Somalia’s democratic transformation: Options for 2016

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud with UN Special Representative to Somalia Nicholas Kay. [Image via Vimeo]

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud with UN Special Representative to Somalia Nicholas Kay. [Image via Vimeo]

Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a two-part series examining Somalia’s constitutional process and the alternative routes that could be used to bring about a democratic transformation in 2016.

Somalia is at a crossroads. Although the security and governance challenges remain, the dark cloud of the “failed state” has at last departed. The country now is in transition and like any transitional country, it is suffering from structural problems; namely corruption, political nepotism, and lack of credible human resource. Most importantly, lack of political cohesion has led to dissolution of the Social Contract thus reestablishing political trust between the Somalis lies at the heart  of resurrecting the Somali state.

Some of the commentators on failed states underlined that “Somalia exemplifies the disintegration of the state-society relationship, specifically lacking the formation of a social contract between the state and society.” The argument is that as a clan based society, Somalis are acutely linked to their affiliated clans thus lacking the idea of belonging to something greater than the social structure- the state. Though this is a plausible argument it does not delve into the problems that have caused the disintegration of the state in the first place.

It is now April 2015 and the Somali Federal Government has barely begun to address many of the “transitional tasks” stipulated in the Provisional Constitution such as completing a final Constitution and securing an agreement on how a federal Somalia will operate. Most of the constitutional bodies have yet to be established and where established have suffered from severe delays. For example, the Independent Constitutional Review and Implementation Commission established in May 2014) has done very little work because of political and resource reason constraints and not because incapacity on the part of the commissioners themselves).

Elections are due in August 2016 but both the Somali political class and international community privately state that the “one man one vote” elections will not take place in 2016. However, the “elephant” in the room has not been discussed in public. The author has it on good authority that this will be a topic of discussion in the next high-level partnership forum around June 2015.

The herculean tasks such as completing a new constitution, outlining how power will be shared, the system of government and agreeing who is Somali (a topic which will prove to be highly divisive if the current definition is debated) and the setting up of commissions to define boundaries and electoral systems, have yet to take meaningfully shape.

State formation

State formation have begun with the establishment of  Interim South West Administration (ISWA) and Interim Jubba Administration (IJA)  however, two or three federal states are yet to  be formed. One of the emerging states (Central State) is experiencing constitutional and political difficulties. On the political side, it appears that President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is interfering with the process and not letting the local communities discuss the future of the state.  On the constitutional front, the process does not follow the Provisional Constitution’s roadmap outlined in Chapter 15.

With all these challenges, there has been a red line drawn by some of the international actors in Somalia that an extension of the term of the current government and the President is not an option. The international community appears to be breaking with the past in rewarding mediocrity of the Somali political elite. All of the three authorities in Somalia (Somaliland, Puntland and  the TFG) have been granted extensions in the past when their respective mandates expired even after they failed to execute their respective mandates. If this commitment is upheld, then this is a great step towards creating a culture of political accountability. Time is short, the pressure is high and in the absence of an extension, the question is how will the next government be ushered in?

This article will attempt to put forward some options while staying within the constitutional framework. It will consider the options that will approximate legitimacy. The right to elect one’s representatives and to influence the political direction of one’s government is democracy’s indispensable political foundation. The last time a general election was held in Somalia, it was in March 1967.

This piece will also attempt to answer the question: without free general elections, could there be the possibility for Somalis to express their will to change their leaders? In response to this, several issues will be considered that that are inextricably linked, chief among them, the constitutional process.

End of transition: More money vs. better legitimacy

In the transitional periods (Transitional National Government and the various Transitional Federal Governments), the major preoccupation for both Somali politicians and the international community was “ending the transition.”

However, both groups had different understandings of what this meant. For the international community this was transition towards democracy; for the Somalis, it was transition to an internationally recognized and permanent government. The latter’s aim could be argued to be more of economic in nature while generally speaking the international community was after a legitimate and inclusive government. For them, the priorities, above all other strategies, was consolidating legitimate and democratic governance.

The adoption of the Provisional Constitution by the National Constituent Assembly on August 2012  marked a notable milestone in Somalia’s journey back to statehood. Nevertheless, the constitution was indeed adopted provisionally. To end the transition, first a permanent constitution will have to be passed; this could either be adopted through referendum or another democratic mechanism such a Constituent Assembly. Second, the country must hold a general election  to usher in a new political dispensation. So far, none of these two steps have been undertaken.

The National Constituent Assembly approved the current  Provisional Constitution in August 2012 and a new parliament was ushered in through a process where elders from the various clans nominated members of parliament to represent their clans, a process that has been much criticized as lacking in transparency, among other things.

Despite the shortcomings of the process, both the Somali government and the international community declared that the National Constituent Assembly’s approval of the Provisional Constitution, elder’s selection of members of the parliament (The House of the People) and the selection of Mohamoud as the president of the Somali Federal Republic marked the end of a long “transition.” Many keen observers of Somalia noted that “this idea was going faster than its shadow”; the result of this has been a “permanent” government without any permanency thus both Somali leadership and the international community failed to get their respective desires: no money and no  legitimacy/democracy respectively.

Mohamed Jama-Aflaawe is a Sahan Journal contributor and a political commentator on Somali affairs. He can be reached at

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