EDITORIAL | The annual Ideas Forum wrapped up last week in Garowe, Northeastern State. But the many lessons learned from the historic meeting could galvanize Somalia towards stability.
Here’s how. The Heritage Institute for Political Studies (HIPS) organized the very first Ideas Forum on Somali soil. It may be ironic that although the forum started four years ago, it has often been held abroad.
This may have been based on security precautions, especially as many guests based their travel decisions in Somalia on threats from Shabaab. In order for it to run successfully in Garowe, the Forum may have just provided Somalia with an important stamp that things are improving.
Yet it is also significant that HIPS chose Northeastern State in an attempt to permanently locate the Forum. Of course, Garowe, Northeastern State, has remained one of the safest and most stable parts of Somalia since the late 1990s when the federal state was established. As a region that fully identifies itself as part of Somalia, the Forum also showed that there are other regions of Somalia outside of Mogadishu that have made progress.
The forum focused on “Ending Somalia’s Perpetual Transition by 2025”. It has seen many Somali enthusiasts, donors, activists, researchers and political leaders from all kinds of divisions descend on Garowe to exchange views.
It was particularly impressive to see that government officials could sit down with the leaders of the political opposition to chat and laugh frankly, even against the backdrop of recent acrimonious exchanges over the electoral calendar.
For Somalia, the Forum debated that an appropriate federal constitution, a defined federal structure, universal suffrage and the establishment of a strong national security architecture were crucial elements in ensuring that the country stabilizes permanently. within five years.
These items were to be completed last year. But all the deadlines have been missed. All Somalis must now be aware that the problems they faced two years ago remain unresolved.
The official Forum dispatch showed that all participants expressed concern about the slow completion of the constitutional review, which is essential to end perpetual transitions. He also said something about elections and the need for regular and defined polls.
“The Forum notes that the holding of agreed elections every four years is a cornerstone of emerging democracy in Somalia and calls on all parties to respect this proud tradition,” he said.
The forum appears to have reached consensus on the importance of a timely election. But the crucial questions raised by opposition groups are that timely elections should also be seen as free and fair.
The forum admitted that the provisional constitution currently in force in Somalia could contain ambiguities and that dialogue could be a useful tool to iron out this vagueness.
As it stands, however, the Interim Constitution is Somalia’s supreme law that must be honored, including the country being a federal system.
There are gaps, however, in that although Somalia has two levels of government, there has been no authority to help bridge their differences. Sometimes such an authority can be a commission, with members from both levels who can sit down to discuss disagreements whenever they arise.
Somalia may need a permanent legal framework to resolve its current political and constitutional problems. But the annual Ideas Forum has shown that this journey must begin with the exchange of ideas. How the federal government and federal member states choose to go about it will be the difference between chaos and stability going forward.