As Abraham Lincoln once said, “You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
On 3rd March 2014, President Ahmed Silanyo unwittingly put his signature to a highly controversial decree regarding the formation of a Ministerial-Level Committee and a Taskforce responsible for the registration of Somaliland citizens for the purpose of issuing them with Voter/National Identity cards. The decree sharply divided the nation along clan lines and promptly elicited blistering condemnation from members of Arab clan who has been stealthily excluded from both the ministerial committee and the task force.
When civic and political leaders of Arab clan knocked on the Presidential Palace door and demanded an explanation from the president as to why they were singled out, the president was totally flabbergasted, groping for an answer. It was quite obvious that the president was caught off guard by the legitimate criticisms leveled against him.
Unfortunately, it was none other than the president’s most trusted aides who pulled the rug under his feet. The next morning, in the cold light of day, everyone realized that the whole thing stinks.
It has now emerged that the ministerial committee and the task force was secretly formed in a smoke filled room, outside the collective decision-making process of the government, by a tightly-knit group of clan fundamentalists within the cabinet who have the president’s ear. They selectively drew up a list of names, hand-picked individuals, which would make up these two important committees.
The ministerial committee and the task force was formed in such a way that some clans are disproportionately over-represented in both committees, others are woefully under-represented while others were completely excluded from the equation as if they do not exist. The whole thing was built on the idea of: scratch my back/and I will scratch yours. But the architects of this deceitful enterprise forgot one thing: that the people of Balligubadle who have been completely excluded from these committees won’t be shutting up or falling into line or be bullied into submission.
At first sight, the suggestion from the political parties, Electoral Commission and other stake holders that voters should be required to show photographic ID at polling stations appears sensible. Yet a closer scrutiny serves to establish that it is not so straightforward. The rationale for the move is to reduce the incidence of multiple registrations.
If the past experience is anything to go by, the result of the voter/nationality ID registration exercise undertaken in October/November 2008, with a supplementary registration in January 2009 had produced a Voter register with a high proportion of invalid and duplicate entries and efforts to clean the register using an Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) and a Facial Recognition System (FRS) had completely failed.
According to the Electoral Reform International Services (ERIS), ‘Babies’ were registered and pictures which had clearly been taken elsewhere and held up to the camera “False Photos” were used by clans to outdo one another in their outrageous attempts to inflate their respective population counts.
Ghost villages with no more than few inhabitants and goats were suddenly bursting with non-existent people [ghost voters].
According to ERIS, the frauds and duplicate registrations took place during the registration process, partly because the registration officers came under pressure from local civic leaders. These civic leaders were, in turn, taking their orders from their clansmen belonging to Ministerial Committees and Task forces like these.
It is important to point out that the illegal and duplicate registrations did not simply happen in a vacuum but was facilitated by the registration officers under pressure from government ministers and other representatives responsible for the voter registration process. The winners, those with the highest number of registered voters, are almost always the clans who are disproportionately represented on such committees and registration officers.
Of course, there is no easy way to change the local cultural and political realities so as to eliminate this in the future. However, the only practical way to prevent these fraudulent practices is to set up a system which rapidly detects such frauds and duplicates, for the culprits to be immediately exposed, and for there to be public consequences.
According to ERIS, the errors and corrupt practices during both the main and supplementary registrations, including: registration of babies, children who were clearly under age; registration of individuals who were not present, using pictures taken elsewhere; deliberate multiple registrations, at the same or different registration centres, using different names.
Needless to say, it’s an absolute insanity to repeat the same mistakes and expect different results. So far, the government has not lifted a finger to put in place a mechanism and/or measures to prevent the recurrence of these wanton corrupt practices.
Far from it, it is quite clear that those who formed this Ministerial Committee and the Task Force had one thing in mind: to repeat the same wanton corrupt practices that got us into this mess in the first place.
What is different now is that some clans struck a secret pact and are planning to beat all other clans in their burning desire to inflate their numbers through deliberate and outrageous multiple registrations. The stage is set for another round of wanton corruption.
If the planned voter/ID registration system is going to be fair and free from manipulation as government officials would have us believe then surely there is nothing to be afraid of. But the brutal truth is that the system is far from being fair or free from manipulation and no one knows better than the very men who formed these committees. They are the ones who are mortally afraid of the very system they want the public to believe in. Why would the rest of us have the slightest faith in the system then?
This is the reason why the Ministerial-Level Committee and the Task Force was deviously formed in such grotesquely unfair manner in its clan composition. The name of the game is inflating your clan’s population count.
Now that this Ministerial Committee and Taskforce is completely tainted and discredited, the majority of the people will have no choice but to refuse to let the government pull the wool over their eyes. The western donor countries must not equally allow themselves to fall for the ruse perpetrated by the clan fundamentalists within the cabinet who are masquerading as honest, God-fearing and Law-abiding government functionaries.
The western donors must lean hard on the Somaliland government to come clean on its abysmal failure to set up a fair system that treats all members of the public fairly and squarely. Funding a fundamentally corrupt system for a democracy’s sake will not only do a great disservice to the Somaliland people but will put the last nail in the coffin of the country’s democratic system as we know it. The donors must insist that public trust and confidence in the system be restored as a pre-condition for funding. Expediency in such matters probably poses a greater threat to Somaliland’s survival than anything else.
If the planned system is perfect in anyway then one representative for each Somaliland clan in all committees will suffice otherwise no clan will have the right to register members of other clans and this will eventually mean the death knell of the registration process. If the process is to be successful, no clan in Somaliland should be left behind.
Winning with deception and bluff is not an option: we have seen this movie before.