Somalia & Democracy: An Oxymoron?


Somali pirateBy: Yasin Ali

It takes years of learning, patience and dedication to achieve a full democracy and it is the hope of every Somali to see Somalia holding fully democratic elections in 2016—a hope that can be achieved.

On August 20th, Morgan Lorraine Roach of The Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington based think-tank, wrote an article titled Somalia’s Government Transition Maintains the Status Quo. In her article, she argues that the process of creating the new permanent government that is to replace the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was flawed and undemocratic. She further argues that due to the flawed and undemocratic process that created the new permanent government, the Obama Administration should not reward poor governance by: withholding bilateral assistance to the new government, continuing to support the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and recognizing Somaliland. This article serves as a response to her arguments.

A Flawed and Undemocratic Process

Due to the Somali people not being able to vote for the members of the new permanent government of Somalia the process of creating the new government of is in no doubt undemocratic. Due to the security situation in some parts of the country and Al-Shabab controlling the southern regions of Somalia, a countrywide election could not have been possible. Instead of a democratic election, a system was used that is undoubtedly the next best option given the constraints and the desire to form to a representative government.

For a very long time Somali elders have been the leaders of Somalia. For centuries they have served as judges under the Somali customary legal system known as Xeer, and most recently during the last twenty years of the Somali civil war due to the absence of proper judicial institutions. Respected by many, they are considered to derive their authority as the guardians of their various communities, and the Somali nation. With the absence of direct elections due to security issues, the Somali elders are the next best solution in terms of creating a representative government and it is indeed a step forward to a full democracy in Somalia.

The creation of the new permanent government was guided by the Somali elders, from appointing the 885 members of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) which approved the draft constitution, to the selection of the new members of parliament. This is not to say the process was perfect—far from it in reality. There have been reports of corruption during the appointment of the members of the new parliament, and threats that have been issued to the members of the Technical Selection Committee (TSC) which is charged with ratifying and overseing the selection of the new legislators.

But, compared to the previous members of the parliament selected in Kenya and Djibouti, the members of this new parliament are considered to be the most qualified and educated MPs Somalia has had during the last three decades. This is due to the TSC requiring the new legislators to be at least high school graduates, free from having ties with any warlord, and not to have committed any atrocity during the civil war. The TSC have so far rejected close to 70 parliamentary nominees who have not met the above criteria.

International Community Support

The United Nations, United States, European Union and other international partners have welcomed the inauguration of the new Federal Parliament of Somalia, and rightly so. “The Somali people have waited 20 years for peace to take root in their country. Now is the time to begin a new chapter in their history,” said the spokesman of the Secretary General of the U.N. The congratulations come after the international community has supported and funded the TFG during its mandate.

Although senior members of the TFG have been accused of corruption, the government has achieved some progress in its fight against Al-Shabab. For the first time since the civil war, Mogadishu has managed to regain some normalcy. It is in the interests of the international partners, including the United States, to see this success replicated to other parts of the country under Al-Shabab rule.

At the present, the major concerns of the U.S and other international partners of Somalia is not bad governance but the threat of Al-Shabaab and the problem of piracy in the region. The author’s proposal of the Obama Administration to withhold bilateral aid to the new government directly goes against these U.S interests. The withholding of bilateral assistance to the new government will significantly weaken the government’s aim to rebuild the institutions of the country and its fight to liberate the areas controlled by Al-Shabaab. Funding only AMISOM forces and not Somalia’s security forces will also cause major problems. If history can tell us one thing it is that Somalis do not allow foreign armies to be in their country for a long period of time. As soon as AMISOM manages to liberate the territories under Al-Shabab rule, there is a high likelihood of Somalis demanding AMISOM to withdraw from Somalia. Withholding aid to train and fund the Somali security forces will only ensure that there will be no well-trained Somali forces to take over the command. Further, withholding of bilateral assistance to the new government will not stop corruption and bring good governance, but collapse a government that badly needs international support to succeed.

These interests aside, the international community has a responsibility to ensure that the resources and funding allocated to the Somali nation are used as intended. The creation of the Joint Financial Management Board at the London Conference on Somalia by the international community is a step forward in tackling corruption, increasing accountability and transparency. As the Somali institutions develop, it will then be up to the Somali people themselves to ensure corruption is eradicated.

On the issue of Somaliland’s recognition, the U.S and the other members of the international community recognizing Somaliland will only cause conflicts and division in Somalia. There is no doubt that Somaliland has achieved some success during the last twenty years, but the only way to avoid a fresh conflict and the bloodshed of the Somali people are direct talks and negotiations between the new government and Somaliland leaders.

One thing the author seems to be getting wrong is that this is not a new governance system for Somalia but a significant milestone and a path to a representative democracy. Many democratic systems around the world, including the United States, weren’t built overnight. It took learning, patience and dedication to achieve a full democracy. It is the hope of every Somali to see Somalia holding elections in 2016—a hope that can be achieved. But for now, considering the situation Somalia is in, the system in place is the next best thing to a representative government.

about Yasin Ali

Yasin Ali is a student at Wake Forest University studying Politics and International Affairs. Follow him on twitter @iamyazi