Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. PHOTO | POOL

Somalia is on Saturday expected to know whether a new constitution will be in place this year, becoming either the country’s new success story or a retrogress.

The Bicameral federal parliament is to sit in Mogadishu to pore over a series of amendments proposed by the Independent Constitutional Review and Implementation Commission.

But so much dust is raising already before the due date. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) specifically raised issue with proposals touching on age of maturity warning it could increase “the risk of child marriage and lowered juvenile justice standards – and possibly permit certain forms of female genital mutilation.

Traditionally, Somalia, like many peers considers anyone under 18 years as a minor. Now that age could be lowered to 15 as the “age of maturity” although 18 will remain the baseline age “of responsibility”.

“Somalia’s parliament should resist efforts to weaken constitutional protections for children, especially girls,” Laetitia Bader, deputy Africa director at HRW, said on Friday.

“Somalia’s donors should press the government to carry through on its claims that it is taking significant steps to meet its international human rights commitments.”

HRW says adopting this standard would be contrary to Somalia’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which defines a child as anyone under 18.

Somalia, however, isn’t unique on this front. It is one of the several countries that haven’t normally indicated the age of marriage of consent for sexual activity. Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, and Yemen have been criticised similarly.

“Somalia’s parliament appears poised to adopt amendments to the country’s constitution that could subject generations of children to harmful practices,” Bader said. “Constitutional reform should instead assist the government to better protect the rights of children.”

Child protection, however, isn’t the biggest problem for politicians here. This week, big names in Somalia have converged their opposition against constitutional amendment spearheaded by Villa Somalia, the state house in Mogadishu.

Former Somali presidents Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo and Sharif Sheikh Ahmed met last week in Garowe town, the capital of Puntland, one of the Federal Member States (FMS) where they coalesced with Puntland President Said Abdullahi Deni and other politicians including legislators from the bicameral parliament in Mogadishu.

On March 24, they issued a 9-point communiqué.

First and foremost, they expressed unequivocal opposition to current Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud whose administration was blamed of initiating changes to the provisional constitution in disguise of reviewing.

The controversial issue is the bicameral parliament started debate on the first four chapters of the provisional constitution with inputs submitted by limited number of politicians led by the state house.

Since the two former presidents affirm that the presidential palace is behind the current amendment sped up in a harry and affecting the most important chapters, they believe manipulation by President Mohamud and the Speakers of the Senate and the House of Peoples (Lower House). They have argued the whole exercise lacking consensus.

On Tuesday, the government of Puntland issued caution against the ongoing amendment to the Provisional Constitution, stressing that it will not accept any changes that do not reflect the states past commitment to a consensus-driven, federated governmental structure.

Since the beginning of last year, Puntland leader Deni had objected to proposals by Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) leader Mohamud, suspecting that he is inclined to promote a ‘dictatorial kind of governance.’

Thus, Puntland’s Deni missed many meetings between the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) and Federal Member States (FMS), pushing to function like an ‘independent state,’ except on discussion with the central government on matters concerning the constitution.

Earlier, Farmaajo and Ahmed saw a faulty process being used in reviewing the constitution that could lead to fragmentation of the national unity.

The initiated constitutional review generated strong opposition from many other top names.

Abdirahman Abdishakur, MP, and former presidential candidate in 2022 and leader of Wadajir Party. He later became President Mohamud’s first Special Envoy for Drought and Climate Change.

“When I was running for president, I promised to lead the review and implementation of the provisional constitution,” Mohamud, who was elected in May 2022, stated last week.

“How on earth my term is going to end without giving my people a fully permanent constitution,” he added.

On Wednesday, Former prime minister Hassan Ali Khayre circulated a critical videotaped message for public information.

After narrating the long-process that provisional constitution in its formation since the rebirth of the Somali government in 2000, he insisted that Somalia is a constitutionally independent state, democratic and ruled via a multiparty system and public justice.

“Anything short of those basic principles is unacceptable,” Khayre reiterated, contrasting a proposed presidential system, abolition of the post of prime minister and rule by two-party system.

Like Abdishakur, Khayre underlined that the changes being made amount to unlawful constitution change.

“We cannot accept a government and a parliament unilaterally changing 45 articles with 97 clauses; introducing 19 new chapters with 94 clauses and removing 3 articles with 26 clauses,” he added, hinting that such process needs wide consultation.

The opposition to amendments also concerns power sharing arrangements between the Federal government and federal states, the special status of the Somali capital Mogadishu, Judicial Service Council and the Constitutional Court.

On Thursday, a copy of the amended constitution was distributed to the senators and MP, hoping that they will go through over Friday and approve it on Saturday.

Sheikh Adan Mohamed Nur Madobe (Adan Madobe), the speaker of the Lower House, asked the legislators to come on Saturday in big numbers to endorse the constitution, despite many lawmakers showing their opposition to the process.

“After the approval, you can go into recess and go for pilgrimage to holy sites in Mecca, Saudi Arabia,” Adan Madobe said.