|Join Our Mailing List|
Political tensions are building up in much of Somalia ahead of a historic debate on the country’s long-awaited constitution that is due for deliberations on May 15th. Religious interpretation or misinterpretation coupled with political misunderstandings over key articles in the draft federal laws is leading up to a highly controversial contest between supporters and opposition groups.
Sharp divisions are emerging as the country's transitional rulers charged ahead with the process that they believe would shape Somalia's political future and allow free and fair elections. Yet in much of the capital of Mogadishu and throughout the countryside, the constitutional process is an unmitigated disaster.
Somalia’s religious leaders have strongly come out opposing the proposed draft calling on the Somali populations to distance themselves from what they called a flawed process aimed to scuttle the country’s ongoing peace process.
“The letter of the constitution was written by foreigners, people who know nothing about Islam and the pristine traditions of Somalia. As it is now, it disintegrates the Islamic faith and the dignity of Somali people and thus it cannot be a constitution for a Muslim community like the Somalis,” Sheikh Mohamed Abdi Umal, a renowned Somali religious leader, said on his speech in Abubakar Mosque in Nairobi, Kenya on Friday.
There is a growing unprecedented level of cohesion among opposition groups that are amassing support capitalizing on the issue of religion and its interpretation in the proposed draft document. In the last couple of days, Somalia’s anti-constitution crusaders have been drawing a line on the sand with religious marks aimed to embarrass the authority of Sheikh Sharif.
“The draft constitution is against the Islamic religion. It denies the rights of Somali clans. We will not endorse this,” said traditional elder Ali Ahmed Ugas during a meeting with his clan (Mudulood) at Hotel NaasaHablood2 in Mogadishu on April 28 of this year.
The dissenting voice emanating from various religious leaders is receiving an overwhelming boost from a cross section of the society who believe that the constitution is against the fundamental creed of Islam, a religion followed by nearly everyone in the country.
The question of religion holds sway in Somalia and the voice of religious elements is one that matters among the predominantly Muslim community. Now opposition groups who are enjoying the backing of religious and traditional leaders are coming out more boldly than ever before, asserting pressure to overrun the demand of the interim government.
“I completely disagree on approving this constitution which has zero interest for the people and the country of Somalia. This is but a government agenda to prolong their power. This constitution is meant to create a new war and hostility among Somalis,” Asha Ahmed Abdalla, the leader of the Somali women's parliamentary group in Mogadishu, told Somalia Report.
The executives of Somalia’s beleaguered Transitional Federal Government (TFG) are tirelessly drumming up support for the enactment of the proposed draft laws with a strong backing from the United Nations Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS), the African Union (AU), the United States (US) and number of European countries.
The TFG sees things differently and has called on people to accept the constitution. They said the draft is the first step toward the democratization of Somalia. The constitution, they argue, would end the critical phase that the country is currently in and bring more stability.
But that request has been falling on deaf ears, one-by-one Somali political groups and figures expressed their rejection of the constitutional proposal and called citizens to vote against the document. The authority of President Shariff has to contend with huge homegrown opposition elements and civil society groups who have refused to throw their weight behind the fragile government, thus making the issue a thorn in the flesh of both the government and that of its international backers.
The intensity of the dispute will peak in the next few days when the 825 constituent assembly members start their deliberations. If opposition groups achieve a large representation in the coming assembly, they could have a lasting impact on the process of constitution making in Somalia.
Prime Minister Abdiweli has been emerging more of a spoiler if his recent addresses are anything to go by. His press release last week pointed to his political incorrectness and his lack of political tolerance that has already cost him so dearly, losing a significant vote from Somali professionals.
“Anyone who is not accepting the constitution is illiterate person....A country without constitution is not country, we are legitimate government and we have to indorse the constitution,” Abdiweli told local media on April 25th before the discussion meeting with the elders kicked off. This created more tension among tribes who asked the prime minister to apologize.
Regarding the constitution issue, President Shariff must be in seething anger and frustration as his own Hawiye clan strongly opposed the proposed laws. It was only last week when some 500 members of the Habar-Gidir clan announced vehemently that they are opposing the approval of the document.
“We (Habar-Gidir) are not satisfied the way the document is written, and the way it gives little priority to the Somali people. This is not good for the people of Somalia,” Mohamed Awale Maalim, a tribal leader of the Habar-Gidir told Somalia Report.
Elders and opponents claim the president and his prime minister are hijacking the whole process of constitution-making through usurping the voice and power of the ordinary Somali citizens and instead opting to play to the tunes of the international community.
“The president misled the nation and the Somali people, we were expecting good leadership from him but he betrayed the nation. We call upon Somalis to reject the constitution,” Mohamed Ali Osman, a member of Somali parliament, told Somalia Report.
Discontented by the process, many village elders, Somali legislators and professionals argue the draft as it is now is not suitable and not good for Somalia. The issue of foreign involvement in the drafting of the letter and spirit of the constitution is the driver of the debate that has confused the political arena of the country that is struggling to find some kind of respite from long civil wars.
“There are mysterious contents in the draft constitution; it is ambiguous in clarifying the basic requirement of the Somali president. Somalia’s borders are not shown in the constitution. This ambiguity is unacceptable,” Sheikh Nur Baroud, a Somali scholar, told local media in Mogadishu on May 3rd. This marks the second time he publicly criticized the plan. The first was during press conference with other scholars in Mogadishu on April 9th of this year.
Given the ongoing debate, the TFG that is facing an impending expiry of its mandate in a few months time may be living on a borrowed time and there is all the likelihood that the constitution will be shot down. Analysts argue that the government lacks enough public support to marshal its agenda of having the draft approved, making the authority of president sheriff to be in serious trouble.
Former Prime Minister Ali KhalifGaleyr accused the international community of too much interference while at the same time accusing the TFG of refusing to allow some form of democracy for opposition groups to raise their concern regarding the whole process.
“Who knows where this constitution comes from, nobody knows where it is from, its unknown and it is going to force the Somali people into a new kind of political crisis,” Galeyr told Somalia Report.
Puntland President Farole also expressed his opposition for the draft constitution calling it "unsuitable" for Somalia and reports indicate that today some Puntland elders walked out of the meeting and are returning to Puntland in protest.
"Our preliminary observations reveal the draft is definitely not shaped as a constitution for a country, let alone a war-torn country like Somalia," he wrote in a letter to members of the international community.