Quick thoughts on Mayor Pete’s 2008 Somaliland vacation and related op-ed

Pete Buttigieg, Democratic candidate for president, is current mayor of South Bend, Indiana, in the Great Lakes region and known primarily as the home of Notre Dame University. Notre Dame is famous here in the American South as one of the traditional Northern powers in American college football and for a period of years in the last century a rival to the University of Alabama.

In 2008 “Mayor Pete” was back in the United States as a McKinsey Consulting “whiz kid” based from the Chicago office after his Rhodes Scholarship at England’s Oxford University and had joined the Washington-based Truman National Security Project, but had not yet become an officer in the United States Naval Reserve. In other words, he was taking a normal prep course to run for president. His membership in the Truman Project distinguishes him as a Democrat.

In July 2008, Buttigieg and Nathaniel Myers, identified as a “political analyst” in Ethiopia, had published in the New York Times an op-ed under the understated headline “Tourists in Somaliland“. I have no clear idea why. The substance of the article is not about tourism but rather the argument that the United States was failing to adequately support Somaliland and should initiate formal recognition, but with very little real detail or heft. Myers was working as a World Bank consultant in Ethiopia at the time according to his a bio online at the Carnegie Endowment where he worked until recently. Myers also published two op-ed pieces in 2010 in Foreign Policy on the authoritarianism of Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia and analogizing Eritrea as “Africa’s North Korea”. My involvement in East Africa has been as a democracy advocate so I agree with the sentiments of Myers’s writings, even if I don’t think the “Tourists” piece with Buttigieg was really on point.

Where the “Tourists in Somaliland” piece misses the mark is failing to notice that USAID was supporting Somaliland, albeit in a constrained and unusual way. I am particularly aware of this because in the fall of 2007, as the resident director for East Africa based in Nairobi at the International Republican Institute, I was asked by IRI management to extend my unpaid leave from the law department at Northrop Grumman, the defense contractor, to stay past my scheduled January 2008 return to the States following Kenya’s December 2007 elections because of our new increased work for Somaliland. In particular we were tasked unexpectedly by USAID to open an office in Hargeisa and Somaliland parliamentary elections were scheduled for April 2008.

Northrop Grumman generously agreed to give me additional “public service leave” through June 1 so long as I promised to definitely be back at that time. As it turned out the April 2008 parliamentary elections were postponed, and sadly have faced serial postponements since, with the latest being challenged in court now. Somaliland presidential elections have continued successfully, however.

In the picture below I am visiting with the leadership of the Kulmiye Party on behalf of our USAID-funded IRI program in March 2008. Chairman “Silyano” is to the far right and I am next to him. Silanyo served as President of Somaliland from 2010-2017.

With Silanyo and Kulmiye leaders in his office

As late at least as mid-2008, US Government civilians and direct contractors were not allowed to travel to Somaliland, which is perhaps one of the reasons USAID was keen for us at IRI to ramp up and open an office. Later Buttigieg did work visits to Iraq and Afghanistan under contract to an unidentified US department. As an employee or partner at McKinsey as a US Government contractor Buttigieg would not have been able to go to Somaliland on business under ordinary circumstances to the best of my understanding. As employees of a Government-funded NGO working under a Cooperative Agreement with USAID rather than a contract we at IRI were not subject to that restriction.

During our Election Observation Mission for the ill-fated Kenyan December 2007 election, we brought a group of observers from Somaliland under the Somaliland program. This was a successful endeavor for that program although their return was slightly delayed by the violence triggered by the Kenyan election fraud (see my piece “The Debacle of 2007” in The Elephant). Somaliland has continued to have peaceful presidential elections with incumbent parties accepting narrow defeats at the polls twice, including with Silanyo’s accession in 2010.

I am not sure whether Somaliland has been better off or worse off over theses intervening years for not being formally recognized. I have always agreed sentimentally with the desire that the Somalilander’s achievement of defacto independence be “blessed” legally even if I did not consider it “my place” to be an advocate on that specific issue.

One primary issue is the unsettled territory in the borderlands between Somalia’s Puntland state and Somaliland. See the latest in a new report from the Institute for Strategic Studies: “Overlapping Claims by Somaliland and Puntland: the case of Sool and Sonaag.” One of the key events in the history discussed was the takeover by Somaliland of Las Anod after the defection of Ahmed Abdi Haabsade, former Puntland Defense Minister in November 2007, whom I met when he arrived in Hargeisa.

As fate would have it a month before Mayor Pete’s op-ed on Somaliland ran in The New York Times on July 31, 2008 a Times investigative reporter contacted me at my office in Mississippi about the unreleased IRI exit poll showing an opposition win against Kibaki in that election in Kenya. I gave the interview and initial follow-up that contributed my input into the investigation that the Times eventually reported on on the front page, after the Obama inauguration, on January 30, 2009: “A Chaotic Kenya Vote and a Secret U.S. Exit Poll.

Kenyan IEBC drops biometric voter registration after controversy over tender–Updated

UPDATE 1 Aug. 20:30GMT  Press coverage indicates a major credibility challenge for the IEBC over the voter registration issue.  Both the Daily Nation and the Standard lead stories report that the failure of the tender for the biometric registration system is being attributed in part to “boardroom wars” between the Commission and its Chairman Hassan on the one hand, and the Secretariat led by Chief Executive James Oswago.

The Standard reports that Speaker Kenneth Marende has ordered a Parliamentary inquiry into the failed tender which is to report back in 14 days.  

See also: Daily Nation, “Fraud fears as IEBC turns to old poll kit”.

Kenya falls back to manual electoral register  — Daily Nation. After civil society groups and others raised concerns about the evaluation of tenders and the qualifications of the vendor selected, the IEBC has acted quickly to move on with critical election preparations. Maintaining public confidence is crucial, as is the schedule, with some members of Parliament suggesting slipping the election date. This–sticking with the manual registration system that worked for the constitutional referendum–seems the safest course.

CPJ: “Somaliland elections and coverage surprisingly . . . normal”

The blog of the Committee to Protect Journalists gives an assessment of the state of media coverage of the Somaliland elections.

I thought this was particularly interesting:

In comparison to greater Somalia, however, where insurgents banned viewing the World Cup and a near-powerless government continues to arrest journalists for negative coverage, Somaliland’s media scene appears robust. Journalists were allowed to move freely throughout the polling stations without hindrance, Associated Press reporter Mohamed Olad told CPJ.

The public and local press feared violence after two former ruling party officials alleged there had been vote rigging in favor of the opposition in five precincts, Abdi told CPJ. “But I was pleasantly surprised when I visited the offices of Radio Hargeisa,” Abdi said. “I found Radio Hargeisa staff actually complaining that the allegations were false and could lead to post-election violence.” Even Riyale supporters objected to the allegations and the two officials were arrested, Abdi added.

How has Somaliland kept the elections and its media coverage relatively peaceful? “They have learned from example—the bad example of their neighbors,” said Olad, who often reports in the war-torn Somali capital, Mogadishu. Somaliland has become a haven for exiled Mogadishu journalists fleeing the fighting in Somalia, where 33 journalists have been killed for their work since 1993.

Somaliland journalists told me they now hope government and media relations will improve under Silyano. Whereas Riyale was a former intelligence official and wary of the press, Mohamed said, Silyano was more open with the press as an opposition party leader. “But let’s wait and see,” a cautious Amin told me, as opposition leaders often change their spots once they attain power. A once-popular Senegalese opposition leader, Abdoulaye Wade, had promised upon his 2000 presidential election to decriminalize libel laws against the press. A disgruntled local Senegalese press, who had strongly supported his 2000 candidacy, is still waiting.

Somaliland: Gracious outgoing President Riyale to stay on as leader of UDUB in loyal opposition

HARGEISA (Somalilandpress) — The outgoing president Dahir Riyale Kahin, UDUB party leader, said he will stay in Somaliland politics as an opposition while speaking to BBC Somali-Service on Friday night.

Mr. Riyale who gracefully accepted the out come of the election said he will step down in accordance with Somaliland’s legal system and urged Somaliland public to work with the new leader and maintain their stability.

A statement issued on government website said: Somaliland president H.E Dahir Rayaale Kahin and vice president Ahmed Yassin sent congratulatory messages to the president elect Ahmed Mohammed Mohammed and vice president Abdirahman Abdillahi Ismail.The president thanked the people of Somaliland for their support and urged them to work with the incoming government and continue to support the stability and security of Somaliland.

“I congratulate President Ahmed Mohammed Silaanyo and his Kulmiye party for winning the presidential election,” he said.

Mr. Riyale who takes great pride for his years in power said he will not harm the democracy his very own party and leadership has created in the country. He added the election was a “friendly match” but Somaliland’s interest always comes first.

Full Story here.

Congratulations to Silanyo, Kulmiye Party on Somaliland election win (Update)

The AP story via the Houston Chronicle.

With Silanyo and Kulmiye leaders in his office

Visiting Silanyo and Kulmiye leaders

Coverage and Silanyo interview with BBC World Service.

Congratulations are also in order to UDUB in particular and to UCID for honoring the process, to the National Election Commission and to the voters for their patience.

Perhaps outgoing President Riyale will be a candidate for next years Mo Ibrahim prize?

Vote Count News from Somaliland

The party of President Riyale Kahin, UDUB, has called for a delay in announcing election results due to “huge irregularities“. Since then, a new AFP report this morning carries a statement from the President that he will step down if he loses the vote.

Thus much weight rests on the shoulders of the National Election Commission to maintain credibility and independence. It has been a long, hard and contentious process over a period of years to get to this point in terms of the composition of the NEC and the creation of a voter registration system from scratch in a “new” and unrecognized country with uncertain borders and much of its population nomadic.

We know from Kenya that a peaceful transition of power requires not only a willingness to step down by a leader who loses the vote, but also either a willingness by the leader to lose the vote in the first place or an independent election commission. In Kenya neither of the latter two conditions were met at the end of the day.

The President’s elective term in office ended as I was ending my term of service with IRI and we were opening our new office in Hargeisa. The serial delays and extensions have extended the time in office and it may be that we will now see a lot more about whether this truly reflected the best efforts to get the process right or as some critics suggested were more motivated by a wish to stay without a new decision by voters. It is encouraging that the President has made this new personal statement, which is certainly something that did not happen in Kenya during the vote counting. Although it has been awhile now since I have been there personally, I did feel that my colleagues and I had cordial working relationships with the leadership of all three parties and I would be personally optimistic about the sincerity of my friends in UDUB in making wise choices in a difficult time, serving the interests of the country as first priority–something we are all called to do to have a democracy.

Somaliland election as pivot point for US?

Kevin J. Kelly’s piece in this week’s East African, “US urged to cut lifeline to struggling TFG”, comes as the Progressio international team and IRI’s observers have made positive statements on the status of the voting in Somaliland Saturday.

It seems that at least some people in Washington are taking stock of the gravity of what Jeffrey Gettleman reported on in the Times on the TFG’s use of child soldiers. Perhaps the “now what?” is a different approach.

To me, an orderly election in Somaliland in which the violence was limited to confrontation with militia supporting Puntland in the disputed region should not come as a surprise–this reflects society in Somaliland. This should be appreciated and “recognized” by the rest of the world. Nonetheless, let us see the electoral process to a conclusion before we offer our own conclusions.

Somaliland Election status

From the Somaliland Press, positive news and photos of the voting in progress, now that it is closing time at the polls.

Progressio will issue a preliminary statement as the international observation coordinator tomorrow on how things are going so far at that time.

Somaliland Elections and Oil in Mississippi Sound

Best wishes to all in Somaliland on Saturday’s long awaited presidential election.

Oil from the BP blowout is now finally entering the Mississippi Sound for the first time, so we can now expect to be seeing here more of what has been happening in Louisiana, and to a lesser extent Alabama and Florida.

There are those who anxiously await an opportunity to drill off Somaliland.  Oil has been the basis for the economy in Louisiana but it has threatened the physical future of a large chunk of the state, as well as the social and cultural heritage, and the wildlife and environment.  Definitely a situation that demands good governance.  Perhaps in the age of globalization, people can learn from our mistakes.