On Wednesday, something happened in the Somali capital Mogadishu that did not attract big international headlines. Somalia’s National Constitution Assembly convened for the first time.
The NCA, composed of 825 delegates representing nearly all of Somalia’s clans, will adopt a new draft constitution that will then be put to a referendum before August 20.
If it all comes together, Somalia could create its first legitimate and democratic government in more than 40 years.
This has been made possible in large part because of the African Union’s peacekeeping project in Somalia, Amisom, which has been ongoing for five years.
Uganda sent the first contingent of Amisom troops to Somalia in 2007; was followed by Burundi a year later, and in the past 12 months Djibouti, Kenya, and lately Sierra Leone have all dived in. The Amisom force is now just over 17,000.
Ethiopia, a perennial intervener in Somalia, also had its most successful expedition into the country this time, capturing Baidoa and other key towns and handing them over to Amisom.
Back home, both Uganda and Ethiopia are facing succession battles to replace leaders who have been in power for over two decades — Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni since 1986, and Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi since 1991.
Of the two countries, the situation in Ethiopia is the most uncertain. Zenawi has been far more hamfisted than Museveni, and he is sick. Rumours of his being in a coma have set the Internet alight in recent days.
History is capricious and has a cynical sense of humour. If the constitution, referendum and subsequent election are pulled off, Somalia might have a freer election than either Burundi, Uganda, Ethiopia, or Djibouti have ever had under Pierre Nkurunziza, Museveni, Zenawi, or Ismail Omar Guelleh.
And, since it seems that a federal constitution of some sort is the only thing that will be acceptable to most Somalis, then Somalia might even have a more meaningfully devolved political system than Kenya’s!
Last year, in June, for example, Abdiwelli Mohammed Ali, was appointed prime minister after Mohamed Farmajo resigned following that much-criticised Somalia Accord signed in Kampala between President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Sharif Sheikh Aden, the Speaker of the Transitional Federal Parliament.
Still, it was the kind of transition that could not have been forced through so easily in Ethiopia or Uganda or Kenya. Since the signing of the Somalia Peace Agreement in Nairobi in 2004, Somalia has had seven prime ministers.
There is no peacekeeping or occupying country in Somalia that would have survived changes of as many prime ministers and three presidents in eight years.
In 1994, when Rwanda was still bleeding from a genocide in which nearly one million were killed, it was an East African basket case.
Today, its other failings notwithstanding, it the best example in many things like fighting corruption, and building and running a modern city.
I wouldn’t bet against Somalia too besting the region in some areas within the next five years.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group’s executive editor for Africa & Digital Media. E-mail: [email protected]. Twitter: @cobbo3