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Draft constitution spurs debate among Somalis
Sabahi Online
Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mohamed Ali Mohamed was relaxed while answering the reporter's questions. Then, he excused himself to pick up a phone call. "Who are you? What do you want?" he asked loudly. A few minutes later, confused and perturbed, he said, "I think the lads just called me."

In Somalia, "dhalinyarada", or "the lads", is a nickname for al-Shabaab that does not draw attention in public.

Mohamed, an 18-year-old student of sharia law and jurisprudence at Mogadishu University, said even though he could not hear the call clearly, "the lads" were threatening him because of his involvement in sensitising the youth about Somalia's draft constitution.

Mohamed and a number of his university friends have been attending seminars organised by the National Somali Youth Council, which connects the government with youth in Mogadishu. Just a few days before al-Shabaab called him, Mohamed led a discussion on the role of Islam in the new constitution with students from various institutions in the capital.

"It was a very heated discussion topic," Mohamed said. "It was good to see young people addressing this issue. A lot of people out there have not read the document and just say that it is a Christian or secular document."

Many Somalis believe their country, which has had no central government for over two decades, is now on the verge of change. Just under a year after the removal of al-Shabaab from Mogadishu by the African Union forces, Somalia is scheduled to end the transitional government period, adopt a new constitution, and elect a president by August 20th.

Mogadishu's security has improved and is buzzing with activity as people vigorously discuss the draft constitution, which is being ratified by the National Constituent Assembly. Once ratified, it will serve provisionally until a national referendum can be held.

In the Village Restaurant, a newly opened, popular restaurant near the Zoppe junction, old Somali men pore over copies of the draft constitution and debate the applicability of some of the clauses, such as the role of religion in the constitution, and the minimum educational requirement for a presidential candidate.

"It feels good to see people debating over articles and clauses in the constitution and the role of a committee of experts," Mohamed said. "In the battle to regain sovereignty, at least the debate is going on in the cafes of Mogadishu."

Suldan Hassan, a retired civil servant from the Siad Barre regime, said that despite the obstacles to writing and adopting a new constitution, it is a step in the right direction. "The rule of law is important," Hassan said. "Of course, there will be challenges and mistakes made. But it is important we move forward."
Somalis in diaspora weigh in

Somalis who live in the diaspora are also actively following the debate over the new constitution and the process of building new institutions of governance.

Diini Bashir, a 25-year-old Somali student of medicine in Egypt, said that although he has not read the constitution, he has a lot of doubts about the document. Bashir also disapproved of involving the traditional elders in the process, as some of them are illiterate.

"What we are talking about here is a constitution," Bashir said. "If the Somali people are not going to vote on it, then you need experts with the right knowledge to look through it and pass it."

Khadar Mohamed, 28, who has lived in London for eight years, says that he is interested in how the draft constitution will address the issue of dual citizenship. "As you know, there are many Somalis who live in the diaspora and have foreign passports. It is not yet clear what our role and rights will be in the country we left. That question should be addressed."

Abdullahi Abdi, 27, who left Mogadishu for Nairobi two years ago, said a lot has changed in Mogadishu over the last few months and the new constitution could help solidify the progress. "Security is better. Businesses are growing. A new constitution might be good for the country," he said.

For Mohamed Ali Mohamed, the threatening call from al-Shabaab just showed how the insurgent group has weakened in the last few months.

"Somalia is really changing," he said, adding that despite the challenges lying ahead, "there is no stopping the creation of a better tomorrow."

"The ballot, the book and the pen will win over the bullets and the terrorists," Mohamed said.


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