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The world’s No. 1 Failed State gets a government

For over two decades, Somalia has been touted as the paradigm of a failed state — an ungovernable web of warring clans, militias and semi-autonomous statelets that have not seen centralized control since the last government imploded in 1991. However, on August 20, as Somalia’s winding eight year U.N.-sponsored transitional process draws to a close, ...

Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/GettyImages
Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/GettyImages

For over two decades, Somalia has been touted as the paradigm of a failed state — an ungovernable web of warring clans, militias and semi-autonomous statelets that have not seen centralized control since the last government imploded in 1991. However, on August 20, as Somalia’s winding eight year U.N.-sponsored transitional process draws to a close, 215 new members of parliament were sworn in and held their first parliamentary session at the Mogadishu airport. Though the unconventional location — chosen because it is one of the most highly secured areas in the city — could be seen as inauspicious, the MPs selected today represent the closest thing the country has had to a real government in 20 years. 

With the selection of a new president in the offing, a draft constitution on the table and relative peace holding in Mogadishu since radical Al Shabab militants were driven out of the capital earlier this year, there may be reason for cautious optimism about Somalia’s political future.  However, there are equally compelling reasons to see today’s transition as a largely cosmetic one.

Indeed, as many expected, the selection of the new president has been postponed, with no firm indication as to when it will occur. The announcement was made on Aug. 20, as 215 MPs selected by a committee of traditional elders were sworn in — enough for a functioning majority but short of the full 275 representatives slated slated to fill parliament’s lower house. Mussa Hassan Abdulle, a former general, was appointed the interim Speaker.

Local media has reported that the Technical Select Committee (TSC), the oversight body responsible for vetting candidates put forward by the elders’ committee, has rejected over 60 candidates so far.

According to a BBC analysis, the initiation of this process in and of itself is a huge step:

"In the face of serious intimidation, a technical committee has removed as MPs some of those linked to violence and corruption. Things are a bit behind schedule. Parliament was meant to have elected a new president on 20 August, but what is important is that the process has begun."

Predictably, such a system is vulnerable to interference from regional authorities and factions within clan groups. According to VOA, officials in the semi-autonomous Pundtland region have been "interfering constantly" with the elders’ decisions. Critics have also been quick to point out that the elders have failed to attain a target of 30 percent female representatives in the new parliament.

The current president, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, is reportedly poised to reclaim his office. However, there are reportedly anywhere from 20 to 40 other candidates in the running.  Many have maintained a low profile due to security concerns. The president, speaker and deputy speaker will all be selected by the new parliament, rather than elected by popular vote.

According to a UN report leaked in July, 68 percent of government revenues went missing and passport fraud was rampant under Sheikh Ahmed’s administration. Notably, his government issued a diplomatic passport to Mohamed Abdi Hassan, known as "Afweyne," the leader of one of the region’s piracy networks.

As incomplete as the process may be at this point in time, the fact that Somalia is attempting to define a national leadership for itself represents an important step — even if, for the moment, it remains a symbolic one.

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