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So close but yet so far for the people of Somalia

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

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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 far.”

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.

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