Drafters of Somalia’s constitution can’t ignore reality on the ground
Posted Sunday, July 1 2012 at 18:53
Should someone who holds the passport of another country be allowed to run for political office in Somalia?
This is one of the contentious issues that the drafters of Somalia’s new constitution may have to grapple with as Somalia enters in a new phase of governance with the exit of the Transitional Federal Government in August.
The issue has arisen because many of the contenders for high public offices, including that of the President, hold American, Canadian, British or other passports.
One could argue that given that Somalia has been experiencing civil war for the last 20 years, it is only natural that Somalis in the diaspora would opt to become citizens of the countries in which they reside and that barring them from political office is denying them an opportunity to serve their motherland.
Many would also say that Somalis in the diaspora should not be punished for seeking asylum or citizenship in other countries as they had no choice but to flee.
However, questions are being raised about whether individuals who hold allegiance to another country can run for President and faithfully serve Somalia.
Will their loyalties be divided? Will they become mouthpieces and stooges of the countries whose passports they hold? Even if they acquire a Somali passport, will their dual citizenship impact the country’s foreign policy?
In Kenya, as in many other countries, dual citizenship offers many advantages, but also comes with certain restrictions. Dual citizens cannot run for political office, for instance, and can certainly not become President.
In an interview with the Voice of America’s Somali service, Somalia’s minister of Constitutional Affairs and Reconciliation, Abdurahman Hosh Jibril, said that the issue of citizenship had been put on hold for now, and will be dealt with later through special legislation.
The UN-brokered constitution that is slated to be approved next week by 825 traditional elders and members of civil society groups has also been marred by questions of legitimacy.
A recent survey conducted by VoA showed that more than 60 per cent of Somalis want the new constitution to be approved through a national referendum — which, given prevailing conditions in the country, is not feasible.
Others argue that constitution-making is not a priority in Somalia, and that if changes needed to be made to the 1960 constitution, these should have come about through a democratic process involving all the Somali people, and not through a small group of people who may or may not represent the majority of Somalis.
However, present-day Somalia is different from the country that obtained independence 52 years ago. Lawlessness in the last 20 years has strengthened the role of religion and traditional elders.
According to Abdulwahid Qalinle, director of the Islamic Law and Human Rights Project at the University of Minnesota Law School, this is because “in times of crisis, people seek refuge in faith” and Islam has helped Somalis to survive the harsh realities of the last two decades.
Because Islamic groups filled a void that should have ideally been filled by the government, support for Sharia law is strong in Somalia.
Nearly 90 per cent of those surveyed by VoA said that Sharia should be applied as a civil and criminal code throughout the country.
This state of affairs has led to a situation where there is “no organised secular discourse”, according to Qalinle.
In light of this, the new constitution may not receive much support at the grassroots level.