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The next couple of months are exceptionally decisive for Somalia where there will be a miasma of confusion regarding the constitution-making process that is generating heated political undertones, further overshadowing a major element of transition.
Analysts say the proposed law is seemingly a milestone, but one that may fracture Somalia further into autonomous and semi-autonomous regions as well as ministates. And just as the beleaguered administration in Mogadishu tries to get out of the Intensive Care Unit, the dispute has the potential to cut Somalia into pieces like a malevolent knife.
Somalia’s former Planning and International Cooperation Minister and current Member of Parliament (MP) Abdirahman Warsame described the contentious document as a sign of yet a big crash, if things are not to be handled properly and efficiently. “It is going to be a real trouble for Somalia if the debate on the draft document turns into a political blame game. That is why we say it must be handled with great care since the issue is very delicate,” MP Warsame told Somalia Report.
"We need to have extra eyes in the back of our heads to understand what will happen if we don’t exercise extra caution. There is all the danger,” he added.
While hopes to settle the long standing crisis in the Horn of Africa nation are waning, the TFG is in the eye of the storm struggling to put its house in order ahead of the historic debate on the proposed federal draft constitution on May 15th.
The raging row has raised doubts over the credibility of a process designed to set the rules for how Somalia is to be governed, adding a new challenge to the ruling TFG’s transition plans.
The elusive search for Somalia’s constitution has been on and off for the past seven to eight years. Since the inception of the transitional government of former president Abdullahi Yussuf in 2004, the road to acquiring appropriate laws was rough.
New lines of protagonists and antagonists have been freshly drawn and for a country like Somalia that has few reformists, the current standoff is a precursor to a new trend of bloodshed.
“In the past, Somalia suffered due to lack of a proper constitution and if we don’t deal with this issue properly then we will obliviously see a repeat of history,” warned Hassan Sheikh, the leader of the Party of Peace and Development, one of the political parties in Mogadishu.
“There is absolute confusion. There wasn’t any civic education to put across the letter and spirit of the proposed laws and this means that most people are not comfortable with the contents, many more have not heard about the whole process,” he told Somalia Report.
A mish-mash of religious and political disagreements plus grave misgivings about the content of the draft is all that will fail to pacify Somalia.
Amongst the contentious issues include the proposed model of government, the controversial issue of natural resources and the religious influence. Some players argue that the language of the draft is not understandable, an issue that can lead to various kinds of misinterpretation.
“There are a lot of articles that are confusing. The language is not accurately constitutional and every government that comes into power will translate into their own way,” said Sheikh. “This is absolutely ridiculous.”
Article 95 for instance briefly describes the role of the presidency as, ‘The President shall be a Somali citizen of more than 40 years of age, with an appropriate level of education and relevant experience, have the highest integrity and command the respect of the entire nation.’
The above article on the federal executive does not even talk about the personal quality of the president, this actually points to the laxity of the Independent Federal Constitutional Commission and that of the Committee of Experts in failing to clarify key issues like the personality of the president of Somalia.
Regarding several contentious articles, political commentators say the government must accept the advice of opponents in order to allow some form of democracy.
Analysts warn of dire consequences if urgent interventions are not done to postpone, redraft, or at least address some of the contentious issues.
“It lacks clarity, simplicity and practicability. It is written as a policy diktat paper. It devalues the Somali Citizenship and Somali Nationalism,” argued Mohamed Uluso, a US-based political commentator, in one of his latest posts.
“It is not prepared in adherence to the provisions of the Transitional Federal Charter and in accordance with the required constitution-making process which is completely different from the process of making a law,” he wrote.
Political arm-twisting and patronage is the order of the day as articles in the proposed laws are turning to be a rather noxious document. Already crowded alliances of opposition voices are cropping up throughout South-Central Somalia, where at least 11 regions have criticized the manner in which the process is going on.
Even those who support the proposal have issues with the selection of the constituent assembly that will discuss the matter this month. The current quixotic impasse between the supporters and those opposing the bills points into the vagaries of tribal politics.
"The issue isn't just about the dispute over the contents. It is related to an absence of public representation. I do not wish to be part of a constituent assembly that does not represent Somalia’s vision and mission," said traditional elder Mohamed Hersi.
Many Somalis argue that the composition of the planned constituent assembly constitutes a grave danger because the process will be monopolized by the TFG parties who they believe have a specific and politically oriented ideology to be able to draft a constitution tailored to their needs.
“They will be able to draft a new system of government which gives greater power to their dominancy to rule the state,” explained Hersi.
The assembly will comprise of 825 delegates from a cross section of Somali society to consider the draft constitution for two weeks and then vote on its provisional ratification.
Within this period, influential clan politicians have made into ring while Islamist insurgency groups have warned of the dire consequences of passing what they called an anti-Islamic law.
A Troubled TFG
Since 2004, internal pressures over how to handle Somalia’s endless transitional governments has hampered the immeasurable search for relative stability. Although there are signs that an important breakthrough can be achieved to handle the current delicate situation, experts on Somalia believe that the prognosis is not good.
Somalia’s major political challenges include the impending expiry of the transitional period, lack of proper constitution and insecurity. All the above factors form a huge obstacle to save the country from sliding back into a new wave of anarchy.
The TFG is accused of not considering options available to avoid the rejection of the laws in the current no-win situation. The fledgling authority only relies on a wing and a prayer to survive this time round in order to pave way for free and fair elections.
While changing the setup of the current situation is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack, the question of the federal constitution will remain to be a political football. Few options are open although the TFG is attempting to square the circles by introducing hidden amendments.
“We heard that there has been some form of overnight amendments, that won’t help for now. There is an urgent need to postpone the debate on the constitution because the whole issue was rushed. We need to make sure that Somalis understand how they will govern themselves,” proposed the former planning minister.
Analysts say the TFG should realize that its calling is to nurture democracy and reach some form of compromise to avoid an impromptu collapse of the whole process.
“As of now though, there are few opportunities to oil the wheels, it is like the debate is opening old clan wounds,” said Mohamed Abdi, a Mogadishu resident who opposes the constitution.
The vital questions are: can the current transitional setup produce a governing system to settle the decade’s long conflict once and for all? Will Somalia get out of the current abyss, the routine transitional crises, the vast political inequities, and the self-destructive profit objective leadership?
The authority of President Shariff hopes that Somalia will pass through the transitional process peacefully even when it has slim chances of overcoming a political debacle that looms large in the eyes of the troubled executive.
It is clear that the possibility of a major political upheaval worries the current TFG leadership and this explains why Premier Abdiweli Ali recently talked about failures of the past transitional governments.
In a press statement on the delivery of the draft federal constitution, the premier called up the historic furies of how disappointments and setbacks haunted the transformation process.
“The efforts of the TFG and the IFCC AND CoE was a culmination of eight years of sustained concentration on the constitutional making process, marred by failures, setbacks and successes,” Abdiweli said in a statement.
Finally, quick progress towards a new constitution in Somalia is extremely unlikely. Most probably, the term of the current TFG will expire before the new constitution has been approved. Commentators say the current situation was politically designed to create a new crisis.