Somaliland votes

1st ever use of iris scanning in an election

Breakaway Somali province of Somaliland holds elections using iris scanning technology to improve transparency.

A girl sporting a sticker with the national flag colours on her face participates in a street parade to celebrate the 24th self-declared independence day for the breakaway Somaliland nation from Somalia in capital Hargeysa, May 18, 2015. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

The Somaliland autonomous region of Somalia rarely makes headlines around the world.

But though the self-declared independent state remains relatively unknown, and largely unrecognized by the rest of the international community, it has been struggling to assert its independence from the central government in Mogadishu for over 25 years.

This obscure corner of Africa has maintained a level of democratic stability and transparency all but unprecedented in the horn of Africa. With a mixture of traditional community-based group decision-making led by the community elders, and regular democratic elections with smooth transitions between the leading parties, it is only fair that we take a closer look at Somaliland as its people once again go to the polls.

Since declaring independence in 1991, the leaders of Somaliland have made every effort to win international recognition, but to little avail. In the eyes of the world, Somaliland is no more than an autonomous region of Somalia.

But it has repeatedly demonstrated a degree of stability that sets it apart from the central Mogadishu government, and for the last 20 years it has held several free, credible, and peaceful elections overseen by international supervisors.

After doubts emerged regarding user verification in the 2010 elections, which were marred duplicated names in the voting books, the country is now using iris scans to make sure voting fraud is reduced to almost zero.

The decision to use biometric technology came after the region’s authorities studied the use of several face, finger, and iris recognition technologies and deemed the iris reader the most appropriate tech.

This is the first time this technology has ever been used in an election anywhere in the world.

It is true that the election is taking place two years later than it was supposed to, but this cannot be blamed on President Ahmed Mohamoud Silanyo or any desire to hold on to power.

In 2015, the international community pushed the delay of the election, as it was due to take place too close to the date of the Somali governmental elections.

International bodies feared that the comparatively more peaceful and stable roll-out of the Somaliland election could reflect poorly on the central government election and promote destabilization in Mogadishu. The year 2016 then brought a strong drought in the region which further delayed events.

The November 13 election will see Mr. Silanyo step down from the presidency, after seven years in power, and the Kulmiye Party candidate Musa Bihi Abdi, Wadani Party’s Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi, and Faysal Ali Warabe of the UCID Party compete for his position.

Whatever the result is, however, it is expected to be accepted without violence by citizens of the region. This scenario sharply contrasts with political instability in nearby Ethiopia and Eritrea, the recently botched elections in Kenya, or the uncertainty related to corruption and lack of security in the Mogadishu government.

Also, as the youth of Somaliland, which represent around 70% of the total population, begin to become more conscious of their potential to influence politics, grassroots movements have sprung up to promote the youth vote.

Young people have also started demanding that elders step back from government and leave space for the youth to rule.

In all, an island of democracy and social participation amidst a sea of unstable governments. The only catch is that it is still not an official government, and seems unlikely to be recognized as one in the near future.

If nothing else, its neighbors could learn a lot about how to improve their own political cultures by looking to Somaliland.