Democratic Elections in Somalia Can Wait, Cohesive Politics Can’t – By Abdihakim Ainte
At his swearing-in speech in December 2014, Somalia’s new prime minister, Omar Sharmarke, promised to speed up progress towards the country’s “˜Vision2016′ goals. This essentially means holding a national democratic election – a novel one-person one-vote exercise – towards the end of 2016, when the current government’s mandate comes to an end. The prime minister acknowledged that there are significant shortfalls towards achieving Vision2016, yet he didn’t spell out how he intends to effectively remedy these.
Prospects for holding elections in 2016 are growing more elusive by the day. With the scheduled timeline, almost everything that would be required to make elections happen seems distant. For example, the electoral commission, political parties and electoral infrastructure are all yet to be established.
Vision2016 comprises several distinct transitions; reviewing the provisional constitution, completion of the federal system, establishing federal member states and building capable government institutions. But none of these benchmarks have been successfully completed, despite a great deal of resources and time spent on them.
Since Vison2016 came into being in 2013, the country has suffered from cyclical political-infighting between the president and PM that has stalled progress towards achieving the vision. This has had a negative impact on already weak government institutions. As a consequence of this, the security situation has gone from bad to worse, and Al-Shabaab has struck back in brazen fashion, increasing urban guerrilla attacks.
These problems are compounded by the appalling political environment throughout the country. In less than two years, the president has sacked two prime ministers. Whilst the fundamental source of the political-infighting has its roots in the provisional constitution, the bigger problem lies in not addressing the problem, but rather watching it to unfold at the expense of public institutions.
Politics Cannot Wait
The most critical aspect of holding democratic elections is political cohesion. The country is more politically fragmented than ever before. Take, for example, the parliament that has become a theater for political absurdity and a source of instability in the country. An enormous amount of time has been spent squabbling over trivial political motions and less debating key legislation that could have paved the way for elections. In fact, and more disappointingly, the parliament has passed fewer than eight bills and dismissed two PMs in no-confidence votes in less than two years.
Moreover, the president has spent his tenure empowering a type of crony politics and supporting members of his own clique. He therefore failed to build a broad-based political consensus. Trust between the central government in Mogadishu and regional administrations has eroded due to a lack of inclusive politics and the unequal sharing of federal resources and power. Today, across the country, a regional fragmentation through the federal constitution is taking place.
Although the president has reached out to some regional administrations, these relationships remain fraught. Some have cut ties with the Federal Government, and others are threatening to follow.
Al-Shabaab and Security
The second and perhaps equally critical aspect is security. The country remains under regular assault by Al-Shabaab insurgents. Just last week, in one of the most sophisticated raids it has ever attempted, Al-Shabaab infiltrated AMISOM’s heavily fortified military camp and killed several soldiers. Following the attack, al-Shabaab released a statement detailing how the operation was coordinated and conducted.
Whilst the primary objective of Operation Indian Ocean – a joint military operation between the Somali military, AMISOM and the United States – was successful in decapitating the organization’s leadership, it has allowed many fighters and jihadists to retreat back into society. While the structure, hierarchy, morale, and command and the control of Al-Shabaab have been degraded, it remains capable of penetrating highly fortified places and carrying out sophisticated attacks.
There is currently an unprecedented level of terrorism and crime in Mogadishu. The government’s own survival depends on 22,000 African troops – operationally known as AMISOM – comprised of troops from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Its own national troops – roughly 18,000 – are grossly underpaid, poorly trained, lack organizational coherence and function largely as ethnic and private militiamen, rather than a national, unified, disciplined army. It’s no secret that some elements of the Somali National Army engage in rape and other forms of sexual harassment, extortion, kidnapping and are often complicit in insider attacks.
Instead of rushing to the ballot box and front-loading Vision2016 goals, the PM should devise a more realistic course of action. That should start with a debate on how to sustain and strengthen the current gains made by the government and its AMISOM partners.
Rapid projects that attempt to make a transition towards democracy in fragile situations like Somalia are perilous and often have unintended consequences. Democratic elections can wait in Somalia.
Abdihakim Ainte is a Somali political commentator and consultant. He tweets @Abdikhakim
I really like the way you have put the analysis, how meaningful and precise.
I think you could have mentioned a quite dramatic achievement by the government in terms of its initiative of forming state governments, mentionable the South-west and Gal-mudug.
I agree with you that the president spent his tenure with meaningless game, and looking opportunities for his cronies rather spending time to serve the nation
Kudos A Ainte;
Good and well founded article.
I agree too.
You are spot-on Somali wants to be baby seated by the wold. They are delaying adulthood through procrastination and misplace priorities. They are just very interesting
A Fundamental Civic Electoral Question
One fundamental electoral question to consider is: What type/kind of electoral system is the best suited for a particular region. For electoral practitioners this is indeed a compelling question/issue of ontological concern. The multiplicity of responses which can be generated only further illuminates the inherent complexity entailed in this discussion concerning the positives and negatives of a particular system of electoral process. Therefore, I intend to suggest another perspective which may provide and generate the ‘connective electoral tissue’ as to what may be the best kind/type of electoral system best suited to address the needs of a particular region. ‘Civic Electoral Appreciation and Understanding’ is for me be the normative electoral systemic marker whereby the majority of electoral participants understand, appreciate and respect the probative validity of the electoral operational system being used in determining expressive civic choice which at all times must be open–fair–free from bias and other elements of pernicious suasion. The process of civic electoral appreciation entailing full understanding will be a multi-generational long term civic educative trenching process whereby civic values and considerations become more than words on a regulation or statute or even a legislative promulgation. Rather, this long term civic educative process if prescriptively valid should reduce gender bias including ethnic and religious animus. No electoral system will be able to function if the national citizen participants do not respect or not endorse the process as being fundamentally sound as electoral fairness is a normative construct most difficult to impose. The civic inclined citizens must themselves appreciate the inherent complexities and vagaries entailed in any type/kind of electoral system which is designed to be both inclusive and objectively neutral ensuring that each and every electoral voice is both heard and respected notwithstanding the post electoral outcome. Assuming the citizen electorate participant appreciates the inherent nuance existent in an electoral system in that no particular electoral system can address all the multi-varied concerns which does not imply that the fundamentals ensuring gender neutrality as well as normative electoral probity of political party expression and conduct is mandated to ensure full free expression safe from violence and any other form of intimidation can the citizen elector ever hope to fully respect the system ensuring at least a thin obedience to the “rule of law” which can only enhance the growth and stability of a region type state such as found in the emerging post conflict states.