It has been over 50 years since the people of Somalia last saw a popular election. The multi-party democracy that existed in the early 1960s was halted after the 1969 elections which were succeeded by a coup d’état.
This was followed by 22 years of military rule and decades of civil war. In the year 2000 Somali National Peace Talks also referred to as the Arta Peace Conference was held in Djibouti to ensure the set up of a transitional government. Immense strides were made in 2000 as compared to the failed previous attempts.
It was at Arta that a mechanism was agreed on for the allocation of parliamentary seats. The ‘4.5 formula’ would see the proportional distribution of seats amongst the 4 major clan families namely Dir, Darood, Hawiye and Rahanweyn with each family being allocated 49 seats. Minority groups were allocated some 29 seats and women were allocated 25 seats 5 of which would come from the minority seats. This would be the set-up of the 245 seat parliament.
The transitional government enjoyed little success because the warlords had not been part of the peace talks in Djibouti. This was remedied in Kenya, this time warlord was invited according to a Conciliation Resources article the rationale for this was that ‘those who control the violence have to be brought on board to achieve peace’. The Eldoret meeting agreed on a federal structure of government the transitional federal government (TFG). The absence of existing federal entities in Somalia led to the implementation of the ‘4.5 formula’ yet again. Parliament now comprised of 275 seats with 33 (12%) of which were assigned to women.
The significance of the 2020 election as a popular election is great taking into account that the democratic process would have become open to all within Somalia. This will also extend the number of seats reserved for women to 30% from the current 24%. Although this will still be a restriction of the full participation of women it is a step in the right direction. The clan system having been led by Patriarchal clans saw the exclusion of women from politics with traditional leaders choosing representatives who would always be men. Speaking to The Guardian Ikraam Hirsi a young female politician said, “women are powerless only when they are outside the political space but once we are in the parliament we have equal votes and have proven to be more capable and more committed than men.”
The extension of the full political participation of the minority clans is also to be noted. Their representation can also grow or drop based on merit and ability to deliver and answer the most pressing questions of the Somali people.
A lot of post-conflict countries have been able to adopt new electoral processes successfully including Rwanda, Afghanistan, and Iraq but none of these can be compared to Somalia. The clan system is something deeply rooted within the country talking in terms of a successful democracy it can be referred to as a “birth defect embedded deep into the very fabric of the Somali society”. People are more likely to vote someone into power based on their ethnicity as opposed to their merit.
It would be ignorant to refer to the clan system as primitive, but for a fully democratic process, it does not satisfy most of the requirements. This is mainly because of the patriarchal nature of the system and the disregard for the minority clans.
A political analyst noted that the implementation of the reforms might be problematic because 2 important federal member states namely Puntland and Jubaland are at loggerheads with the government claiming to not have been fully consulted on reforms. Abdulmalik Abdullah further highlighted the tension in the Gedo region between military forces loyal to the federal government and Jubaland security forces which could erupt into full-scale conflict. The government has to engage relevant parties to ensure reforms are accepted through the board for the successful implementation and a successful election.
Article 53 of the electoral law states elections will be postponed in the event of a national disaster such as floods, famine or armed conflict. To avoid such occurrences especially armed conflict there should be total engagement by the government with the major players in Somalian politics.
The Somalian government should be commended, for the efforts. However, they should be fully commended only after the successful implementation of these reforms through a successful election because they have to ensure all key players are on board and reforms are accepted with the slightest to no reservation.