Somalia constitution review generates heated debate among leaders

Thursday March 21 2024

Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud addresses the media inside his office in Mogadishu, Somalia on February 21, 2024. PHOTO | REUTERS


Somalia’s overdue constitutional review is generating a heated debate even as leaders and other stakeholders search for a way that could create a suitable supreme law.

The review was part of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s pledges when he took power in May 2022. The other promises included tackling Al Shabaab menace, getting Somalia’s debt forgiven and having the arms embargo lifted. The last two have, sort, of been achieved. Security and legal review, it appears, are the most sensitive, however.

On Tuesday, several dozens of Somali parliamentarians from the combined bicameral chambers issued a videotaped statement opposing the way the constitution is being debated at the parliament as part of its review before implementation.

Yusuf Gamadeed, a legislator, read the statement on behalf of his colleagues, stating that parts of the Provisional Constitution currently in use have been modified with new insertions without adequate consultations.

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“We are entirely worried by the manner in which the constitution is being altered including departing from the consensus reached on governing system for the country,” the statement said.


Some commentators like Abdisaid Muse Ali went as far as blaming Somalia’s leadership to tackling terrorism, which in effect has affected the discussions around constitutional review.

Ali, a former Foreign Affairs minister, used X, formerly Twitter, to circulate his critical message, “FGS (Federal Government of Somalia) cannot demonstrate a serious political commitment and Cohesive-Somali owned strategy to fight & defeat AS (Al Shabaab).

“HSM (President Hassan Sheikh) administration outsourced the fight to the US military and their proxies,” he added.

But Americans have been closely following the constitutional debate just as much as the counter-terrorism measures in Somalia, where they recently sanctioned some 16 entities associated with financing terrorism.

Last week, the United States Chargé d’Affaires in Somalia Shane L. Dixon met with Former Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed to discuss regional security and Somalia’s ongoing constitutional review.

“The United States supports a review process that is inclusive and incorporates input from a broad group of stakeholders,” the US dispatch said on Wednesday last week following the meeting.

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Later, Ahmed posted on his Facebook page the discussion with the US diplomat focused on ways of involving all political stakeholders into the review.

Indeed, Ahmed had earlier met with former Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo who has recently returned to Mogadishu after spending nearly two years abroad, especially in Turkey and Qatar.

According to Ahmed’s account, the two former presidents discussed at length that the current modality of reviewing the provisional constitution require as much inclusive consultation.

“We agreed to advance our meetings and consultations, paving the way for wider participation by politicians and interested sections of the public,” Ahmed remarked, following meeting with Farmaajo.

There have been wider concerns about the lack of wide consultations on the constitutional review was voiced out by Former Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre and other noted politicians.

Constitution rewriting in Somalia is not new. In fact, it has been going on for over two decades, effectively since the first Transitional National Charter (TNC) was agreed on by the participants of the Reconciliation Conference at Arta town in Djibouti in 2000. Hundreds of Somali delegates attended.

Main contributors of the TNC were actors from the civil society. It didn’t get traction largely because important stakeholders had no contribution to it. The faction leaders who ruled fiefdoms and commanded armed militias would later be invited to the reconciliation conference that was held at Mbagathi in Nairobi in 2004.

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The TNC was enriched to become the Transitional Federal Charter (TFC). But, knowing that even TFC was short of being a complete constitution, more efforts were made by successive governments until it was improved to become a Provisional Constitution by over 800 delegates drawn from across Somalia in 2012.

For over a decade, successive Somali governments have been struggling to turn the provisional constitution into a fully-fledged supreme law.

One of the missing provisions include the type of governance to adopt and the distinct roles between federal states and the federal government. It must also state how many federal states should exist in Somalia. The federal system has seen the number of federal states increase to five: Puntland, Jubbaland, Hirshabelle, South West and Galmudug.

Without a cap on the states, there has been agitation by some local communities especially on the border between Puntland and the breakaway region of Somaliland to create a new state. The Somali constitution must also clarify relations with Somaliland which refuses to be a part of the federal system in spite of being considered a part of Somalia.

Now, the concerns are that different stakeholders see different solutions, some contradictory.

The National Consultative Council (NCC) that comprise of the leaders of the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) and leaders of four Federal Member States (FMS) met in May 2023 (in the absence of Puntland that refused to attend).

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and the president of the states of Galmudug, Hirshabelle, South West and Jubbaland plus the Mayor of Mogadishu decided that the provisional constitution needed fundamental reform. Thus, in their communiqué at the end of the summit in Mogadishu on May 27, 2023, the NCC proposed that Somalia moves from parliamentary democracy to presidential system.

That means the country is led by an elected president and a vice-president, while the post of prime minister is abolished. The Prime Minister is often nominated by the President and endorsed by parliament. After that he forms a government he heads.

Other agreed items include, the country to have two political parties as in the US. A 15-member national election and border committee is to manage all local, regional and federal elections.

The current provisional constitution does not limit the number of political parties, even though those parties themselves have often been inferior to clan power arrangements.

The notable absence from the NCC meeting was the president of Puntland, one of the federal member states, who expressed dissatisfaction with the procedures.

Dr Afyare Abdi Elmi, a professor at City University in Mogadishu indicated that one of the drawbacks of the NCC’s proposal to revise the constitution is lack of inclusivity.

“Since the leaders have reached the proposal to review the constitution in the absence of Puntland and Somaliland (the breakaway region) indicates lack of inclusivity,” stated Dr Elmi.

 “This lack of inclusivity will persist unless the absent stakeholders are either convinced or forced to join the process.”

Many politicians and other influential figures in Somalia warn against amending the sections of the provisional constitution without due consultations.

On Wednesday last week, Former President Farmaajo shared a videotaped clip, focusing on lack of inclusivity in the reviewing and competition of the constitution.

He warned the federal parliament against rushing to unilaterally review the constitution, indicating that it may attract bad consequence.

“Our country is still administered under Chapter 7 of the United Nations (that deals with the concept of trusteeship in the context of the Security Council),” stressed Farmaajo, adding that intervention is always possible is the international community care for us.

“But, if we make a mess and the international community does not interfere it may lead us loss of our statehood and fragmentation, everybody returning to respective villages,” he added.

In the past, Puntland President Said Abdullahi Deni indicated that the members of the NCC that met in his absence and discussed major issues like the ‘Special Status of the Somali Capital,’ the type of leadership, the power separation between the levels of the government at federal and state.