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Settling the Questions: Somalia’s Constitution Review Process
Wednesday March 13, 2024
By: Jibril Ali Aw Mohamed
“The very heart of Somalia’s government, its constitution, cannot continue in a state of political limbo if Somalia is to realize its ambitious, but nevertheless attainable, goals in the coming years.”

Since achieving independence in 1960, Somalia has adopted three constitutions, two charters, and one provisional constitution. Decades of internal conflict and instability have seen governments come and go, along with the constitutions they implemented with varying degrees of success and popular support, but all that changed in the year 2012, which witnessed the birth of the Federal Republic of Somalia.

The adoption of the Somali Provisional Constitution was a seminal moment in Somalia’s history. After so many years of strife, it provided solid guarantees that Somalia would remain “a federal, sovereign, and democratic republic founded on inclusive representation of the people, a multiparty system and social justice,” and that “after Allah the Almighty, all power is vested in the people and can only be exercised in accordance with the Constitution and the law and through the relevant institutions.” According to the Provisional Constitution, “after the Shari’ah, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Somalia is the supreme law of the country. It binds the government and guides policy initiatives and decisions in all sections of government,” while “any law, or administrative action that is contrary to the Constitution may be invalidated by the Constitutional Court, which has the authority to do so in accordance with this Constitution.”

For a nascent state, the document served its purpose well, but at the same time the Provisional Constitution was just that — provisional. Further deliberation and implementation would be required to bring it to a finished state, and the initial review process was expected to coincide with the first term of the Somali Federal Parliament, which ended in August of 2016. The

work of the Provisional Constitution Review and Implementation Oversight Committee was incomplete by that time, and the following year the Somali Federal Parliament transitioned to a bicameral legislature, requiring changes in approach and further consideration. Key constitutional questions involving the allocation of powers and competences, revenue sharing, electoral frameworks, and universal suffrage, among others, all remain unanswered to this day.

A nation’s constitution is not only a set of principles and rules that guide the day-to-day operation of the state. It is also a social contract, and a reflection of the identity and aspirations of the people who live under its legal protection. The longer Somalia languishes without a permanent constitution, the longer the republic itself runs the risk of itself being perceived as a provisional government, even though the tenure of the Transitional Federal Government ended long ago, with the 2012 inauguration of the present government. Somalia is, at this historical juncture, no longer a nascent state. It has passed out of infancy, and can stand on its own. Completing the constitutional review process, a key priority of His Excellency President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud since his 2022 re-election, thus represents an important benchmark as Somalia pursues a stable and flourishing future for itself and its citizens.

In order to achieve this goal, President Mohamud has been working with the leaders of the Somalia’s Federal Member States and other stakeholders, thereby forging a series of political agreements related to the federalization of the justice system, the allocation of powers and competences, the structure of the national security model, natural resources and revenue sharing, and other areas. On May 27, 2023, with the assistance of the National Consultative Council, a broad consensus on Somalia’s future electoral model was attained, particularly with respect to the presidential system, universal suffrage, federal, regional, and municipal-level elections, national political parties, and women’s representation. These matters cannot be resolved, however, without the approval of the Federal Parliament.

This tireless drive to finalize Somalia’s constitutional framework comes at a particularly critical time. Somalia faces a host of challenges, arising both from within and beyond its borders. Economic headwinds, pandemics, and droughts all present ongoing challenges, and the Somali government must at the same time grapple with the dangerous threat posed by Al-Shabaab terrorists. A provocative January 2024 agreement between the Ethiopian government and the breakaway region of Somaliland, meanwhile, has further threatened to destabilize the region. For a nation to confront these various perils effectively, it must rely on the steadfastness of its populace and the wisdom of its leaders, but it also must draw strength from its own constitution, the legal and political structure of which enables it to adapt to new circumstances and confront new threats in a unified fashion.

Even as it is faced with numerous challenges from within and without, Somalia has been making remarkable strides in recent years. The IMF and the World Bank, for instance, recently announced critical debt relief that will enable Somalia to strengthen its economy and better provide for its people. As President Mohamud put it after the debt relief announcement, “Somalia’s debt relief process has been nearly a decade of cross governmental efforts spanning three political administrations. This is a testament to our national commitment and prioritization of this crucial and enabling agenda.” Success in this effort has demonstrated that the various branches of Somalia’s government can cooperate to achieve goals that once seemed distant. Indeed the Mohamud administration has gone from strength to strength in recent months, securing not just the debt relief package but also the lifting of a decades-old arms embargo that had severely limited the country’s ability to protect itself. Somalia even finds itself on track to take over security responsibilities from the African Union Mission in Somalia by the end of the calendar year. Coming after years of instability and internecine strife, and amidst internal and regional threats, these are considerable accomplishments, and bode well for the future of Somalia and its people.

All of which makes the completion of the constitutional review process a matter of paramount importance. A country that is building a peaceful and prosperous future must have a solid constitutional foundation, not a provisional one, which unfortunately implies the provisional or temporary nature of its sovereignty and governance. Somalia can now more readily envision a future in which it is at peace with itself, at peace with its neighbors, and plays a significant role in regional and international commerce and security, yet all of this is still based on a provisional constitution, and some of the most basic characteristics of a democracy — how elections are held, how the government is formed, how revenue is shared — still remain unsettled. The very heart of Somalia’s government, its constitution, cannot continue in a state of political limbo if Somalia is to realize its ambitious, but nevertheless attainable, goals in the coming years.

For almost twelve years, the Somali Federal Government and its regional states, as well as the Federal Parliament and the regional assemblies, have been working in consultation with Somali civil society with the aim of hammering out the provisions of a permanent constitution. Tremendous efforts have led to very real results, but progress has only been made in fits and starts. As Somalia continues to make significant progress in its internal development while contending with profound threats from abroad, the time has undoubtedly come to complete that process. A nation’s constitution can be seen as the means by which the problems of the past can be overcome, and the challenges of the future can be addressed. Somalia has already overcome so much, and innumerable achievements remain in store. The adoption of a permanent constitution will serve as an eternal testament not just to the accomplishments of one man, or one administration, or one representative body, but to the entire Somali national project, one which will protect the heritage and safeguard the future of every Somali man, woman, and child.

Jibril Aw Mohamed is a senior Somali diplomat.
He can be reached at [email protected].


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