A gathering of Somali leaders has overwhelmingly backed a new constitution, paving the way for a new government to be elected this month.
The vote came shortly after two bombers blew themselves up outside the meeting venue in the capital, Mogadishu.
Almost all the delegates voted for the new constitution
Under a UN-backed plan, a new parliament will choose the next Somali leader on 20 August.
Somalia has been devastated by two decades of conflict and an al-Qaeda linked group controls many areas.
Its last functioning national government was ousted in 1991 and the anarchy has enabled both pirates and Islamist groups planning attacks around the world to set up bases in Somalia.
“This is an historic day – today we have witnessed the completion of a task that has been worked on for the last eight years,” said Constitutional Affairs Minister Abdirahman Hosh Jabril.
Among the most significant elements of the new constitution are:
- A bill of rights, with everyone declared to be equal, regardless of clan or religion
- Islam is the only religion of the state, and no other religion can be propagated in the country – however, this was also the case previously
- Female genital mutilation – a widespread practice – is outlawed
- Citizens have the right to be educated up to secondary level
- A Truth and Reconciliation Commission is to be established
- Territorial disputes should be settled peacefully – Somalia has gone to war with both Kenya and Ethiopia over its claims to their Somali-inhabited regions
- Somalia will have a federal system – however the status of Mogadishu, the borders and distribution of power and resources between the regions are yet to be decided
The new constitution promises many things. It says every citizen shall have the right to free education up to secondary school. It describes female circumcision – widely practised in Somalia – as tantamount to torture, and bans it. It says children should not be used in armed conflict.
All well and good. But the constitution appears to exist in a parallel universe, a fantasy land, when compared with the reality on the ground in Somalia.
Although security is improving in some parts of the country, Somalia is more a patchwork of semi-autonomous statelets than a unified territory. The Islamist militia al-Shabab occupies significant parts of Somalia, and carries out terror attacks in Mogadishu and other places no longer under its full control.
Contentious issues remain unresolved, including the allocation of power and resources between the centre and the regions. This is where ferocious arguments are likely to develop, and possibly become violent.
If this happens, the transition process – in which so much time, money and hope has been invested – would simply cause the complexion of the Somali conflict to change, rather than bringing it to an end. Read more…