Yesterday was to mark the end of Somalia’s political transition, and be the date of presidential elections. Yesterday did see an event of political significance – the swearing-in of 215 new parliamentarians – but the election did not take place, meaning the transition will continue to stumble forward.
Monday — the last day of eight years of Somalia’s U.N.-backed Transitional Federal Government — was the day by which the U.N. repeatedly said a new president would be in place. But political bickering, violent threats and seat-buying schemes delayed progress, guaranteeing the day would come and go with no new leader in place.
Nonetheless, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated the people of Somalia “on reaching this watershed moment on their road to peace, stability and political transformation,” U.N. deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said.
He urged clan elders to complete the seating of all parliament members within a few days and called on the new parliamentarians to prepare for elections of a speaker and president so that the country’s political transition can be completed promptly and peacefully “in an environment free from intimidation,” del Buey said.
Other steps in the transition have been delayed too, but missing the deadline for the presidential election is the biggest hitch yet.
Nearly all commentators, even the optimists, are sounding notes of caution about the viability of the new government. As the International Crisis Group, which takes a critical and fairly pessimistic tone, points out, the transition has been problematic and is set to remain so.
The current political process has been as undemocratic as the one it seeks to replace, with unprecedented levels of political interference, corruption and intimidation. The end of the transition roadmap process – that is supposed to usher in an inclusive political dispensation – may fail to bring stability. Convening an incomplete parliament and electing a contested, tainted leadership in Somalia’s polarised political environment could easily unravel the painstaking humanitarian, political and security progress made in the past three years.
One problem for the immediate future is the absence of a publicly announced timeline for the presidential election. Crisis Group predicts
Barring a full-blown meltdown, the selection and ratification of the lower house parliamentarians (however tainted) could still be completed in coming days if not weeks. But then the new body must elect a speaker, deputies and a president. The president also has to appoint a prime minister within a month who must then assemble a cabinet in 30 days, pending approval of the parliament. All these tasks will take time and the earliest Somalia could realistically have a fully working government is late October.
For another perspective, I recommend reading this interview with the BBC’s Mary Harper, who is somewhat more optimistic about the new government’s chances of success:
I think there’s so much will, both from within Somalia and also from the international community, which is thoroughly fed up with basically holding whatever Somalia administration exists, kind of holding it in its hands and financing it, and directing it and trying to influence it. And I think Somalis in Mogadishu, where I was recently, they’re so fed up with violence. And you kind of get the feeling that there is a momentum building now, whereby people will have more to gain from peace than from war.
And if that balance can be kind of shifted, then I can imagine that the new political administration might have enough of a sort of energy for it to establish not peace and security that the rest of the world might understand, but, relatively speaking for Somalia, something that would enable that territory to advance economically and therefore, become less likely to fall back into this endless cycle of violence.
What do you think? Where do you see this transition heading?