Story – John Mellor
An edited version of this story appeared in the August 2010 issue of the Burngreave Messenger
Howard Knight, Burngreave resident and former Sheffield City Councillor, has recently been in Somaliland as part of an independent, international observation team of election monitors for the presidential election held on 26th June.
Before leaving Sheffield, Howard said:
“The Somaliland community is one of the oldest African diaspora groups in the UK. Its roots go back to the 1890s when Somali seamen in the British Merchant Navy settled in coastal areas such as Cardiff and Liverpool. During World War II, Somalis served with the British Navy and some took up residency in the UK to work, particularly in Sheffield.”
“There are records showing people from Somaliland living and working in Burngreave in the 1930s and that number gradually increased. It wasn’t until the civil war began in the late 1980s and the government collapsed in 1991, that people from Somaliland and Somalia began coming to the UK as refugees.”
Howard’s previous experience as an election observer has been in more than 25 countries, including El Salvador, Kosovo, Mongolia, Georgia, Macedonia and Albania. However, since Somaliland is not recognised internationally, funding for the team of observers is limited and they are donating the time they spend in the country.
On his return from Somaliland, Howard spoke of his experiences:
“The Presidential Election should have taken place in 2008 but a lot of work needed to be done relating to the proper registration of voters. This infrastructure considerably helped the smooth running of the election. I was part of a team of about 60 observers organised by ‘Progressio’ (formerly the Catholic Institute for International Relations) which had previously provided a team for the Parliamentary Elections in 2005.
“We were welcomed everywhere we went. People said ‘We’re pleased you’re here!’ There was great keenness and motivation to vote. Voters started queuing at 4am, waiting for the polling stations to open at 7am. There were some problems with the queuing system at a few polling stations due to the large numbers waiting to cast their vote. At one polling station, the large crowd caused a policeman to panic and discharge his rifle into the air just ten feet from where I stood! After that, things calmed down and voting continued in an orderly manner. Throughout the country there were very few disturbances, due to the commitment of the people and political parties to ensure a fair election. Unfortunately, one official of the National Electoral Commission was killed in a disturbance in Sool.
“We then had to observe and record the count which was a lengthy process. The final result was that Ahmed Silanyo, leader of the Kulmiye Party, was duly elected as the new President of Somaliland.”
I asked Howard about a return visit to Somaliland in the future. He replied:
“Yes, definitely, in fact there could be an opportunity to work with the main political parties to further strengthen the democratic infrastructure ihn preparation for the next parliamentary elections in two years’ time.”
Clearly, this election has given a lot of confidence to the people of Somaliland, along with hope for a more stable and peaceful future throughout this region of Africa.