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Cardiff’s Somalilanders and the 2017 Somalian Presidential Election

The recent presidential election in Somalia has been watched closely by the people of Somaliland. A peaceful state with a huge Cardiff-based population, they will be interested in the politics of Somalia.

Since the 1880s, the city of Cardiff has boasted a large community of ethnic Somalis. This considerable Somali influx into Cardiff and other British cities resulted from the fact that from the late 1800s to 1950, modern Somalia was split between two colonial protectorates, the North-Western British protectorate and the larger Italian protectorate.

Those Somalis who lived under the British protectorate enjoyed the right to travel to and work in the UK with many Somali men migrating to find jobs in Britain’s maritime and steel industries to support their families back in Somalia. A second wave of Somalis came in the 1980s when the now independent Somalia descended into civil war, forcing thousands of Somali families to flee, many joining their relatives in Cardiff.

Out of the chaos of Somalia’s civil war, the former British Somaliland protectorate declared its independence as the autonomous state of Somaliland in 1991. Somaliland, while technically part of Somalia, is in practise an independent country, which has achieved much international recognition, including from the Cardiff City Council.

Since independence, Somaliland has made great strides as a nation. The violence and instability that continues to plague Somalia is largely non-existent in Somaliland, which boasts a well-educated, collaborative elite class who enjoy greater public legitimacy than their Somali counterparts do.

This is not to say that Somalia has not itself made progress. Gone are the days of warlord and Al-Shabaab dominance over the country and the international community has praised Somalia for the relatively peaceful presidential election this month, which saw Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed elected Somalia’s ninth President.

The election was not without controversy however, with Somali investigators estimating that around $20 million in bribes changed hands over the course of the election season. Indeed, it has been suggested that the reason for the relative peace during the election is that Al-Shabaab regards the blatantly corrupt election as a propaganda opportunity to undermine the government.

“I couldn’t think that this is a very democratic elected government in a way,” said Mohamed Yusef of the Cardiff-based Horn Development Agency. “Here in the UK, we are never having something like that happening here in a long time.”

Mr Yusef not only denounced the means by which Somalia’s leaders came to power, but also denounced many of the sitting politicians themselves. “Some of those people who have been sitting in the parliament are part of the warlords. How would you imagine a warlord sitting the parliament and dictating you what to do? It’s absolutely undemocratic.”

Mr Yusef believes the Somali community in Cardiff is cautious optimistic about Somalia’s future. “They are keeping an eye about the new regime, how to interact with the Somaliland government and how they will build the relationship which is based on two countries neighboured to each other.” “We are all wishing for a better future and a better success and we wish for the president to lead that in a way that gives the two countries understanding to each other and develop some sort of good relationship.”

On the topic of Donald Trump and his inclusion of a Somalia on his recent travel ban, Mr Yusef accused President Trump of “creating barriers within communities.” Furthermore, he accused Trump of unfairly targeting “the weakest links” but not placing countries such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan on the banned list.

 

There is obvious pride within the Somali community here in Cardiff that Somaliland has become such a success story even while their cousins in wider Somalia continue to languish in violence and corruption. In speaking with Mr Yusef it is also obvious that while Cardiff’s Somalis do not believe their ‘Italian’ compatriots are in for an easy ride, they do not regard Somalia as a lost cause. After all, if Somaliland can achieve peace, why shouldn’t they?