Somalia’s New Constitution [Updated]

Somalia is completing a political transition – or what some analysts are calling “a transition to a transition.” The country’s leaders have missed certain deadlines. Yesterday, several weeks late, members of the Constituent Assembly voted overwhelmingly (621-13, with 11 members abstaining) to pass a new constitution, replacing the 2004 Transitional Federal Charter.

As the Christian Science Monitor writes,

Wednesday’s move is one of three key milestones on a “road map” to peace that includes a deadline of Aug. 20 for all of the current transitional government bodies to hand over power to permanent successors…Somalia’s leaders must before then also select a new 275-seat parliament and elect a new president.

You can read comments on the constitution’s passage from Somali government ministers and the president of the semi-autonomous Puntland region here, and comments from United Nations officials here.

I have not been able to find the text of the new constitution. (UPDATE: Commenter Quentin posted a link to this draft version of the constitution.) Of articles that I have seen, the BBC has provided the most detailed analysis of its provisions. The BBC waxes fairly pessimistic, saying that provisions ensuring universal education and banning female genital cutting – some of the planks that have attracted the most media attention – are going to be difficult to enforce. Even more seriously, core questions of how governance will work are left vague or unstated:

Somalia will have a federal system – however the status of Mogadishu, the borders and distribution of power and resources between the regions are yet to be decided.


This is where ferocious arguments are likely to develop, and possibly become violent.

If this happens, the transition process – in which so much time, money and hope has been invested – would simply cause the complexion of the Somali conflict to change, rather than bringing it to an end.

Pessimists (with whom I sympathize), then, are more doubtful about long-term success than they are about short-term transitional milestones. After all, chances look good that Somalia will hold presidential elections by August 20 or thereabouts, possibly resulting in the re-election of current President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

CSM quotes one analyst who expresses the long-term challenges succinctly:

It will be years until national popular elections can be held, and analysts pointed out that the parliament would for some time be “selected rather than elected.”

“The new constitution is a major milestone in terms of the deadline of Aug. 20,” said Abdirashid Hashi, Somalia analyst with the Crisis Group’s bureau in Nairobi.

“But in terms of a true, good and democratic government for Somalia, it’s very far from that. Essentially, it’s handing over from one interim authority to another, from one transition to another.”

As a coda, it is worth mentioning the double suicide bombing that occurred outside the Assembly’s meeting place yesterday. One bomber was shot, and the other detonated his bomb, injuring several policemen. While the attack essentially failed, it symbolize’s the country’s continued instability and violence – as did a bombing at the rebuilt National Theater this April. Throughout 2012, the media has been reporting a renaissance and an economic boom in the capital Mogadishu, and my initial skepticism about those claims has slowly faded – yet, as one analyst told me, the gains in Mogadishu remain extremely vulnerable to politics (including the politics of violence).

9 thoughts on “Somalia’s New Constitution [Updated]

  1. Some trivia re/Somalia’s constitution:

    1. It is rated as one of the top 25 constitutions world-wide.

    2. It cost a whopping $ 50 million
    and took 8 years of expert deliberations and very little time to digest it. 

    3. The two northern peaceful administrations of Somalia congratulated it nevertheless. 

    4. The devil is in the details and ultimate implementation.  Areas to watch carefully is devolution of power, the source of Somalia’s plight.
    If practiced the way it is written, Somalia will be united, prosperous, peaceful, FEDERAL nation. If not, God help us.  It will be complete setback if the northern administrations are once again forced to be controlled by one city.   

    5. This ambitious constitution deserves worthy , visionary leaders to implement it and population willing to adopt it. With Somalia’s long traumatized people as well as entrenched myopic political elites, I defer my ultimate judgment to a latter date.

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