A woman casts her ballot in the Parliamentary elections in Somalia. Photo/keymedia-online

African and Arab election experts are in Kenya this week meeting with Somalia’s electoral commission to help the country prepare to move to ‘one person, one vote’ elections in 2020.

The year 2004 marked the beginning of the end to more than two decades of civil war and anarchy in Somalia. Members of Somalia’s interim parliament gathered in Nairobi to vote for a new president. They met in Kenya because Mogadishu was still too dangerous.

Somalia has since held three polls. But regular Somalis are yet to cast any ballots. The country has relied on a clan-based formula in which the lawmakers were selected by the clan elders, and then the legislators elect the president.

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Last year, Somali political leaders agreed to scrap the clan-based formula in favor of a one person, one vote system, and Somalia’s electoral body, the National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC), hopes to make the change for the next elections in 2020.

Experts from the Organization of Arab Electoral Management Bodies and from around the continent gathered in Nairobi this week to advise the Electoral Commission.

“This [meeting] is an important step amongst others to assist NIEC with some of the experience that in turn can use as its developing its procedures and a very important step along the path to universal multi-party democratic elections,” says Electoral advisor Gerald Mitchell, director of the United Nations Electoral Support Group.

The experts agree one of the first steps to take is to register political parties.

Idris Aminu Kasimu, who works with the Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, said: “If you do not start with democracy within political parties, you have a challenge in the democracy within the country because democracy within the political parties, candidates who want to contest elections will emerge democratically and will emerge by choice of majority members of the political party, because the credibility of the general elections actually starts from the credibility of political parties and how candidates emerge.”

Credibility is something that critics say Somalia’s last two polls have lacked. The 2017 elections were marred by allegations of vote buying and irregularities, and some of the races had to be redone.

Security may be another obstacle to one person, one vote elections in 2020.

The government of Somalia, with the help of African Union troops, has retaken territory from al-Shabab, but the militant group continues to carry out attacks. Many Somalis doubt whether they can have a chance to vote.

“I know many Somalis are asking each other with the current crisis, how can one-man, one-vote be achieved? But we believe if we work hard on it, it can work. We also believe, as the electoral commission, we are ready and we know we can handle such an election. It is important we start working on this process as early as possible,” Halima Ismail Ibrahim, the chairperson of the Somali National Independent Electoral Commission, said.

The conference ends tomorrow.