International development agency Progressio, the Development Planning Unit at University College London (UCL) and Somaliland Focus (UK) are once again contributing to attempts to build a stable system of democracy in the Horn of Africa.
The three organisations have been invited by Somaliland's National Electoral Commission (NEC) to act as coordinators of the international observation mission to the district and council elections in the internationally-unrecognised Republic of Somaliland. Voting has been set for 28 November 2012.
The mission's leaders will arrive in Hargeisa in early November, with the full team to be in place a fortnight before polling day. The mission will follow up with a post-poll interim report to the NEC and donors, with the final report to follow in early 2013.
The invitation follows previous missions to the parliamentary elections in 2005 and the presidential election in 2010. As in 2010, the mission will be led by Dr Steve Kibble (of Progressio) and Dr Michael Walls (of UCL).
The mission is funded by the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID).
In issuing the invitation, Essa Yusuf Mohamed, the NEC's chair, said "Somaliland has long demonstrated a commitment to the consolidation of the democracy which has been in place since 1991. We welcome a diverse range of international observers."
The mission shares this commitment, the participants say, and observers will come from a wide range of countries and backgrounds.
Despite earlier concerns that the scheduled date left little time for effective preparations, the high level of commitment on the ground means the date is likely to stand. With seven political parties contesting the polls (as opposed to the three which previously participated) and a vast field of candidates, this poll presents additional logistical challenges to those faced in 2005 and 2010.
As with previous polls, this one takes place against a tense background, with fears that radical elements could attempt to disrupt the voting process.
Delays in getting the voting process going and disputes over which political parties are permitted to participate have sharpened tensions among local stakeholders.
Changes to rules mean the poll is likely to see increased participation by younger Somalilanders and women, both as voters and candidates: while these are positive developments, they are likely to test established social structures.
While there remain outstanding logistical issues to be resolved around the mission, especially around the security of observers, the team is confident these will be resolved speedily.
Dr Michael Walls commented: "These elections are an important next step in the institutionalisation of a system that brings together representative democratic institutions with traditional social organisational structures. Not only will they decide the personnel who will be responsible for municipal councils in the coming years, but they will determine the three political parties who will contest parliamentary and presidential elections for the next decade."
He added: "Somaliland has established a remarkable record of peaceful elections, and that record is attracting ever greater levels of interest from governments and investors internationally. Successful 2012 local elections will provide another substantial milestone on that path."
The joint mission follows on from similar missions to observe Somaliland's inaugural parliamentary elections in 2005, judged by observers as "basically free and fair", and the presidential election in 2010, which saw an orderly transfer of power and was judged "a peaceful expression of popular will".
* Progressio: www.progressio.org.uk