Have underlying agendas in Somalia's draft constitution gone unnoticed?
In 1961, the constitution of Somalia was overwhelmingly approved by the citizens of the newly-formed Somali nation-state. So, one might ask, what prompted the need for the new 'provisional' constitution passed on August 1, 2012?
Somalia is currently gearing up for the official end of its period of transition on August 20 when it will elect a new government and enshrine a new permanent constitution. There has been considerable controversy surrounding the new constitution, which was instigated, driven, and made a mandatory item in Somalia's transitional road map by external actors. More specifically, it was pushed by Somalia's 'ghost lords' - foreign elements who benefit from business as usual. As it is, this latest constitution may facilitate the further polarisation of Somali society and ultimately give rise to renewed civil conflict.
A deceptive draft?
According to BBC Somalia analyst Mary Harper, "The constitution appears to exist in a parallel universe, a fantasy land, when compared with the reality on the ground in Somalia". For example, Harper points out that, in a country where large regions are not under government control, ensuring universal access to education and ending female genital mutilation is unlikely to happen any time soon.
To give the new constitution a certain domestic authenticity, ghost lords outsourced their plan to a few corrupt Somali politicians motivated by money, prestige, or political expediency. Their task was to convince the populace that the new constitution was for their protection, and that it was essential for lasting peace.
But the devil is in the detail, and the new constitution was shrouded in secrecy for some time. Moreover, when the constitution was finally endorsed, several differing versions were released, creating a state of confused frustration.
Dissenters who dared to question the substance of the new draft, its timing, or the secrecy surrounding it were met with warnings of being labelled a 'spoiler' and of being referred to the International Criminal Court. All of this has combined to create a fearful environment that hinders the dialogue necessary to establish long-term plans for Somali reconciliation.
By the people, of the people, for the people
The current situation stands in stark contrast to the conference hosted by Turkey in Istanbul in May 2012, which was expressly for Somalis, by Somalis. It brought together some 300 Somali citizens from all walks of life, from traditional elders to academics, and activists, youth and women to diaspora representatives. This authentically Somali general assembly thoroughly examined the threats facing the nation and evaluated the critical factors that could lead to sustainable peace, reconciliation, good governance, and the cultivation of Somali unity.
After four days of rigorous dialogue, the assembly released a report that addressed the draft constitution, warning, "A social contract of this magnitude could not and should not be endorsed in haste, while blind-folded or in contention or under a cloud of suspicion".
Nevertheless the drafting of the provisional constitution has sped along and, as it stands, could in the future arguably contribute to weakened minority rights, land-grabbing, renewed violence, and ultimately the balkanisation of Somalia. One of the most frightening items in the new constitution states that the borders of Somalia can be discussed at a later date. What kind of constitution delays the critical importance of that nation's territorial integrity?
Regardless of its controversy, the international community, in particular the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has promised substantial funding to whomever is willing to promote the constitution.
The passing of the new constitution may be a victory for the ghost lords and the UN Special Representative for Somalia, Ambassador Augustine Mahiga, but it is a heavy blow for the nation-state once known as the Republic of Somalia and its continued unity.
At this critical juncture, the only way to salvage what remains of the Republic of Somalia is to put an end to local political squabbles. Somalis must unite, regardless of their political persuasion and geographical location and solidify their voices and resources to help the country retain its integrity and sovereignty as a cohesive nation-state. Sustained uprising, many will feel, may be the only means to thwart the new constitution. Until an independent parliament acts on its mandate and initiates genuine dialogue, free of external influence and focusing on reconciliation, progress will be slow.
Sadia Ali Aden is a human rights advocate and a freelance writer. Follow her on twitter @SadiaAden