Anyone who has followed African politics, especially the last fifteen years when most countries turned democracy, will be familiar with the pattern of African democracy. Its processes is well standardised across the continent and it is very predictable.
Here is the pattern: elections take place, a ruling party and its candidate are declared as winners, opposition parties protest and refuse to recognise the results; they go to court; they lose the court case and wait for another election to repeat the same process.
Recently, Ghana broke with the tradition and it has become an exception to the standard. In 2008 an opposition party led by Ghana’s incumbent president, John Atta Mills, came to power after a closely contested elections that needed a re-run to decide the winner. Ghana had managed what no democratic African country had done before: change governments peacefully through the ballot.
The Economist in 2009 observed that elections in sub Saharan Africa only change the elite. Indeed, the statistics on African elections confirm this observation. In 2009 alone, there were 24 scheduled elections across sub-Saharan Africa, none of these elections resulted in a change of government.
Sadly one African country that will not appear on the African elections calendar is Somaliland, an unknown but a thriving country in the horn of Africa that broke away from Somalia in 1991. Somaliland has managed to match Ghana’s feat by becoming the only second African country to peacefully change governments through the ballot.
This is a feat that has eluded some of the influential and model democracies in the sub-Saharan Africa including South Africa and Botswana. In South Africa only the ANC wins elections and they have no credible challenge, which puts the whole democracy theory to a test. Botswana is still ruled by the party that won the country its independence, under Sir Seretse Khama in 1966, and now the country is ruled is by Ian Khama, Sir Seretse’s son.
We all witnessed post elections violence that erupted in Kenya after the December 2007 elections. Yet unrecognised Somaliland has just conducted elections that all observers, including its neighbours, Djibouti and Ethiopia have admitted were “free and fair” and the losing parties have accepted defeated.
Meanwhile, Somaliland’s incoming president, Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo has vowed to fight for recognition from the international community. He told AFP: “during my tenure as president I will vigorously fight for the recognition of Somaliland. The world must recognise our democracy.”
Conspiracies theorists and cynics will argue that Somaliland is only conducting itself this way to buy the recognition from the outside world and everything would change after getting their wish. Well I believe it is good to be cynical after all it is a human nature that we are mainly motivated by self interests. This may be true; after all, the age of Jesus Christ and Mahatma Ghandi, who will suffer for others is long behind us. But is is only a conspiracy and it cannot be dweled upon.
Somaliland ought to be recognised. If Ghana is accepted as model of African democracy, why not Somaliland when it is the only country that has achieved the same feat as Ghana? Why is the international community, and yes, including the media, are so quick to accuse when things go wrong but they will not give credit where it is due? If anyone thinks democracy is taking roots and thriving in Africa then on this evidence, Somaliland alongside Ghana, are the torchbearers of it.