UNDERSTANDING THE POLITICAL PROCESS IN SOMALIA

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BY MOHAMED OMAR

AUGUST, 2019

Somalia has a history of democratic and multi -party political process. In the early 1960s, there were honest efforts of reforming the political processes into a more democratic space. In that time, Somalia was one of few democratic countries among the newly independent African countries.  A key component of any democratic and inclusive political system is elections.  Somalia attained her independence from United Nations (UN) trusteeship under Italian colony on July 1, 1960.  During this period, the political parties in Africa were founded under the influence of colonial rule and anti -colonial rule. Few of these parties have been able to survive to date as major reforms and transitions have been experienced within the political landscape in Africa. Obviously, the continuing sustainability of emerging political parties in Somalia could become an issue if the Parties do not receive adequate resources and capacity development through political elites, government, and international support. Elections allow people to review the mandate of their leaders and vote either to allow them to continue working or substitute them with new leaders. But beyond simply changing leaders, elections are an important component of sovereignty and public participation. This allows for a broader understanding and practice of citizens in their country’s Affairs.

The formation of the Republic of Somalia led to the development of public institutions and increased awareness of political and educated elites on the essential principles of governance in the early years. Nonetheless, a combination of socio- economic and political factors challenged this process. First and which remains most significant was the task of combining two regions with different colonial backgrounds. The territory of Somalia had two different colonial administrative experiences under the British and the Italians. Combining the two regions continues to be an elusive endeavor to date. There were other serious challenges that Somalia experienced in the early years, these include; widespread insufficient skills, uneducated labour force to formulate, implement and oversee sophisticated planning strategies necessary for the development and growth of the country.

Another problem is that the people tasked with running the country either did not know how modern democratic institutions operated or intentionally opted not to drive the country to be a democratic state. Either way, the consequence of this is that the country quickly slid into authoritarianism and dictatorship begun to characterize the country’s political scene. At this stage, elections became mere formalities and were nor free or fair. The entire political process lost public trust as the government resulted to governing using coercive apparatus. No doubt that the events of 1991 that led to the collapse of the government had been significantly influenced by the political process of the previous years. In comparison, the current government of Somalia is facing the same challenges as in the decades past. These problems include internal conflict, foreign intervention, insecurity, unemployment, and political instability. Despite having difficulties, the state building and inclusive political process and providing basic public services to the citizens and attaining one person one vote election in 2021, is crucial and remains the core responsibility for the current government.

In looking at the political and electoral process in Somalia, one would contend that a lot of work needs to be done. Over 30 years of civil war have disrupted the political scene leaving much of what we see to be a state of nature where only the strong and powerful get their way. However, it does not need to be this way. The future of Somalia is largely dependent on the social, political and economic models that will be constructed today.

That is why the reform efforts by the current government are a welcome sign for a better future. But while we remain extremely optimistic, I must acknowledge that the journey will not be easy. First as a country must develop means that will ensure those individuals who will be mandated to run affairs on behalf of the people are selected not because of the dominance or weakness of their clan but rather their capacity and potential to drive forward the Somalia agenda of growth and prosperity. Secondly any efforts to establish a stable and sustainable political structure must involve strengthening relevant institutions that will play an important role in protecting the interest of the citizens. For example, efforts must be put in place to ensure that the elections conducted are not only open for any Somali adult to participate in, but the results must reflect the will of the people. Meaning elections must be free, fair and transparent. To achieve this independent election board will have to be constituted, the judiciary and security organs must at all-time remain neutral and the constitutional provisions that touch on elections remain protected. Leaders must respect office term limits to allow other competent Somalis to also contribute in building the nation. I recommend that higher education institution be involved in providing training and capacity building programs to public servants involved in election management.  This way the country can be able to open a new chapter for many generations to come.

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