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Policy Brief: Attitudes Towards Democracy in Mogadishu

In July 2014 the Mayor of Mogadishu and Governor of Benadir Region, Hassan Mohamed Hussein  ‘Muungaab’, announced his intention that regional  democratic elections be held in 2015 to elect his  successor and all district commissioners.

The  following year, national parliamentary elections are planned in line with the federal government’s Vision  2016 framework.  So far, and despite growing concerns among the  international community, the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) does not appear prepared to admit  publicly that the chances of free and fair national
elections being held in 2016 are fading. Multiple prerequisite steps are yet to be taken, and there is little  evidence of efforts to initiate them.

However, while still ambitious, some form of local  elections in Mogadishu may still be possible.
Various steps have been taken; a roadmap has been drafted and discussions with potential partners in  the process have been held.  In light of this, and with support from the Benadir Regional Administration (BRA), the Heritage
Institute for Policy Studies (HIPS) recently completed a large-scale survey to gain an  understanding of attitudes towards elections and democracy among the residents of Mogadishu.

A total of 1,633 respondents from all of the city’s 17 districts took part in an exercise involving 15 enumerators. A pilot study was conducted in April.

2014 in Shangani, Hamar Weyne, Hamar Jajab, and Waberi districts. Surveys were conducted in the remaining 13 districts in October. Focus group discussions were later held with various stakeholders in November to validate
findings and to further our understanding with a qualitative dimension to the research. While findings from Mogadishu are not representative of the whole of Somalia, as its most populous city they may provide an indication of broader attitudes towards elections and democracy among Somali society.

It is hoped that the study will encourage officials to pursue the process of holding regional elections and that our findings may inform stakeholders in shaping a process that could encourage further local elections elsewhere inSomalia.

Elections matter

“If Mogadishu starts with elections, other regions will follow.”

The survey revealed overwhelming support for local elections in Mogadishu. A total of 92 percent of all
respondents considered holding local elections important (28 percent ‘important’ and 64 percent ‘very important’). Three in four (76 percent) respondents said that they expect local elections to take place in 2015, despite apparent widespread awareness of the considerable challenges that lie ahead, and a solid majority (86 percent) claimed that they were either ‘likely’ (15 percent) or ‘very likely’ (71 percent) to take part in such a process.

The overarching issue of security in the city, however, appears to have a profound impact on attitudes towards elections. 70 percent of all respondents claimed that continuing insecurity poses the greatest challenge to the successful holding of elections. As discussed in our last Policy Brief, Perceptions of Security and Justice in Mogadishu, the nature of insecurity in Mogadishu has evolved in recent years and, though residents may feel generally safer than they did in previous years, indiscriminate suicide attacks, hand grenade attacks, and targeted killings continue to present a grave threat.

Insecurity will certainly make preparations for city-wide elections difficult. The threat of targeted attacks against voters, election officials, observers, and security personnel on a future election day will also likely influence voter turnout. As one participant in the focus group discussions asked, “should people think about their own security or elections?”

Awareness of the potential destabilizing effects of elections was also clear, as another focus group participant explained,
referring to the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007-08: “Elections are not always constructive; sometimes they create conflict, like after the election between Kibaki and Odinga.” Interestingly, however, security was also the most common response (37 percent) when participants were asked why elections were important.

16 percent of respondents consider democracy to be unIslamic or secular. As suggested in focus group discussions, it
is also arguably part of Somali culture to distrust external interference. This combined with the rise of radical
interpretations of Islam in recent history may have resulted in an assumption among some that democracy is an inherently ‘western’ concept and thus incompatible with Somali culture and/or religion. This view was articulated by a focus group participant who suggested, “We are not against everything that comes from the west… but we are against moral imposition [from the west].”


“If the regional administration is democratically elected based on the quality of the candidates in terms of education, it
is one thing. But if it is about which clans live in each area it will just be the same as before.” “There are clans who currently have representatives in parliament who never had before and wouldn’t have if we go to elections. Some seats have to be reserved for marginalized communities.”

The survey suggests a clear demand for greater meritocracy in Mogadishu, while safeguarding the representation of women and minorities. Asked specifically how satisfied they are with the current 4.5 system of representation within the Somali government, a clear majority (72 percent) expressed their

Source: Heritage Institute.