Somalia’s tortuous journey back to electoral politics enters a critical phase this coming week, with the election of speakers to the two chambers of parliament, paving the way to the presidential election in May.
The long-winded process that saw the country first back away from universal adult suffrage in favour of a clan-based delegate system represents both the opportunities and potential pitfalls ahead for Somalia.
At best, it points to the emerging convergence of elite opinion and the return to a culture of elective politics. At worst, it could see the entrenchment of minority interests and the further alienation of the wider public from the political discourse. That would lead to the persistence of the very fissures that have held back progress and could be exploited by anarchists to derail the political transition.
The attempted attack on parliament by al-Shabaab this week speaks to just such a risk. It also points to the possible existence of subterranean rifts, despite the seeming picture of consensus in the public domain. That would give al-Shabaab latitude for survival as it becomes a pawn in the contest.
Al-Shabaab and its puppet-masters can only be denied opportunity if the political elite band together and send out a unified message to the public and potential detractors. The members of parliament need to demonstrate their relevance to the average Somali by parking their provincial interests in favour of a broad agenda for reconstruction that has both local and international appeal.
If Somalia fails to conclude the presidential election within the May deadline, all goodwill will be lost, funding will be hard to come by and the risk of the meagre achievements unravelling will be amplified. The current state of uncertainty is not healthy because it is economically disruptive and distracts from the main agenda.
More importantly, the key actors in Mogadishu need to become conscious of recent social shifts in Western society. The rising profile of the right in Western politics means that governments there are increasingly inward-looking. That means less aid and a lower appetite for interventions in places such as Somalia. The Ukraine crisis only compounds this problem because traditional donors have more pressing priorities closer home. Russia and China cannot fill the emerging gap.
Like all emerging economies, Somalia will have to increasingly work within its own resources for reconstruction and security. The current peace support missions are imperilled and unsustainable, which makes the need for internal resolution even more urgent.
Pressure needs to be applied to President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo and Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble to pause their chess game so that the presidential election can take place on schedule. And, just like the aspirants to the speakership have been compelled to do, contenders to the presidency need to sign up to a charter that commits them to accept and respect the outcome of the election.
Only a peaceful, democratic election and a coherent plan for economic and social rejuvenation will unite the country around a common purpose, give confidence to Somalia’s neighbours and deliver the country from conflict, disease and penury.