:00 am flight. It was a Soviet IL-18 with 4 turboprop engines. It reminded me of my first flight on a Mexican airline: no safety instruction and small fans for air circulation. We got the tail of the plane, which was separated from the remainder of the airplane by a curtain. A couple other people also sat in our area. The sun came up over the Gulf at a little past 5:00 am. Instead of stopping for gas in Berbera, Somaliland, we stopped in Yemen. There were quite rugged mountains that nearly reached the ocean. The airport was scattered with scavenged hulks of parted out Migs. Arrived in Hargeisa, the capitol city, about 10:00 am.

We were met by Omar and Abdul. Abdul is the Speaker of the House and is vice chairman of the referendum committee. After a short briefing at the airport they took us to our hotel. The city had been leveled by shelling and bombing by the Somalia government in 1988. Only the main road is paved, but is very rough. The norm is gravel, dirt or sand. The temperature is more moderate than expected: 90s. Humidity is high. Hargeisa is at 1000 feet and the breeze is constant and strong.

Our hotel is Maansoor, probably the best in the country. It has a shower but no hot water and no air conditioner, just a ceiling fan. The rooms are a little larger than average, maybe 200 square feet. Ceiling is 8.5 to 9 feet. Floor is tile. Lighting is poor and the power was off for several hours in the afternoon. I have a color TV with cable … about 13 inch screen but the only station in English is CNN (European CNN, not American news). The bed is 2 single beds pushed together with a top and bottom sheet. They are mattresses on wood, no springs.

We checked into our rooms and had a couple hours to rest and get organized. Omar and Abdul picked us up for lunch at 1:00. We drove to another place in the city where we met the 7 people from the South African group and shared lunch with several dignitaries. I sat with the Minister of the Interior and Edna the former wife of the president. Edna is a former nurse and midwife and is putting all of her energy into building a 100,000 sq. ft. hospital. She insisted that we come to visit her hospital and have lunch. We agreed but after the election. After the Minister welcomed us, I had to reply on behalf of our group with one of my famous one-minute missives.

At the hotel our cell phones soon arrived. They were new and smarter than my own. We distributed a phone number list to everyone. Then we reconvened in the conference room next to my room. There we discussed our approach to the project and distributed the pepper-spray. We adjourned at 3:30 in order to have an hour to rest for our 5:00.

At five we met again with Omar and Abdul. Abdul had prepared a map of the country and distributed copies of three reports. He reviews their organizational structure and procedures for managing the election.

At 7:00 we went to the presidential mansion to meet the president. He gave a long speech. I gave a short one. A few photos were taken.

Back at the hotel I went to bed as the others had dinner in the lobby.

May 29, Tuesday — Breakfast in the lobby. 10:00 meeting did not start until 11:00. Omar took me to pick up a Canadian married to a native: Matt Bryden (00 1-252-2-426-820 Bryden@wsp-International.org).  His group authored “A Self-Portrait of Somaliland.”  Abdul distributed maps of the 6 regions and we decided who would cover each:
• Awdal (north west) — Sasha Bruce and Dave McCuan
• Sanaag (north east) — Derek Cressman
• Togdheer (south central) — Alison Puranik and Scott Kohlhass
• Saaxil — (north central) — Dave Byrd and Alex Mundt
• Woqooyi Galbeed (Hargeisa) — Dennis Polhill, Stacy Rumenap and Adrian Schmid

Adrian was reassigned from Sanaag to Wojooyi Galbeed because the trip to Sanaag required a flight, which arrived after opening of polls there; because the region has comparatively few polling places (20 to 30); because 3 of the 7 South African observers were planning to work the same region; and because the Woqooyi Galbeed (Hargeisa and surrounding area) region has many polling places (over 160).

The ballot boxes were brought to the meeting for display. They are about 2 feet cubes made of half-inch wood with a hinged top with a slot for ballots and a padlock. There was some mention of the selection of colors. Red and green were rejected as too confusing; they claimed that white, in their culture was not necessarily perceived as good, as it is in western cultures. As an example, Islamic burials require that the corps be wrapped in white cloth. A third and similar but larger box had 2 padlocks and contained all of the necessary equipment for the polling place. All 3 boxes were marked with the polling place number.

In the third box was 1500 ballots, a registry for voters, a logbook for incidents (notations for those needing assistance voting, sicknesses, changes in polling staff, etc.), candles for darkness, posters showing this as a polling place, copy of the constitution for posting, a rubber stamp and ink pad for stamping the polling place number on each ballot, dye for marking the hands of those who voted. After voting the remainder of the materials are returned to the materials box and locked. The ballot boxes are sealed and stamped across the seal with the number of the polling place, and are transported to the District office for counting.

Five of us walked into town for a local lunch. They had no menus, received spaghetti on one plate, and got no silverware. They did get newspapers to use as napkins. The bill was $10 until they paid and then the owner asked for more money.

Everyone went to visit Arabsiyo, a farm village about 30 minutes away. The road was paved. We passed 3 checkpoints with gates, no guns. They said the checkpoints were to tax trucks. Each checkpoint presented an opportunity for vendors to set up and sell. The city was next to a dry riverbed. They had dug 2 wells and were pumping water for irrigation. A large variety of fruit trees, vegetables, and plants were thriving. The dry river is a flooding hazard during rain. The city was about 10,000 people. It had been destroyed by artillery bombardment during the genocide. The locals were rebuilding: some on the same lots, but most had moved to a fresh part of the city.

We wandered the streets to observe the damage. The locals were shy, but increasingly came forward, waved, got closer and said hello. Stacy bought a scarf, which made her part of the clan. A little girl (about 3) came up and touched David Byrd’s hand. I told him, he was now officially married. I gave my two pens to two girls about 10 years old and took their picture. The primitive stores were stocked with a large variety of goods: pots and pans, suitcases, drugs, lanterns, etc. At sundown they chewed Kat, the leaf of a plant that gives a nicotine-high. Alcohol consumption is prohibited under Islam. We had tea and rushed back for dinner.

Dinner was at 7:30 at the Hotel. Matt and his wife, Edna, the South Africans, some of our hosts and several others shared dinner. One of those we did not know before dinner was a French journalist stationed in Nairobi. About a dozen of us discussed the referendum, what it might mean for Africa and how the world community might react.

In my room, I phoned Dane and Debby and tried to get organized for Wednesday.

May 30, Wednesday – Breakfast meeting at 8:00 am to review everything and to answer last minute questions. Ahmed distributed tee-shirts, which were indicated to be our badges for entry to polling places. We decided to not wear them but have them available, because we think the words might read “vote yes.” Everyone seems to be ready. At 9:00 everyone went to the mass gravesite SW of the city. This was where several thousand of the 50,000 killings took place. The military headquarters was close. The hill behind the HQ had a little observation house on top, which was used to direct the artillery bombardment of the city. The mass graves were discovered when the floods came and washed some bones up. Now, because the bodies have little cover, the mounds they are under are eroding and more are appearing. The locals killed a poisonous snake near our walk. We also saw a school, not in session. Alex and Dave B. could not attend as they left at 10:00 for Berbera. We had lunch in the lobby. Others left for their regions. Derek’s flight to Sanaag is still being worked out. Abdul brought more maps and will return at 6:00 pm with a more detailed map and polling locations for Hargeisa. Amed will take the remaining 4 of us at 4:00 to the market.

The Awdal and Togdheer teams left and all 3 teams checked in as planned. No problems. All phones are working; accommodations are acceptable, etc. Alison will be the Togdheer rover but the rain-washed out the road and she will not be able to make as much coverage as planned.

At the market it rained soon after we arrived. Lots of people; lots of vendors. Met a native who lived in Lakewood, Colorado for 10 years. Bought two scarves (shalmet) for Deb, et al. Will get 2 more later … $5 each.

Rushed back to meet Abdul at 6:00. He had more maps and info on polling places. We learned that he had 3 years of military training in USSR. At this point the airplane to Sanaag is off. So we have 4 IRI and 5 South Africans to distribute throughout the Hargeisa region. The region has 10 districts and 165 polling places. The South Africans agreed to cooperate with our plan and to not double cover locations. As soon as we had it figured out as to who would be city vs. rural, fixed vs. rover, and IRI vs. S.A., it was announced that they had procured an airplane. Derek and 3 South Africans would go to Sanaag in the northeast. After crossing their coverage off the list we decided to make no changes with regard to the remainder.

All seems to be ready.

May 31, Thursday (Election Day) — The local people perceive the election as independence. Passage is virtually certain. The leaders know that the election is not independence, but is a step toward international recognition and in turn a step to independence. The goal seems reasonable in light of the genocide committed by Somali soldiers against unarmed civilians. Somalia has a high level of conflict and disorder; Somaliland is independent and productive. It seems that both would be better off by the split; perhaps more significant Somaliland would benefit and Somalia would not be injured.

We must meet our cars at 5:00 am. There was resistance to the time, but we had to insist in order to be at polling places prior to opening of the polls at 6:00.

Lots of observations in addition to the notes in my election-day log kept of the site I observed plus a log of contacts with folks in the field. No time now; will enter more latter.

June 1, Friday — Up at 6 for Radio Africa interview at 6:30. They did not phone. “Class” will pick me up at 7:30 to be at the counting station by 8:00. All of the ballot boxes had arrived overnight. But someone was not present; so no counting was happening.

Counting began at 10:30 and went until 5:30.

Waiting for the counting to begin a polling station chairman showed me his bullet scars. He gave me the Somaliland name: Guiliasamo. I used it thru the day and it stuck. It is after the area of the city where my counting station is located and means Happy Village.

Ahmed picked me up at closing time. We stopped at the market and he bought gifts for me. Then we stopped at his home to meet his 2 month old son, Mohamed, and wife, Simson. At the hotel I took a quick shower and met Stacy, Adrian, and Derek for dinner. We were interrupted by several calls from the out-teams. They will check out of their hotels and work their way back to stay tomorrow night in Hargeisa. They will stop at as many intervening counting stations as possible on the way. Derek will rove Hargeisa counting stations tomorrow. I will go to the national headquarters to see how they will receive information.

June 2, Saturday — Another counting day. I will go to the National Referendum Committee headquarters.

The outer region folks will do final observations and stay in Hargeisa this evening. Derek and Stacy will rove Hargeisa and Adrian will return to Gabiley. Adrian is doing some analysis of this location. Claude from South Africa may accompany Adrian.

The National Referendum Committee is not ready in the morning. They called and I went at 3:00. Abdul, another committee member, the computer guy, and one other person were sitting on the floor without shoes waiting for calls to come in. We learned that the counting districts would total their polling places and phone (or radio) in their results. Then before being released to the public they would be further aggregated by region. Six sets of numbers would be known publicly. The rationale is that some voters were not happy with the place that they had to vote and might be upset at knowing the polling place detail. All data will be available to IRI, but polling station detail may not be available for a week or more.

We went for dinner with President Igal at 7:30. Many TV cameras, pictures, recorders, entertainment and many dignitaries were present. Igal gave a brief speech. I sat at the head table next to Abdul. Abdul never married and has no children. He and a Soviet woman wished to marry but he could not stay in Moscow and he felt she would not be happy in his culture. He is 50. He has a level head and is very well reasoned and statesman-like. I suggested he might run for president and he said maybe … but he seems to be more of a reformer and crusader than a politician … so my bet is that he will not run for that office. Back to the hotel at 10:00 and listened to a debate between Derek and Dave M. on sovereignty and self-determination. They were saying the same thing, so the debate was over semantics.

Calls to Dane and Deb … to bed too late: 1:00am.

June 3, Sunday — A visit by Montezuma. Met several group members at 8 am for breakfast and planning for the day. Sasha and Dave M. went to visit the Vice President. Dave B. and Alex will go to the mass graves. Alex will interview Abdul at the election headquarters about election procedures. Alex will also on Monday June 11 go to IFES in DC, copy a similar report as a sample and email its outline to the group members. Stacy went to another counting station. Derek is sick in bed. I went to rest.

A local book writer in search of a publisher came for publishing ideas. I was not much help, but Alison suggested he pursue a South African publisher and publishing agent. He agreed and will contact one of the two remaining people from the South African delegation.

Omar phoned; the national referendum committee was receiving results. I rushed over to the office of the Minister of the Interior. Complete data was available for only 3 regions, but I left a disc to copy the data onto and got a commitment that their computer guy would email the final poll by poll results. There will be another election before the end of the year and another soon thereafter. The first will be for local representation (cities, etc.) and the latter will select the legislature and the President. The latter may be divided into more than one election. I will return to the committee office after going to the market this afternoon.

Back to the hotel. No lunch; rest. 4:30 left for market. Bought scarves (shalmet) and a pen for Tyler. On the return we stopped at an orphanage not far from the hotel. We had dinner in the lobby. I sat with Dave M. and Sasha. The other table was Alex, Dave B., Scott, and Stacy. Allison came out but seems to be getting sicker. I took her water and Sprite. Derek came out and seems to be recovering.

Returned to my room at 9:00 to phone Dane and Deb.

June 4, Monday — Slept good. Breakfast at 7:00 to see group off at 8:00 for Ethiopia. I decided to stay so that the locals would not think we were mooching, to make sure Allison was OK, and in case something important finally happens. No sooner than they had gone and Omar indicated that there would be a press conference at 10:00 announcing the complete election results. We picked up Matt (the Canadian) and went to the Hargeisa Club for coffee to wait. There we were joined by Allison and discussed the reaction of the international community. Matt tried to explain why the UN was conflicted in its view of Somaliland. He will go to NY in 2 weeks to meet with several Somaliland experts. His office is in Nairobi. The UN officer in Nairobi seems to be a big part of the problem.

Derek had a copy of an IFES report. I will copy the table of content for all and the full report for myself.

The press conference was in the chambers of the House of Representatives. Abdul opened the conference. The 2 remaining South Africans attended. There were speeches by the Minister of the Interior, by Abdul, and by the Chairman of the House of Elders. An Islamic prayer was given. All of the numbers were read by region and a copy was distributed. Four of the 6 National Election Committee members signed the final result. The 2 who did not sign are in remote rural areas. There was 1,188,154 total votes cast, of which 1,182,859 were valid. Of those, 1,148,399 voted “yes” and 34,460 voted “no.” “Yes” carried with 97.09%.

We returned to the hotel to await arrival of our team and to go to lunch at Edna’s Hospital.

Met John Drysdale who came here as a British Army officer in 1943 and stayed. He lives near Gabiley and is operating a charitable entity to survey land and issue titles to farmers very similar to my Moldova project. We took up a collection to give to Edna’s Hospital. She got $400.

The IRI observation team met in the lobby for dinner at 7:30 and to discuss the final report organization and assignments. I typed a revised outline and distributed it.

June 5, Tuesday — Up at 7 again. I had breakfast in the lobby with some team members. Omar, Ahmed and the Mayor picked us up at 9:00 for a tour of the countryside and picnic. We stopped at a water pumping station. The road followed a 15 inch steel pipe, which brought water to Hargeisa. Because there is no electricity, the pumping station used diesel engines to run the pumps. The pumps boosted the water through the pipes. Chlorine was added at this location and that is the extent of their water treatment. They deliver 6,000 cubic meters of water per day to Hargeisa. Average use is 14 liters per person per day … about 3 ½  gallons per person. We drove another 15 kilometers, which was a 1 km. walk from a groundwater well. Most of the driving via 4×4 was in a dry soft sand riverbed. The submersible pump was 90 meters deep and groundwater level is about 30 meters. Fuel has to be delivered to these locations daily to run the pumps. Twelve wells feed the water system. Adrian took one of the cars to meet his airplane. Stacy tried to kick down a giant anthill. We got more camel photos. A caterer showed up with Chinese food. The Mayor did his noon prayer (Moslems pray 5 times per day).

One of the cars got a flat coming. Going back a broken four-wheel-drive got stuck in the sand. About a dozen people had to push to get it out.

Hassan Hussien (hargeisa@bgtinet.com … phone = 5297), reporter for Maandeeq Newspaper, arrived at 5:00 for our scheduled interview. Afterwards he translated a note for Derek and we exchanged emails. He will bring extra photos he has taken so that we may use them in our report if we wish.

The Vice President was not able to join us for dinner as planned. In his place our host was the Foreign Minister and the Minister of Coastal Development. We discussed the possibility of oil and mining of gems, as well as the prospect of acceptance by the international community. We got back to the hotel at 9:30. Omar told Derek that the BBC Somalia radio had reported that no one voted in Erigabo. Derek was there and observed voting in 4 locations where people were standing in very long lines to vote … concurring with the results reported by the National Election Commission. We notified Dane and went to bed.

June 6, Wednesday — Our last full day. Lots to accomplish. Abdul arrived at 9:30 with the national committee member from the Sool region to review election procedures and how decisions were made. Derek, Dave B., and Alex questioned Abdul. Excellent meeting. Omar brought the video people who had prepared a tape of the election for us to take home with us. I will have to convert and make copies. They also will drop by a documentary of the war for us to take home. Dave and Dave got in their meeting with the Information Minister.

I drafted a statement to release to the media tomorrow at the airport. Others have reviewed it and offered suggested edits. I completed a map with the region boundaries and counting district numbers properly located … and distributed copies.

Omar took the entire group to lunch with the Foreign Minister, his former boss. Sasha was upset because she had plans to have lunch with another person.

Most of the group went again to the market. I stayed to meet the book author and to communicate with Dane about the press statement.

Abmed is 38 years old. His father died when he was 8. He wants us to come to his home for tea tomorrow.

June 7, Thursday — Supreme Court. Press Conference at the airport.

Derek, Stacie, Scott and I met with Omar, Abdul and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The court must ascertain that the law was followed and that the election was fair.

Thusfar, there have been very few complaints and none of substance. We had a photo in the chamber chairs and I made a few decrees.

The group went to Ahmed’s home for tea at 11. We returned, packed, turned in our cell phones and headed to the airport. On the way we stopped at Edna’s hospital to pick up some papers for Stacie and David. David is writing a piece about her. At the airport we had to wait for passengers from a connecting flight. The press statement was brief and uneventful. We departed 2 hours late but arrived in Dubai early because there was no intervening stop for gas.

In Dubai finding our luggage and checking back through security was somewhat of a hassle. I was able to change my return ticket to the Frankfurt-Denver direct, non-stop flight. We had beers at an Irish Pub and some were compelled to visit the McDonalds.

In the Pub David M. recognized a British journalist with whom we shared our entry flight Dubai-Hargeisa. He spent a little time in Hargeisa and flew Hargeisa-Mogudisu to train journalists there. He had one unit of security: a sawed-off pickup truck with a machine gun installation and 8 armed guards. He said that he regularly heard random gunfire and about 4 times per day heard a firefight. He was hesitant to say whether he might return, but offered that he never felt personally or directly threatened.

June 8, Friday — We arrived in Frankfurt at 6:30 am. We said our goodbyes as everyone went different directions. I had to pick up my boarding pass and would try to get an earlier flight. At first they forced me back to my original flight. But upon checking they found that the travel agent had cancelled my itinerary completely. Somehow this freed them to put me on the direct-non-stop flight. I still waste 6 hours in Frankfurt, but arrive in Denver 5 hours early.

The Friday USA Today had no information about the Thursday evening Avalanche game. I found a clean and spacious bathroom and shaved, etc. I then found a snack bar with an isolated corner just for me with a power plug. A croissant and water was $5.00.

I arrived in Denver at 3:30pm, but Deb was too busy (she says) to pick me up.

June 9, Saturday — Avalanche beat NJ in game 7 to win the Stanley Cup.