Somalia: A long journey to democracy

Local people in Mogadishu Photo Credit Oslo Center


The road to democracy

The road to democracy in the coastal nation on the Horn of Africa is definitely not an easy one. Somalia has seen political turmoil in past decades: the post-colonial period, surviving civil war, state collapse, warlordism and terrorism. Somalia is now struggling in a post-conflict phase, but moving gradually towards democracy where a new power structure is being defined. A national election has been announced in 2016. This election is crucial to legitimise the democratic process in Somalia.

Drawing on examples from countries with similar experiences, it is clear that a move towards peace and democracy is no easy task. The process of creating a new constitution is in itself a great challenge and even more so in a country like Somalia where the process is being initiated from scratch. The country is fragile and in a fluid sate of politics and in lack of economic stability. These issues have not only created havoc within the country but are also threatening the neighbouring states, as well as the entire region.


A political process in the years 2011 and 2012 has created benchmarks for establishing permanent democratic institutions. Based on its administrative framework Somalia adopted a provisional constitution in August 2012, which declared the country as a federal republic state. Among the many challenges the country is facing, federalism remains the most contentious political issue. The major issues are expected to include determining geographical regions, establishing boundaries and balancing the clan structure.

Rays of hope

Somalia has a clan-based power structure. This entails that the balance of power in governance and society is based on a power-sharing model among the different clans. The shift from a clan-based system towards a democratically oriented political party system will be a challenge in the steps that Somalia is taking towards democracy. However, the interest of aspiring political associations to establish a multi-party political system, and thus a more democratically stable state, shows that there are rays of hope.

Gender representation

Moving from a clan-orientated society to democracy should also include the representation of women and marginalized communities, especially in the ongoing constitutional process. The power structure in the present government and parliament is based on the 4.5 power sharing formula that neither includes, nor ensures the representation of women and minorities. This could in turn negatively affect the ongoing constitution and peace building processes. Today, the Parliament has a mere 14 per cent female representation (38 out of 275 members), despite the commitment to reserve 30 per cent of the seats for women in 2012, when the federal government was established. The failure of the clans not being able to reach an agreement on this issue was a disappointment. However, it is important to determine the question of representation in preparation of the upcoming election in 2016.

Slow, but positive

Somalia is facing a number of challenges, including establishing itself as a new democratic state, redefining its power structure and ending terrorism – all at the same time. The lack of basic democratic systems is a hurdle for both the country’s development and its economic stability. These systems must be in place before the election in 2016. The pace of progress might be slow and frustrating but considering the magnitude of the challenges ahead, it should be noted positively.

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