Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Last week, the East African country of Somalia was geared up to usher
in a new age of democracy as its amended constitution was to be
implemented, in addition to elections for a new President.
Having suffered widespread anarchy and territorial fighting in 1991,
the country hasn’t had a fully functioning government since, having been
taken over by an eight year UN driven leadership structure known as the
“Transitional Federal Government.” This new government will be the
first in over 20 years – a veritably historic moment on all accounts.
The excitement however has proved to be misjudged, in so far as the
processes and passage of the election course has been sluggish and
plagued by threats of corruption and political backwardness.
Bickering has been a primary hindrance in the successful
implementation of new measures, with only 215 out of the required 275
members of parliament having taken their seats. These MPs have not been
elected as such, but rather selected by committee. There are two stages
of selecting a single member, which begins with the review of their
application by the traditional Somali elders, after consultation with
other clansmen. If successful, the candidate is sent to the Technical
Selection Committee (TSC) for interview and review.
Whilst a rigorous selection process is an encouraging indicator of
the transparency and apparent democratisation of the country’s politics,
it has however made the overall election process much slower.
Somali elders have been selecting favourites of the clan, but not
necessarily with the required educational qualifications, nor clean
criminal records. This has led to the TSC rejecting over 70 applicants
on the grounds of poor education or having had previous involvement in
criminal activities or groups. In this respect, the TSC must be
commended on their steadfast commitment to the new constitution. In the
face of intimidation, seat buying and bribes, the TSC have refused to
select those who would poison the vision for a new Somalia; showing
glimmers of hope for the integrity of the new constitution.
Elders have still proved difficult however, in their stubborn
opposition towards female MPs. It has been agreed as part of the new
constitution that a third of MPs should be women. Elders say that women
are not equipped for such a responsibility and that it is a “step too
The agreed constitution must form the beginning of a new chapter for
everyone in Somalia, not just the country’s male citizens. If elders
continue to obstruct women taking their seats in parliament, their
involvement in the selection process should be seriously reconsidered.
With endemic problems relating to primary education, particularly of
women, as well as FGM (current statistics show about 96 per cent of
women in the country have been circumcised) it is imperative that
Somalia’s female citizens are given a voice, and the ability to change
issues that deeply affect them.
Sadly, the TSC’s dedication has been counterposed by the fact that
many of the presidential candidates including the current President
Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who has been accused of corruption and
money-laundering, have been allowed to re-run for office. This is, to
say the least, gravely counter-intuitive in so far as those who have
been corrupt before will continue to be, posing a threat to the progress
of Somalia’s democratisation and development.
Territorial disputes and fragmentation also need to be addressed if
the new government is to make any impact upon the lives of its citizens.
Currently, the capital Mogadishu is at the centre of sectarian strife
as Islamist controlled areas struggle for power with militia supported
by the neighbouring country of Ethiopia. As a result, the extent of the
government’s power in the country is somewhat ambivalent and is largely
confined to the capital. Somali citizens in more remote areas have
little experience of strong central government because of these
divisions; thus, if the principles of the new constitution and the
government are to be accepted and implemented, these territorial
fractures must first be addressed and healed.
With the elections of a new speaker of parliament and a deputy due to
take place on Tuesday 28th August, Somalia’s new MPs need to bear in
mind these central issues before expecting an absolutely co-operative
and cohesive Somali nation.