Somali politicians, election officials, civil societies and representatives of minority groups on Wednesday met in Mogadishu to discuss the representation and participation of women, youth and minority communities in the 2020/21 national elections.
The town hall meeting, the fourth to be held in Mogadishu, was organized by Somalia Non-State Actors (SONSA), Somali Institute of Public Administration and Management (SIPAM) and the National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC), with the support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
Speaking at the opening of a panel discussion, the Deputy Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (DSRCC) for Somalia, Simon Mulongo, called for a massive sensitization campaign, to raise awareness among the populace, about the importance of participating in the electoral process.
"The people need to know about the law related to elections, about the institutional arrangements for conducting elections. How will the minorities be elected, for example? We have to educate and inform people about how the election process will be conducted. This means we must have an intense civic education," Mulongo said.
Participants engaged in vigorous discussions and candidly engaged with Members of Parliament and officials of the NIEC, on crucial issues particularly the draft electoral law.
Osman Muhidin Moalim, SONSA Chairman, called for further discussions on the draft electoral law, which is before a committee of the Upper House.
"We can brainstorm, discuss and agree on how best the election can be held so that we have a mutually agreed position," Mr. Osman said emphasizing the need for the youth to come up with ideas that will guarantee their participation, women, and minorities.
Ms. Zahra Mohamed Ahmed, the legal advisor for the Somali Women Development Centre (SWDC) who spoke on behalf of Somali women urged political parties to register and also reiterated the need for both increased sensitization and more women's representation.
"The youth need to work with our lawmakers to find the best and easiest way to gain their rights. The reality is that the voice (power) is with the civil society and the Somali public," Ms. Zahra explained.
Ms. Sadia Adan Ali, who spoke on behalf of the youth said the youth in Somalia face a number of challenges including insecurity, unemployment and lack of opportunities however she urged them to take advantage of existing opportunities to increase their participation in politics.
"The law has given us the youth an opportunity to elect and to be elected, upon attaining the minimum age of 18 years. We need to unite and take part in the on-going political process," Ms. Sadia said.
Said Hashi Warsame, a Commissioner in the NIEC, while responding to questions, noted that the role of the NIEC is purely supervisory.
"As a Commission, we are governed by the laws passed by the Parliament. If there is an issue which is not provided for by the law or is not supported by the law like the issue of women representation, youth or any other special group, there is nothing that we can do as a commission," said Mr. Said. He encouraged Somali women to lobby to have their interests included in the draft bill before it passed into law.
Somalia is expected to go to the polls and the public is eager to know when and how the elections will be held. AMISOM, in close collaboration with the Somalia security forces, will play a crucial role in securing the election.