As always in Somali politics, those with a vested interest in political power will introduce confusion from different and often unrelated issues, to delay elections. Currently the States versus Federal issue is threatening to dominate and consume all political energy in Somalia. There is a widely accepted consensus that the 2016/2017 elections were far from credible and legitimate, a fact which has been comprehensively documented in many international expert reports. Avoiding a repeat of this situation in the 2020 elections is of paramount importance
Most concerned Somali citizens agree on the need for clarity and focus on the real issues, hence the need to declare suspension of all upcoming elections for all presidents of the Federal Member States until after 2020/2021. This is a distraction and should not shift our focus from the following:
· The completion of the Provisional Federal Constitution before the end of 2019
· Amendments of all constitutions of the Federal Member States six months before 2020/2021
· Implementation of a transition plan
· Credible preparation for acceptable of the electoral system (Political party law, electoral law, and electoral dispute resolution courts) by the end of 2019.
Failure to do these things will mean failing to learn from the mistakes made in the 2016/2017 elections. The purpose of this brief note is to provide information about what is the status of the process to prepare Somalia for one person one vote.
At a recent four-day training workshop for Somali election stakeholders in Nairobi, Kenya on the electoral processes and boundaries delimitation, the Deputy Head of AMISOM, Mr. Simon Milongo, noted the need for “clarity in strategy and clarity in vision as to where you [Somalis] want to go and how you [Somalis] will arrive there to have a neutral system that will be embraced by everyone.” The international community must protest against the flourishing of electoral corruption. The National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC) cannot continue to officiate in unreliable elections which lack credibility. Somalia has yet to develop an electoral system that gains public trust and legitimacy. Development of this must be a priority.
Being optimistic, small steps in the right direction are being taken. Finally, Somalia is ready for one vote one person in the upcoming election in 2020/21 This is a very important step forward for the nascent Somali democracy. As mentioned in an earlier posting, Dr Nur Dirie Hersi, Head of the Somali ID project, soft launched this initiative in a meeting with Somali business people in Dubai. I would like to share an overview of this project, with Somalis and friends of Somalia around the world, who have written to me in search of information on this issue.
Dr Hersi, Chief Strategist, in the Office of the Somali President, and Head of Somali ID Program, reminded us in one of his papers during the meeting in Dubai, that the United Nations has set important goals to improve the lives of everybody in this world. One of those important goals, the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) # 16.9, states that “By 2030, provide legal identity for all including birth registration.” This is the starting point for the Somali ID project, while the long-term goal is preparation for the 2020(21) election, completing this goal is an important step.
Some background at this stage might help in an appreciation of the complexity of this project: Somalia has never had a centralized identification system for its citizens and eligible residents. However, prior to the civil war in 1991, there were decentralized manual identification systems maintained by different local municipalities. Under such system, a resident or citizen could have multiple paper-based identity cards from different municipalities. These IDs consisted of four-page document which contained the name and location of the municipality, an ID number, some basic data and a picture of the card holder. The card used to be known as “Tessera Municipale”, a name and a system borrowed from Italian Administration from the days when southern Somalia was ruled by Italy. In addition, there were civil registry files, known as “foglia di familia”. The central government also used to keep and maintain a manual register for its employees, including the army forces. The system was good enough to meet the needs of those days. However, such an identification system is from a past era and cannot serve the needs of modern day Somalia.
Today Somalia requires new biometric-based identification infrastructure that could meet today’s digital world requirements. The National Identity Program will serve a modernising Somali population. It will help in development by building a digital identity infrastructure that:
- Registers the population of the country (citizens and eligible residents)
- Issues federal ID numbers and smart ID cards.
- Links government and government services with citizens.
- Links ID and Know Your Customer (KYC) verification needed by the financial sector to facilitate critical lifeline services, like remittances and mobile money payment services.
Enabling the Somali government to provide legal identity for all Somalis within a two year time frame is a very ambitious plan. Like any complex project of this type there are inherent risks, however, it is not impossible to achieve the stated goal; one person one vote by 2020(21), provided a few important preliminary steps are completed as soon as possible. The first and most important step is the formal, legal setting up of a Somali ID entity (whatever the title). This new independent agency will have to be established fast under a new Act or Presidential Decree. The infrastructure that will be managed by the technical aspects of the project, while complex and the timeframe too short, are still manageable, if there is an appropriate allocation of resources.
It is very clear that the Somali leadership is determined to accomplish the goal of one vote one person. This will not be possible unless credible action is taken by parliament or top leaders. Development of biometric-based identification infrastructure for the registration of all Somali citizens and eligible residents is currently in progress. The purpose of that program, reported in one of Dr Hersi’s papers, is to better serve the population and develop the country.
There are many benefits to the of unification of services, both for the government and for citizens. The government will be better placed to develop coordinated programs and services and to assess progress and access to those programs and service. Programs which would be enhanced through an National ID include; social service programs, financial and private sector services, document and property registrations, employment services, etc. Such service linkages will lead to improved services and good governance, as well as a greater ability to collect tax revenue.
The new digital identity program will also play a fundamental and essential role in countering the following critical legal matters:
- Movement of criminals
- Corruption and ghost employees
- Tax evasion
- Money laundering
- Identity Fraud
To implement this program, Somalia needs both financial and technical support, in particularly from International Donors. An issue mentioned in different ways by the members of the Somali government. Recently televised meeting of the Council of the Ministers (the Cabinet) chaired by President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo on October 18, he complained about the slow pace of the donors and called the Somali public for self-reliance. That may cause some delays in implementing this project and many will rightly see this as a signal for looming crisis and lack of progress.
SCOPE OF THE PROJECT
Following the election of February 8th, 2017, the new government of President of Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo decided to introduce a modern and cost-effective digital identity infrastructure. A team led by the Dr Hersi was tasked to analyze and identify the requirements as well as the best approach and solution to set up the program.
The team developed this program for close to a year to come up with an appropriate identity solution for Somalia. In analyzing the needs and requirements of the system, members of the team visited several countries, and after an extensive analysis and consideration of many factors, the team decided to work with NADRA of Pakistan. Some of the deciding factors included:
- NADRA’s dual role as a software firm and implementer (NADRA runs enrolment centers and registers applicants in addition to being a Software Firm)
- NADRA’s working experience in rural and hostile areas with undocumented citizens
- NADRA’s working experience with some African countries
- Similarity of the fabric of the Pakistani and Somali people (tribal society spread in hostile rural areas and across borders)
- Pakistan’s long and porous borders with ethnic people across borders
- Unique knowledge and experience that NADRA could provide to Somalia
- Project under the auspices of a G2G Agreement (Pakistan and Somalia)
- Offer of US$10.3 million grant for the procurement of hardware and software of the project
- Reasonable project cost
The setup of the hardware and software by NADRA is expected to be completed by the end of 2018. A technical team from NADRA were in Mogadishu between July 8th and July 18th, 2018, to formally commence the setup of the project. The project is now in full gear.
Although the hardware and software resources and enrolment are important, there are other equally important components of the project that need to be carefully planned and financed. These include:
- The setup of the transitional bridging mechanism and the legal framework of the new agency
- Technical training and expertise
- Preparation of technical staff
- New agency building and office setup
- Coordination, preparation, and connection of the National ID Database with the discussed services
- Enrolment budget
- Mobilization of stakeholders
- Planning maintenance and future support of the database, application software, hardware, and more
Adequate resources are needed to fully implement all components of the project. However, due to the limited budget of the government, donor contribution is necessary. Therefore, the remaining portions of this document will focus on the initial steps on how donors could assist in the implementation of the project.
Following the presentation, the World Bank organized a meeting with major donors on ways to support the setup of the planned digital identity infrastructure. Discussions focused on how the World Bank could:
- Facilitate, coordinate, and support from donors toward the implementation of the Somali National Identity Program
- Support the preparation of the legal and regulatory framework of the new ID agency
- Support the setup of a transitional bridging mechanism before ID agency is operational
- Develop ways to coordinate among different applications/services that need to be connected with the National Identification Database
- Coordinate activities, along with other donors, to provide financial support on setting up of offices, citizens enrolment, and other necessary resources
- Develop means to assess and monitor progress
- Provide technical support & expertise
Following the World Bank meeting, the Somali ID Project Team held also a meeting with USAID in Nairobi on July 19, 2018 to present the project. USAID advised that World Bank organize a donor conference to create a Basket Fund exclusively for Somali ID Project
AMBITIOUS WORK IN PROGRESS
Dr Hersi and his team are working on an ambitious workplan. The following tasks are in progress:
- Consultations are being made with different entities on the setup the new agency as well as its role and authority.
- An initial draft of the act to legalize the new agency is being prepared by local legal team.
- Presidential decree on the “establishment of interim authority” is being discussed
- Required expertise and budgets are being determined.
- Meetings with Federal Member States and other stakeholders are being organized as well as media awareness campaigns.
- Meetings with donors are going on
- TORs and training programs are being developed
- Strategy and budget, for enrolment process, are being developed
- Design of the new agency building, and office setup are being discussed with engineers
- Overall project budget gaps are being estimated
- Other pertinent matters relating to the development of the program are bing discussed
The role of the planned identification system within the Somali National Data Infrastructure and the role it plays in the development of the country was also discussed. Enrolment processes will begin in January 2019. The goal is to enrol 5 million citizens and eligible residents by the end of 2020. The system is expected to be managed by a new independent Federal Agency that will be established under a new Act or presidential decree.
Under the program, the government will issue, free of charge, to citizens and eligible resident the following:
- A unique Federal ID Number (FIN)
- Smart ID card
- Civil Registry Documents.
The FIN will be used in all federal documents that are issued to applicants. The FIN will be used for verification purposes and access to all government services and relevant private sector services. Why is a strong ID system important to Somalia? A strong ID system will unquestionably improve many areas of the government including the following: Revenue generation, Government services and fiscal savings, Financial inclusion, Accountability of public finance, planning and statistics.
One major concern is the tight timeline; Year 2019 (Jan to Dec), the project plan is to complete the setup of the legal authority, issue FIN and ID cards (2 Million), as well as issue civil registry documents (3 million). And during 2020 (Jan to Dec) to issue FIN and ID cards (3 Million) as well as issue civil registry documents (4 million).
Although the Somali government has financial constraints, it seems that there is a political will and commitment at the highest office of the country. Dr Hersi has managed to get attention from international partners and donors, and it seems he may have secured their contributions towards; Technical and financial support to help with enrolment, outreach and public awareness. The WB and other donors organised a donor conference to create a basket fund exclusively for Somali ID project, to ensure that the campaign to setup a single identity infrastructure in Somalia avoids overlapping of resources and efforts.
Somalia is on its way to one vote one person. This brief paper provided a summary of the activities taking place towards achieving that goal. To conclude, it is pertinent to mention that the upcoming Somali election of 2020/2021 has also attracted a lot of attention from the Somalis in the diaspora. The recently formed Somali Concerned Citizens is just one of the Somali groups in the diaspora planning to lobby the Somali government and the international community to avoid the mistakes of the past elections. There are others looking into the Somali constitution and an interesting discussion at a recent workshop held at Australia’s Melbourne University law school. It seems there is nothing legally stopping Somalis is the diaspora to cast their vote in the upcoming elections. There is another group of Somalis working with Australia’s Swinburne University to look into credible and secure ICT solution for the upcoming Somali elections. Interesting times ahead as Somalia moves i
Mohamed Ibrahim, Concerned Somali citizen, former Minister of Telecommunication. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org