Somalia’s transitional process is at a tipping point. In the next few days, Somalia could have a new government bringing an end to 20 years of transitional governments marred by chronic corruption, instability and dysfunctional institutions.
Last year, a UN-brokered political roadmap was agreed with ambitious goals: Peace and security, reconciliation and outreach, and a new constitution. In essence, the roadmap was devoted to laying the groundwork for an independent, secure and permanent state of Somalia.
Already, it has made significant inroads in the security stabilization efforts. Despite some severe setbacks in implementing the roadmap, the work that has been done towards achieving its objectives is itself a feat of progress.
However, security remains the single biggest challenge to the transitional process. But there are also other remaining political obstacles and corrupt practices that could potentially undermine the process.
Somalia’s nascent transitional process is at a tipping point. In the next few days, we will know whether Somalia will have a new government that may bring an end to 20 years of transitional governments marred by chronic corruption, instability and dysfunctional institutions. As the election date is looming, a new aura of optimism can be sensed in Mogadishu. Realistically, however, the prospects for a successful transitional look quite grim.
If all goes well, general elections will be held on 20 August in Mogadishu , for the first time in history. Over the past two decades, there have been numerous efforts – often by the international community – to reinstate a permanent government, but these have generally been dead on arrival.
The international community now seems to have changed its policy of gambling in Somalia by concocting a permanent government hoped to be capable of running its own affairs – like signing international agreements, borrowing money and procuring government supplies.
Last year, Somalia’s international backers – through the United Nations – devised a political roadmap for the domestic stakeholders: the Transitional Federal Government, Puntland, Galmudug and ASWJ . While the roadmap was a really tepid political pact, it has a bundle of ambitious goals: Peace and security, reconciliation and outreach program, and adopting a new constitution. In essence, the roadmap was devoted to laying the groundwork for an independent, secure and permanent state of Somalia.
Already, it has made significant inroads in the security stabilization efforts. The roadmap helped drive out insurgents from a large swathe of territory, which is now under the control of the government. Despite some severe setbacks in implementing the roadmap, the work that has been done towards achieving its objectives is itself a feat of progress.
Further, this election will be marked in the history books as a highly significant event. It will be historic because it is to be held in Mogadishu and, furthermore, candidates will be allowed to; hold rallies and town-hall meetings, distribute campaign flyers in the streets, circulate pictures of the candidates all over the city, broadcast TV ads – all displaying a sense of hope of nascent democracy in a country that has been wrecked by protracted conflict.
More interestingly, the list of presidential contenders is wide open, diverse and colourful with candidates from academia, politicians, the diaspora and even including women.
Just this month, 825 delegates from all Somali clans at the National Constituent Assembly approved a new Constitution by acclamation, ending a long battle of intense, often bruising debates. The Constitution establishes a federal, parliamentary system with a national assembly and an upper house. There will be, like in every democracy, a rule of law system, though every law must be compatible with Islam. Women will have a 30 per cent quota of the parliament seats – a quantum leap from the previous situation.
There are, however, some remaining hurdles in the way that could potentially undermine the process.
Security still remains the single biggest challenge to the transitional process. While there has been relative achievement in liberating Mogadishu and much of the southern and central zones from al-Shabab forces, they still pose a considerable challenges and the security is direly worse. In the last few days, a set of coordinated assassinations has targeted influential people including two traditional elders, a journalist, actors and government officials.
As a result, candidates for president and parliament are too fearful to campaign, because of the worsening security conditions. Part of the problem lies, I contend, in the government’s all-out campaign mood and its overconfidence in improving the security situation. Such vulnerability might allow insurgents to disturb the election period. The government should not get too excited as the situation could be easily reversed.
The second concern lies within the government itself. It still controls the vast resources of the government. There have been serious allegations that the incumbent government is using public money earmarked for services and development on the election campaign. Apparently, the government is using the state-owned media to its own advantage and it outspending its contenders — creating a non-level playing field. Without concerted and urgent intervention to address this pervasive abuse of public funds, the legitimacy of the elections will be challenged and the risk of renewed conflict aggravated.
Thirdly, an assembly of 135 male-dominated elders, empowered by the UN, are steering the whole process by customary approach. Their role is, among other things, to select 225 MPs for the new parliament. While the role of traditional elders in arbitrating clan disputes has long been acknowledged and embraced, they are engaged in wholesale corruption by selling MP seats and manipulating the process for their own purposes.
For instance, there have been widespread allegations by various clans complaining about the elders’ misconduct in the whole process. In this course, warlords and other criminal culprits will be able to regain power – and dominate – in the next government. In the remaining days, the international backers of the roadmap should speak out against this conduct and pledge that violators will be punished.
Finally, the most significant responsibility rests on the Technical Selection Committee, which oversees the elections. It can play a crucial role in saving Somalia by conducting an honest and transparent vetting process to keep corrupt leaders out of the next government.