Tuesday, December 25, 2012
NAIROBI — In the last 12 months, Somalia has approved a new constitution, selected a new parliament, president and prime minister, making way for the first stable government in over 20 years.
In August, members of Somalia's new parliament took the oath of office in a parking lot outside the Mogadishu airport.
The selection of the 275-seat body represented one of the most substantial achievements in ending the country's eight-year political transition and ushering in a new, representative government.
The political progress has inspired confidence in the international community.
Iran reopened its embassy in Somalia this year, Britain appointed an ambassador and the United Nations says it will move more of its staff to Mogadishu. Turkish Airlines began regular flights to the Somalia capital in May as Ankara leads the charge to boost investment in the country.
Abdirahman Aadle, a politician with the Unity party in Mogadishu, says this has been an historic year.
“The government accomplished the most difficult tasks during the period,” he says, “It has changed a lot in our nation’s history,” Aadle said.
As one of its first tasks, the new parliament elected President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, an educator and civil society leader with few ties to the outgoing, and notoriously corrupt, transitional government.
He has since appointed a new prime minister who has selected a cabinet that includes the country's first female foreign minister.
However, the government has not been universally well-received in Mogadishu. Somali political analyst Ibrahim Adow says the political newcomers leading the government are unprepared for the job.
"We can say 80 per cent of them don’t know about democracy," he says, "because its not one of the things people have practiced in the country before and the constitution itself is built on the basis of democracy." Abdow says that means it can be problematic for doing things that require political experience.
Security remains the biggest challenge for the new government. Just days after the new president was sworn into office in September, three suicide bombers struck outside a hotel in Mogadishu where he was meeting with a delegation from Kenya.
At the time, he said security would be his first, second and third priorities.
The situation has improved as the African Union peacekeeping force, AMISOM, working with Kenya and Ethiopia, has driven al-Shabab militants out of their strongholds in Mogadishu and south-central Somalia.
But Somali analyst, Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamed says Somalia's own national army still remains a remarkably weak institution, divided by internal clan rivalries.
“If today, God forbid, the AMISOM left abruptly, Somalia would go back to the clanism, clan competitions, warlordism, and so on and so forth. So, the current military personnel, mainly they came from the Hawiye clan, those around the Mogadishu areas, so are they loyal to the government? [It] is a question everyone is asking for himself,” Abdisamed said.
Another challenge for the new government is how to administer territory being reclaimed from al-Shabab. The port city of Kismayo in southern Somalia is one of the most economically important claims in the last year.
Clans in the area are competing for control of the city, and trying to establish a new state in the area like the autonomous regions of Puntland and Somaliland in the north, challenging the central government which is trying to establish a stronger presence outside the capital.
The political struggle for control over Kismayo and the Jubaland region highlights the tension between Mogadishu and other regions of Somalia, an issue that could undermine the political progress made in the past year.