A man casts his ballot on November 16, 2016, in Baidoa, Somalia. PHOTO | SIMON MAINA | AFP

By Aman Obsiye


On July 25, 2020, the Federal Parliament of Somalia (House of the People) ousted Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire in a vote of no confidence.  Khaire was the longest-serving Prime Minister since the fall of the Somali state, and his tenure was marked with many noble achievements.

A new Unity Government led by President Farmaajo with an opposition-appointed Prime Minister & “unity cabinet” should now be formulated.  After suffering decades of civil strife and statelessness, Somalia is finally making strides towards achieving functional statehood.  The Federal Government of Somalia’s (FGS) current term is scheduled to end February 2021. Still, I propose that the FGS, under the new Unity Government, be given a two-year extension so it may adequately prepare Somalia for its one-person-one-vote (1P1V) national election.

While a noble goal, it is unrealistic that Somalia will be able to achieve a 1P1V national election by 2021.  Somalis are famously known as Africa’s First Democrats; thus, democracy is not a new form of government for Somalis, but rather, it is their first form.  Somalia was a multi-party democratic state from its founding in 1960 until the military coup of 1969.  Electoral democracy is attainable, but proper steps must be taken for it to retake root.

The FGS has achieved enormous strides in governance, from restructuring Somalia’s armed forces to debt relief, and a two-year extension is needed for the reintroduction of electoral democracy.  For this noble goal to be achieved, a Unity Government must be formulated so it can adequately bring together both sides of Somalia’s political coin.

Regional 1-Person 1-Vote Elections

One must ask, how can Somalia have a national 1P1V election when none of its federal member states has had regional1P1V elections?  Once the Unity Government is created, the FGS in accordance with the various Federal Member States (FMS) must prepare all FMS for regional one-person-one-vote elections.

All FMS will have their regional elections at different times, but must all be accomplished by the second quarter of 2022.  This will allow for electoral democracy to be gradually reintroduced to the entire Somali nation via a bottom-up approach and would be a symbolic victory for democracy’s reintroduction to Somalia.  It will also put in place the necessary mechanisms (census, voter register, polling stations, etc.) for an eventual national constitutional referendum and 1P1V federal election.

It should be noted that these necessary mechanisms are currently non-existent throughout Somalia, a further indication of the unrealistic timetable of having a 1P1V national election by 2021.  Additionally, constituents of Somaliland will be unable to partake because a secessionist entity currently occupies the northern Somali regions.  It is evident that Somaliland will not allow a 1P1V national election for Somalia’s government to happen there.  I recommend that the FGS and UNSOM open communications with northern Somali unionist movements, particularly from the regions of Awdal, Sanaag, and Sool.

Constitutional Revision & Referendum

Once all Federal Member States have directly-elected representatives for their respective regional governments, a “Federal Constitutional Convention” should be hosted by the third quarter of 2022.  If Somalia is to complete her federal social contract, she must iron out the wrinkles of her style of federalism.  What differentiates federalism from other forms of government is the dual-sovereign notion of “vertical separation of powers.”  This notion disseminates governing powers between two main entities, the federal government and the state governments (i.e. the Federal Member States), and each entity may not encroach upon the other entity’s governing powers.

In the United States, the federal government controls foreign affairs, national defense, and monetary policy, inter alia, while the state governments control public health, safety (e.g. policing), and educational affairs, inter alia.  The dual-sovereign concept encompasses two parallel entities, federal and state, governing in unison.

The Federal Government of Somalia and the various FMS governments have yet to properly negotiate what governing powers are delegated to the federal government and what powers are reserved for state governments.  Somalia’s social fabric is slowly being sewn back together through a federal system, and the tenets of her vertical separation of powers must be codified.  This can only be viably done through a national dialogue.

In 1787, America’s thirteen states met in Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention (also known as the Federal Convention) to discuss how to form a more perfect union.  The United States Constitution was the brain-child of this convention.  The convention addressed the issues of federal delegated powers and reserved state powers, in addition to the tripartite system of government (Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches).  Each state sent delegates to the convention to ensure its interest was represented correctly, and these delegates returned to their respective states to lobby their citizens to vote in favor of the new U.S. constitution in a national referendum.

A similar convention must be held in Somalia to ensure Somalis, of all clan and regional affiliations, have their interests properly represented.  This will provide an all-inclusive democratic constitutional revision process.  Subsequently, the national referendum for Somalia’s new permanent constitution should take place by the fourth quarter of 2022.

National 1-Person 1-Vote Election

Once these goals are accomplished, Somalia will finally be ready to host its one-person-one-vote national election by February 2023.  The last time Somalia held a national democratic election was in March 1969, over fifty years ago.  A new Unity Government led by President Farmaajo with an opposition-appointed Prime Minister & “unity cabinet” must be formulated. Once a Unity Government is created, a two-year extension will be warranted and will help prepare Somalia for the proper reintroduction of authentic electoral democracy.

To conclude, the following goals will need to be accomplished from 2020 to 2023: (a) regional one-person-one-vote elections for all respective Federal Member States; (b) Federal Constitutional Convention for purposes of constitutional revision; (c) national referendum for Somalia’s new constitution; and finally, (d) one-person-one-vote national election.

“[I]n contrast to the rest of Africa where states are struggling to become nations, the Somali people represent a nation struggling to become a state . . ..” – Frank J. Mahony

Aman Obsiye is an Attorney based in Minneapolis, MN. He received his Juris Doctor and Masters of Public Policy from the University of Minnesota