Of late, the most oft-repeated phrase in Somalia seems to be Vision 2016.
Visions, particularly when discussing countries, are usually about long-term, strategic and often developmental goals. Not in the case of Somalia. Vision 2016 is a purely political document crafted in September 2013 at the behest of, and under the auspices of, the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS).
The stated objective of the vision is to achieve six specific political goals. Among the most important elements – and one the vision takes its name from – is the pledge to hold democratic elections in Somalia come August 2016.
The current government was formed in August 2012 and its mandate ends in 2016. Since 2000, all the previous Somali governments have been transitional in nature, but not this one. It was legally and technically designated as a non-transitional government – a label bestowed on it by the international community, although in reality the current government looks a lot like its predecessors in terms of how it came into being (selection of MPs by clan leaders).
Other salient features of Vision 2016 include turning Somalia’s provisional constitution into a permanent document and creating federal states as stipulated by the provisional constitution. Vision 2016 however is often associated with organizing democratic elections in 2016 (or the impracticality of such endeavor).
Lofty but unmet goals
Unaccomplished Vision 2016 tasks, which were prerequisites for ushering in an era of one-person-one-vote, include the formation of an independent electoral commission within six months. Likewise, Vision 2016 called for, but missed, the deadline to establish a constitutional court in 90 days. The creation of a boundaries and federations commission in 60 days and enacting laws for political parties within a year were also among the vision’s unmet targets. On the other hand, the commission tasked to review the constitution was established in June 2014, eight months later than planned. This five-member national commission, a credible team, has yet to produce harmonized draft document; it has yet to start serious national dialogue on the constitution or its most contentious clauses; and it has yet to secure the needed resources to accomplish the mammoth tasks with which it has been entrusted.
Such a discernible deficit in achieving Vision 2016 deliverables is compounded by chronic political wrangling within the government. For two years, Somalia’s political leaders and national institutions were involved in crippling political bickering that resulted in the sacking of two prime ministers by the president/parliament and the appointment of a third PM barely four months ago.
The pervasive security challenges posed by the Al Shabaab insurgency and security gaps in Mogadishu, which make the capital manifestly vulnerable, dented the high hopes that many Somalis and donors had about the government and its leaders’ ability to consolidate gains and usher in democratic elections in 2016. Disillusionment with the pace of government work, suspicion of its leaders’ intentions and realization that there is a mismatch between the tasks at hand and remaining time, resulted in a simmering and now ever-increasing interest in what the next political dispensation will be like. One could even say that the chattering class consensus now is that one-person-one-vote is an unattainable lofty goal.
It was against this backdrop that Ambassador Nicholas Kay, the United Nations top envoy for Somalia, joined the debate last month stating rather bluntly that “there can be no term extension for Somali leaders after their term expires – and the international community won’t accept that.” Such candid pronouncement seems to have ruled out the other end of the equation, i.e. an extension of the term of the current leaders. This is so, because the Somali government owes almost everything, including its survival, to the international community. Western countries bankroll the African Union (AMISOM) forces battling Al Shabaab. Donors also confer diplomatic backing for the government in the international forums, providing humanitarian aid and developmental support too. Stipends for key experts in national institutions as well as salaries for the security forces are covered through international support. Hence, the proclamation by the UN diplomat (formerly a senior British diplomat) more or less blocks any bid for extension by the current leaders.
Light at the end of the tunnel
True, the present situation is rather challenging. However, compared to how hopeless the Somalia case has been in the preceding two decades, the muted current developments where the discussion revolves around vision, unmet objectives and delayed elections could be seen as enormous achievements. For almost a quarter of a century, Somalia was characterized as a quintessential failed state. Famine, warlords, fiefdoms, piracy, corruption and terrorism were bywords for the country. The collapse of the state in 1990 was followed by a brutal civil war, which gave way to 10 years of warlordism, followed by another 10 years of fragile and transient transitional government characterized by fractured and fractious institutions.
Since the formation of the current government in August 2012, the radical militant group Al Shabaab has been weakened. Most of Somalia’s urban centers and strategically important ports have been wrestled from their hands. Diaspora Somalis have streamed back to the country and invested in small and medium-sized enterprises. International confidence in the prospect of reviving the Somali state soared, culminating in the recognition of the government by countries such as the US, China and the UK who all sent ambassadors to Mogadishu.
Even oil giants are showing interest in the new Somalia and are reactivating their dormant exploration rights, while others are showing serious interest in offshore drilling.
Where to go from here?
Though the situation could best be described as a work in progress, some national stakeholders and external actors are not content with the pace of change. It is also clear that the absence of a consensus among the Somali elite and society in general is contributing to the slowness and uncertainty over where Somalia should go from here. The lack of a roadmap that defines the rules of the game with regards to the formulation of the next political dispensation increases the prospect of manipulation and conflict, which could ruin opportunities for genuine democratization and stable governance.
Now, and for the remainder of this year, Somalis and their international partners will be talking about what to make of the not-so-visionary Vision 2016. It seems that the two extreme scenarios – a proper one-person-one-vote election in 2016 and an extension for the current leaders – are both deemed unrealistic for practical reasons. Different middle-of-the-road scenarios have been floated, such as a limited election at the district level where the federal government and regional politicians organize some sort of a local ‘election’. Another idea tossed around is giving the current parliament a limited lease of life so they could elect a national leader who could serve a limited term to usher in elections. Mixing elections where feasible and the selection of MPs by elders has also been put forth along with many other innovative ideas.
Principled politics is the way to go
To ensure the institutions and the government Somalia will get in 2016 are legitimate, credible, serve the citizens and ensure that gains made thus far are not reversed, principled rules of the game are needed. Shortcuts and manipulations will backfire. Self-serving gimmicks have the potential to give opportunities to the radical forces.
To avoid another wasted four years, the following principled rules of the game are a must:
- When devising the next political dispensation, the interests and demands of the most important stakeholder – the Somali citizen – should be genuinely kept in mind. All decisions, options and possible 2016 scenarios must stem from the aspirations of the Somali people. Any roadmap or vision devoid of the wishes and yearnings of the Somali citizens will fizzle out and will not last long. Somalia was in a quagmire for a quarter of a century, because the citizens were taken for granted. That should not happen in 2016. The Somali people deserve better. They know that whenever their rights are trampled, progress stalls, reactionary forces gain momentum and regional peace and international security is negatively affected.
- Rampant corruption peddled by politicians ruined the integrity of successive Somali governments and leaders. In many cases money changed hands when deciding who got selected as a member of parliament or during the presidential election of 2012. This time around, corruption should not be allowed to ruin Somalia’s march towards democratic governance. In other words, whatever mechanism Somalis use to elect or select their MPs and their next leaders, taking and receiving bribes must not be part of it. Corruption and paying bribes was supposed to be a criminal offense in Somalia. Those engaged in such felonies must be prosecuted and politicians engaged in it must be disqualified from office. A credible independent anti-corruption tsar needs to be appointed. Credible national monitors and international observers should ensure that the next political dispensation is fair and free of corruption. Somalia’s media must be tough on corruption, naming and shaming corrupt individuals. The scourge of fraudulent politics is one of the biggest perils hampering Somalia’s state building efforts. The sooner this menace is acknowledged and coping and corrective measures are taken, the closer the country gets to finding a solution to the myriad challenges that it faces.
- Any formula adopted in crafting Somalia’s post 2016 governance must serve and be geared towards conducting free and fair elections in the soonest possible timeframe. There are various options. They include redoing the tested and tried method of elders selecting MPs (minus the corruption); adopting a hybrid election-selection process where elections are held in major urban centers and elders appoint representatives in districts where elections are not feasible; political parties competing for seats in a proportional representation electoral system; or a caretaker/technocratic cabinet (without a president or parliament) tasked with ushering in elections in two years. Whatever form the design takes, it must lead to a credible election in the shortest possible period.
- Somalia’s traditional elders are a legitimate institution and should not be undermined for short-term political expediency. Somali elders selected MPs in 2000, 2004 and 2012 and produced a credible mother institution (parliament). It was also the elders who helped the creation and continuation of Somaliland, a region that wants to secede, and Puntland, a region within Somalia. Any scheme of sidelining the elders and transferring their prerogatives to non-elected ‘politicians’, at the center or in the regions, is simply phony if not outright devious. Demonization of the elders by politicians who want to usurp their powers should not be robotically accepted. Until citizens are afforded the right to elect their political leaders in a free, fair and transparent manner, elders are the second best legitimate institution available to the Somali people. If bribes and the corrupting influence of politicians are restrained, the elders’ authority to select representatives from their communities is more credible than politicians exercising such responsibility.
- Meddling by external actors in the internal affairs of Somalia is widespread and is highly counterproductive. Influences of regional countries are rampant in many regions in Somalia. Likewise, some Arab countries that are oblivious to the underlying causes of the demise and revival of the Somali state are propelling themselves into the Somalia scene. Interference by external actors with inducement and frivolous agendas does not bode well for the establishment of transparent and accountable institutions.
- The international community is the most influential actor in Somalia. Whoever the international community supports carries the day. Ideas that the international actors suppress do not see the light of the day. The international community controls the resources Somalia needs to implement Vision 2016 goals such as holding credible elections. The international community therefore needs to either stop issuing diktats telling Somalis what to do or make true its words and render needed resources for the implementation of such important goals. 2016 elections in Somalia need resources in a timely manner, technical assistance and infrastructure.
In conclusion, neither a one-person-one-vote election nor the extension of the mandate of the current politicians is attainable. A consensus is needed among Somalis to forge a fair post-2016 political dispensation. Such a roadmap must be citizen-centric and should aim at holding credible elections. Similarly, the negative effects of Somali politicians, particularly paying money to get selected or elected, must stop. Negative influences of old or new external actors must be also curtailed. International actors should either leave the Somalis to muddle through alone or provide the needed resources to achieve the stated objectives such as fair and free elections in 2016.
Abdirashid Hashi is the executive director of the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies (HIPS), Somalia’s first think tank which is based in Mogadishu. He also served as cabinet minister in 2010/2011.