1/28/2021
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Long waited hope, one person one vote elections, fades away again

by Abdulkadir Hussein
Sunday, January 3, 2021

Somalia, for a second term in a row, fails to take its people to the realization of a long waited historic universal suffrage election whose real feature is quite bizarre to generations like me born, raised, learnt and dwelling in the country. People wandering to polling stations right after dawn prayer to cast their ballots to determine whom they think would revitalize their economic stability had been a dispossessed liberty in a long period of time.  

What makes it fade away repeatedly 

Nationwide turnouts taking lines to exercise their democratic rights in municipal and general elections is a blurred vision to many generations in the country, because confoundedly, these generations’ vivid memory kept only a life where one wakes up in morning to see their commute to schools or to jobs disrupted by assault between armed groups mercilessly battling for a higher hand in authority, an elders picking form of elections and public offices filled – steadily growing culture -  through an earned staunchness to ruling leadership. Given Somalia’s current security, administrative capacity and integrity, and legal infrastructure which are practically basic conditions necessary for the adaption of one person one vote election, it was widespread predicted implementation of citizen centered universal suffrage election did not have the conditions.

Living by the prevailing conditions in the country, Somalis all they imagine, is supplanting administrations in every couple of years, each regime inheriting skeleton fashioned form of institutions from the preceding administration. Like the Transitional National Government, some of them spent their full term in just a limited residential area in the capital city of Mogadishu before getting able to stretch its reach of governance rollout to the wider parts of the country. These administrations, most of them facilitated and technically directed by an assistance of international actors, come by without preplanned party agenda or political manifesto drew on ground circumstances and, are taken charge of by a hastily put together teams who in some instances get the grip on power unexpectedly. What lies ahead upon seizing leadership is equally engaging with disintegrated society raised in prolonged period of utterly ruined public sector framework, or more precise, in a barely functioning set up of a conventional societal structure that is largely dependent on humanitarian support in various fronts. Combination of such situations continue distancing prospect to prepare conditions for acceptable type of universal suffrage as society is not yet fledged enough to nurture and uphold strengthening governance building.

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Prior to contemplate setting out timelines over carrying out democratic elections, there need first working on constituting fundamental conditions brooking the implementability of one person one vote election. These fundamental conditions encompass primarily extension of authority across the country rounded out by establishment of necessary laws infrastructure. Twenty years investment on space stabilization and institution building, yet the country is hardly able to uplift its current constitution from provisional position. This has aborted twice contemplated universal suffrage model because combinations uttered above drive such inability to attain important milestones that would instead morph status quo to push regimes closer to prepare the space and capacity.

It is worth touching also that absence of existing prior established political teams, party like, bearing pre-planned polices, manifesto and structures readily available for addressing national priorities upon taking over leadership, sparked traditionally in the past recurred internal spats between institutions which always impeded reach of important milestones. This has often caused terms-long work in process of major national priorities, hence ever blurring hope for the realization of democratic elections. A shift of attention and interrupted processes impair important works from making headway. In some situations, on the account of the spat, frequent political turnover of officials spearheading projects on strategic priorities which its completion leads to promotion of required condition for one person one vote election repeatedly obstruct headways.  

The earnest willingness to drive the country holding universal election among the political elite switching grip on power is also questioned. As often seen, major advocates pushing Somali authority to accelerate into holding one person one vote elections are international partners and donor countries, and significance of the general public involvement in this advocacy is limited as a result of lesser public knowledge towards the importance. It is because 75% of the Somali population are youth below the age of 30, though badly grappling with staggering unemployment. So, generations emerged after collapse of military rule, their public knowledge towards what it holds life in a responsively working rule of law and public sector just began revamping in the last federal administrations.

Likewise, the notion that Somalia is embarking on a road to spawn an environment that can carry out inclusive universal suffrage popped in the midst of the last two federal regimes when intense debates and talk shows canvassing barriers and likely implementation of universal suffrage election by local media organizations started purveying some insight to locals. General vibe of the public is deeply rooted with forms of indirect elections and elder approving selection methods which are often wrangled, manipulated and, wondered whether such result is apt to bring extremely needed change in the economically deteriorated situations of the constituencies. Dearth of enhanced public knowledge over importance of democratic elections that stimulates increased involvement of advocacy by the public is therefore contributing the setback. It is beneficially very relevant to complement international partners ever echoing advocacy for democratic elections in Somalia.

Somalia ticks one of few individual African territories bestowed with tremendous renewable energy and blue economy. Six decades of independence, half of it, Somalia had been grappling with armed assaults and fragility that regrettably now scaled up into patterns of intractable religious conflict, which dwindles every other day the chances to spring up the enabling environment for one person one vote voting.

Cons in absence of democratic election

The cons are enormous, but we try to look at pervasive corruption and loyalty preference in appointments that abandon broad based adverse effects in various areas of public sector management.

Pervasive corruption

Despite domino effects on multiple walks of life which emanate from the crippled economy, a major resulted consequence in the absence of democratic method of electing is a far reaching and increasingly growing corruption. Exchanges of corruption communication transpire at various places of public and private spaces; it also facilitates other engagements exchanged between non state actors including in international level. An instance of the international level could be portrayed by a recently surfaced scandalous event which astonishingly revealed a U.S.A. attorney who coordinated fund stolen from the Somali nation. It is presumably perceived that what empowered a U.S. licensed lawyer, to determinedly dare to doctor pilfering of more than three million U.S. dollars Somali fund in overseas banks, was a trusted collaboration that he was racking up from local network.

It is not only around fiscal misappropriation that elicit behavior stokes in, there are other aspects in which corruption plays role to manipulate an outcome. It had recently been reported influencing the partnership efforts on the national army reconstitution in the country, because an assessment on European Union Training Mission in Somalia by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute pointed repeated complaints from some Somali stakeholders over clan homogeneity in the selection of army trainees and recurred similar trainees exploiting multiple training opportunities. European Union supports Somalia with this force generation assistance and, picking of individual trainees rests with Somali authority. Increasingly, constant assemblies at local hotels by different community groups occur across urban centers of the country mainly transmitting voices of grievances on under representation and economic exclusion. This is a heightening concern amongst segments of the population voicing levels of unequitable distribution of economic opportunities. It is vigorously evolving into discernable grievances and, sparked by scramble, at the expense of others, for resource and power that is transpiring through corrupt means.

The pervasive corruption understandably now appears endemic, meaning the malpractice is swaying enormous walks of life including education extension and justice delivery. Results of a highly controversial 2020 country high school national exams unleashed close to eight thousand pupils failing and repeating classes after the exam was stringently protected from leaking this year. Many interpreted the event erupting from too substandard education supply in the country due to corruption and deficiency of excellence intervention from concerning authority. Growing cases of disputed land property ownership, fanned by fictitious ownership papers and, by reported unjust handling of the cases at the service delivery spots due to influencing factors, stimulate truthful legal owners to seek fair alternative options of dispute settlement and resolution mechanism.

Education and justice sectors are points produce human decency. They are societal taboo areas which if contaminated with elicit behavior, the detrimental effect could be everlasting had it not thwarted in the immediate term as we are forming now. This is because the country will require decades of massive institutional overhaul to clean up malpractices. An observational evidence supporting the need for years of internal overhaul for the country to streamline its system is pretty represented by the current corruption status of some of the regional nation-states. Unlike Somalia that woefully faced absence of effectively functioning governance system some decades of its post-independence period, these nation-states had not faced such break in statehood. They maintained relatively stable system of governance protected by strong, organized security apparatus and institutions. However, with that prevailed, status of corruption in these nation-states is high owing to failed right time intervention, hence rooted.

Corruption, in this case, represents one element of the many consequences breed from inexistence of citizen centered democratically elected institutions.

Loyalty preference in appointments

In current context of electing administrations through enhanced legitimacy, albeit more like traditional setting, citizen is hardly enabled to access to an opportunity he can avail to hold occupants of public offices responsible for short-delivery, or account on unsatisfactory performance at election times. In both federal and state governments; from municipal offices, oversight institutions through offices of federal institutions, incumbents of the offices come through appointments under the satisfaction and preference of the head of government or states.

This is where the popular custom of heightened loyalty and allegiance including peddling political propaganda of appointer derived from in today’s Somalia governance system. Being uncertain about length of tenure in office, emphasis is put on promoting appointer political programmes to shore up job security longevity than concentrating on public projects goals or meeting citizen expectation. In some situations, under explicit interference descending from appointer office, the appointee might be faced with handling matters unfairly in favor of ruling team to shield the allegiance from straining. Defiance to such interference from appointing office was observed in the past costing premature dismissal. Former Mayor of Mogadishu best exemplifies epitome of a paid premature dismissal.

In spite of decades long humanitarian financing, Somalia additionally enjoys parallel financing on institution reconstruction and budgetary support. International partners, endeavoring its best to formulate policies effectively addressing country priority areas, have also been developing successive investment strategies that aim to shore up institution re-establishment and application of good governance processes. At their inception stages, each individual strategy is perceived compatibly fixing priorities fundamental to the resumption of the institution delivery.

But numerous years of investment in successive institutional building initiatives, they are still dubbed as fledgling and weak public entities. That is partly attributed to be triggered by the direct appointment mechanism through which occupants of major public offices are selected to spearhead offices, as primacy to ascertain achievement of investment targets and goals is overwhelmed by a prioritization on implementation of individual agendas, often political matters, required by appointing office. This eclipses the fear of not meeting citizen expectation that would otherwise impact official’s future prospect had he filled in office through public voting. Such context is partly contributing important priority targets including constitution amendment to ever be a carry forward to next ensuing administration. When officials in offices are elected by the public, their mandate would be different and they would have been evaluated against their achievement on national targets.

Discontinuation of current status quo

Often controversial and last minute dash, the indirect model of election Somalia governance survived in years - a practice a lot of Somalis brand as ‘enhanced rigging’- remains an existential hindrance to national gains and regional stability. Each subsequent regime that gets aboard had been characteristically seen rather fostering its entrenchment in power than working hard towards generation of conducive conditions which would permit conduction of citizen-centered universal election. The third regime, for instance, successively fails to whisk constitution into permanent asset through public referendum, but that does not sound embarrassing domestically as maintenance of such status is known finds its way as a hidden agenda disguisedly preferred by the regimes to elongate their entrenchment in power and pave the way for a relied return. It dumbfounds that no president ever weathered to be re-elected despite having intently prepared the conditions for reelection through this indirect election atmosphere.

To migrate from the longstanding, corrupt indirect elections method, it is imperative Somalia and its donor partners to ponder how realistically they can stamp out this endless culture of recurring indirect method of elections. Perhaps, many incontrovertibly conceive the protracted nature of Somalia situation is being contributed by a culture of traditional political feuds that ever stays in the political arena and Somalis and scramble among people for clannish interests that is polarizing and fanning this antagonistic scramble. Pillars for statehood including restoring public trust never deeply intervened and, competing individual group political economy and power overwhelm national key priority actions that would otherwise sustain institution reconstruction efforts. International partners for Somalia proudly proclaim, at external forums and domestic platforms, the huge amounts of fiscal support it pours into Somalia state building process and development assistance, but what keeps Somalia’s status quo of fragility and conflict still has long way to resolve. It is considered there is certain level of disconnection between ground reality and multi-stakeholder efforts in the country.

One person one vote is a universal right for every citizen across the planet. Ever since Somalia gained its independence, 1969 universal suffrage election remains the ever-democratic model the country conducted. Generations ensued never exercised this right, neither did they ever ratify national constitution through nationwide referendum over last three decade. The longer access to democratic process continues delaying, the more complex nature Somalia intervention becomes, resulting in deformedly constituted institutions spilling over into social, political and economic structures. Deformedly constituted institutions form when at times of state building, culture of respect to rule of law and good governance is not a guiding principle and not growing alongside state building initiatives. Outcome of such atmosphere is corrupt, unreliable, and ineffective institutions which will inherit ever underperforming economy.


Abdulkadir Hussein  - He can be reached through [email protected]


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