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Yesterday’s human-borne improvised explosive device that targeted a delegation of current and former Transitional Federal Government (TFG) officials in the city of Dhusamareb, in central Somalia, came against a backdrop of a renewed TFG crisis centred around the proposed draft constitution.
The delegation of TFG members of the Habar Gidir clan were rumoured to be there to lay the groundwork for the foundation of a new regional state and also to rally opposition against the draft constitution.
Interestingly, the Shabaab, a hardline Islamic group aligned with al-Qaeda, agree with them in opposing the constitution, but oppose their attempts to create a new regional state that they – perhaps correctly – believe to be a proxy state that will act in the interests of Ethiopia.
The draft constitution that was drawn up in the Somali National Consultative Constitutional Conferences held in Garowe, and known as the Garowe I and Garowe II principles, set strict guidelines regarding the creation of new states in Somalia, thus making the constitution very unpopular with the corrupt, power-hungry Somali politicians who see dollar signs when they look at a position of power.
Puntland, being the host of the Garowe conferences, managed to get for itself a particularly good deal. It is the only fully state recognised, with Galmudug recognised as a state that shall as soon as practical will “fulfil all the requirements for becoming a full federal state as stipulated in the Transitional Federal Charter”
Galmudug, clearly being unable to fulfil the requirements for a state under the draft constitution (holding a sustainable reconciliation process, and being made up of two regions which came together), have today reportedly opposed the draft constitution on the grounds that it is “against the Islamic religion,” according to the state’s federal and constitutional minister, Mr. Hassan Farah.
This line is normally used by Shabaab is now popular with anyone who wants to oppose the draft constitution, from the Islamist members of the TFG such as the former warlord, Indha Adde, to clan elders, to states such as Galmudug that exist mostly on paper , and barely in real life.
They have all seen, as the Shabaab have seen before them, that it is easier to connect with the average Mohamed in the street with religious allusion and make him see things your way than whine on the radio that the constitution is unfair to you because it denies you the opportunity for creating your own little state in your head, arbitrarily draw its borders on a map, declare its existence, partly work with pirates, and declare you are the frontline against piracy when that does not work out well.
To be fair to everyone who opposes the draft constitution except Galmudug (for the following reasons), not everybody was invited to the exclusive club that drew-up the constitution. Galmudug, Puntland, the TFG (including the sacked speaker of parliament who was sacked before the Garowe conference), and one representative of one faction of the pro-government militia Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa (“Khalif” Abdulqadir Moalim Nur of the Mogadishu ASWJ) signed Garowe II principles.
Everybody else mostly opposed it – and who can blame them? They had no say in formulating any part of the constitution and were not even invited to the deliberations. Expecting them to meekly submit to the will of an unelected few is an insult to their intellect and dignity.
The TFG seems hell-bent on making sure that the approval of the draft constitution goes ahead, and has started gathering elders in Mogadishu, as required by Garowe II, to appoint a constituent assembly that shall in turn choose 225 members of parliament.
While taking these steps at this moment when there is little support for the process is clearly insane, the TFG clearly have the backing of the international community, who have threatened to take action against 'spoilers' – people who are seen to be working to derail this “peace process”.
The reality is, this process being undertaken by the TFG to force an unpopular draft constitution – which, by the way, is not that bad, however unpopular it is – down the throat of reluctant Somalis, will potentially lead to more instability. I will be pleasantly surprised if this process leads to a democratic Somalia, let alone a peaceful one.
The TFG is powerless to implement its policy beyond the limited borders of Mogadishu, where African Union peacekeepers (AMISOM) muscle is invoked to threaten potential “spoilers”. Beyond the capital, the TFG can barely execute its orders, even in places such as the border regions recently liberated by Ethiopian and Kenyan troops, and which have “TFG” forces (these are mostly clan militias that use the TFG brand).
The TFG has to accommodate opposing views and work to bring disaffected parties into the process. This business as usual mode of sidelining opposition and threatening them with sanctions will not work. How many Somali clan elders or former warlords are really keen on travelling the world? Threatening them with banning their extortion-gathering checkpoints on the outskirts of Mogadishu on the Afgoi Road is more likely to get them worried than anything else.
The Shabaab, who have opposed the constitution as a sacrilegious document that intends to take the place of the Quran as a source of law, may have something in store for the delegates being massed in Mogadishu by the TFG; human-borne IEDs or roadside vehicle-born IEDs (a popular thing with the Shabaab nowadays; they are apparently being economical with their dwindling number of kamikazes) may be coming their way. I would be extra careful if I was an elder unfortunate enough to be in Mogadishu now at the invitation of the TFG.
The Shabaab have been earlier holding meetings with clan elders in their territory to make them release statements opposing the draft constitution. No prominent elder may cross from the Shabaab side to attend the TFG conference – a fact that may not worry the TFG: they need a representative of a clan, not the ultimate authority of a clan, replicating the Garowe II fiasco.
If that happens, Somalia will have a constitution that is recognised by the international community, a weak, increasingly irrelevant federal government, and Puntland. The rest of Somalia will be against the constitution, and that may mean many more years of instability caused by the stubbornness of a few in power supported by an apparently Somalia-clueless international community.