“Terrorists live in the seams between countries,” says Michael Chertoff, former head of Homeland Security under the Bush administration, explaining why the unguarded frontiers of the Sahel, stretching from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, are increasingly being seen as the new front line in the war on terror. In the first two weeks of June a policeman was shot in Somaliland and 15 suspected members of the al Qaeda-linked network al Shabab, including six women, were arrested in possession of bomb-making equipment. They stand accused of planning to destabilise the country ahead of presidential elections due to be held this Saturday.
These are the latest in a number of terrorist incidents, the worst of which was a car bomb attack in October 2009 which left 25 dead and dozens injured in Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa. As well as Islamic militants, Somaliland has also had to deal with ongoing conflicts with rebels in the semi-autonomous regions of Puntland, Sool and Sanagwell. Together with bitter disputes over voter registration, security issues have delayed these elections by almost two years, and this in turn has had its own destabilising effect on a country that until recently had enjoyed relative peace and security.
The conduct and the result of this weeks elections are seen as crucial in determining the future direction of the country. “A successful, free and fair election will have a huge impact on setting Somaliland on the right path to democracy, prosperity, and international recognition” says political analyst Hussein Dualeh. An international team of 70 election observers are currently in Somaliland to monitor the elections. There were supposed to be more observers but some organizations, such as the Electoral Institute for the Sustainability of Democracy in Africa, decided that the security risk was too great. Briton Steve Kibble, the observers’ coordinator, believes that despite the security threat, the elections will be a success. “We are encouraged by the overwhelming desire of the people of Somaliland to see a peaceful election, recognised as such both nationally and internationally” he says. “At this stage, we expect that such an outcome can be achieved.”
Dualeh is not convinced. “The ruling Party has not…