Some of the findings of the survey suggest that generally Somaliland citizens are to a large degree quite satisfied with the state of affairs in the country and are optimistic about what the future entails. For instance, 81% of respondents strongly agree with the assertion that their future in Somaliland was a bright one, while 75% thought that things in Somaliland have improved over the past year and 89% of respondents thought that things in Somaliland were heading in the right direction. At the same time 40% of respondents though that the current government was out of touch with the needs of the people.
Interestingly, when the participants of the survey were asked who they thought was responsible for Somaliland heading in the right direction, 24% responded that the Somaliland people were responsible while 43% attributed it to the Somaliland government and 28% to the President. The respondents answer to the question is a bit odd but also very important where only 24% of respondents though that the people were responsible for Somaliland heading in the right direction. It is odd in the sense that it is the people who have elected the government of the day and to that end have determined the orientation of the country, but also important to the degree that it speaks volumes about the respondents perception of the nature of governance.
For a government to function, it cannot do so on its own, and that is particularly so in Somaliland where the rule of law and the political fabric of the state are relatively delicate. To me, the fact that more people attributed the positive orientation of the country to the president than to the people is telling of the lack of strong viable public institutions and public sector that ensure the needs of the public are being addressed and democratic principles of equality, liberty and rule of law are upheld regardless of the government of the day. On the whole, along with a generally upbeat assessment of the future of Somaliland, respondents also questioned the current government’s commitment to improving their living standards in terms of creating jobs, improving living for the poor and keeping prices down.
Within Islamic countries religious scholars and institutions command a lot of respect and wield a significant amount of influence on the state and society. The extent to which such power is used for the betterment of society is one that varies from one country to another and largely depends on the wishes of religious scholars as a whole. Mainstream notions of what constitutes civil society and civic engagement is one that is limiting and does not adequately describe the framework that informs civic participation in Muslim countries like Somaliland.
Civil society defined as the existence of organizations that enjoy a level of independence from the state and have a certain degree of influence on the state and society, is a more enabling definition of civil society that allows for a more accurate assessment of civil society in Somaliland. Findings from the survey suggest that religious scholars and mosques enjoy a high degree of legitimacy and engagement from the public. In the study, when asked about what sources of information they had a lot of confidence in, 80% responded by saying the Mosque, compared with 15% who though newspapers were a credible source of information.
Moreover, of the number of individual who saw problems with the way local government was running 39% discussed the problem at least once with community, religious or traditional leaders compared with 19% who at least once complained to a government official. The role of religious scholars in Somaliland is further highlighted when 77% of respondents cited religious leader as always trying their best to listen to what people have to say, whereas 14% of respondents cited members of parliament as always trying their best to listen.
Many scholars in the West evaluate the extent to which civic participation is thriving based on the magnitude to which citizens are engaged at the level of the individual. Critical theorists in the field of the Middle Eastern and Islamic studies have contributed to our understanding of Islam, in the sense that it is not only a religious doctrine but also a political theory that draws its legitimacy from Islamic principles. Thus, analyzing civic participation requires the recognition of engagement with religious scholars and institutions as constitutive of civic engagement.
And in Somaliland, it would appear that traditional aspects of civil society enjoy a high level of trust and that there is a degree of engagement with them by the public. Traditional civil society as a force for good or evil is one that is dependent on the aggregate orientation of its leaders (religious scholars), in terms of their interpretation of Islamic principles, for instance in an non-exclusionary way (i.e. the negation of patriarchal values) and in a manner that facilitates Somaliland’s democratization process.
While qualitative research methods such as this survey are helpful in providing answers to important questions that require normative input from participants, they come with a unique set of challenges. We see these challenges manifest themselves in the survey, where for instance when asked “over the past year, how often, if ever, have you or anyone in your family gone without food”, 81% responded never. It may be so that 81% of respondents and their family members have never gone without food in the past year, but one must wonder if that question would have yielded a different outcome had it been asked in confidence.
That is, it may be embarrassing for an individual to admit to having gone without food to a complete stranger. When conducting structured or semi-structured surveys composed of open-ended or close ended questions, researchers must be well versed in the art of crafting questions so as to avoid common pitfalls of asking questions that are not clear, neutral and concise, as well as avoid employing biased language, and broad or obscure questions. Also, one must take into account the environment in which the questions are being asked. Accordingly, research survey designs often go through multiple edits and field tests before fully being administered.
In places like Somaliland that are marked by an absence of data on the population, the chance to administer a survey on a sample of the population is quite appealing and tempting to policy makers and stakeholders. However, the extent to which the data mined is useful is one that not only depends on the quality of the questions but also on the sample population being sufficiently representative of the population. To that end, it is important that the representative sample is not one that is eschewed in a certain direction or is not biased.
With sample populations researchers must ensure that the assumptions which guide the selection process are valid. For example, although participants are randomly selected, reliance on registered voters and established polling stations is premised on the assumption that the experience of registered voters can be generalizable to the wider population and polling stations are evenly distributed. Such an assumption has to be backed up by additional data that validates that assertion, particularly so for a survey that measures civic engagement.
This survey is a valuable addition to the future development of Somaliland as it is a representative way to express the hopes, dreams, fears, and aspirations of a community of complex individuals. This is never an easy task and we are thankful that IRI has conducted it as while we may agree or disagree with the results and the methodology we must begin somewhere if we are going to develop Somaliland as a community
By Hassan Ali Hassan (Watershit legal service)