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Op-ed: One first step for democracy, one big step for Somalia

 Somalia presidential elections, May 2022 (Photo: UNSOM)

By Abshir Aden Ferro @AbshirFerro

Addis Abeba – The reform of the electoral system, drawing from international democratic norms of “one person, one vote” for elections from 2024 onward, ushers in a new era for Somalia. In this watershed moment in history, more than 15 million Somalis will finally be able to freely choose their leaders and voice their collective vision for the future. This new dawn is also an opportunity for the upper echelons of power in our country to consolidate a new social pact, a new hope for Somalia that I hope will be both disruptive and ambitious.

Clearly, for Somalis, May 26th, 2023, will mark one of the most important moments in their lives and in our history. For my collaborators in the political arena and the faithful in our political party, it marks the culmination and realization of a political struggle that we have waged with our hopes firmly anchored in our bodies. For me, it’s an immense source of pride to have achieved one of the goals I announced in my book written over three years ago: My life for Somalia.

In this book, I criticized the anti-democratic dispensation, which was in fact an archaic and opaque system that disenfranchised the average Somali voter. It enabled the capture of power by an oligarchy guided not by the interests of the people and the future of Somalia, but by the preservation of business interests and ill-gained profits. This system was based on monetarily sullying the conscience of good men and women, institutionalized malfeasance, and tribal divisions. The most important positions, such as Speaker of Parliament, Prime Minister, and President, were split between the main tribes, with complete disregard for the interests of the people. My country, which had not seen elections by one man, one vote on a national scale since 1969, when Siad Barre seized power, was at the mercy of the merchants of disillusionment and the vendors of false hopes.

For any ambitious and honest politician, the fight to abolish this unjust system was vital. It has been one of the most relentless and difficult battles of my political life and that of my party, “Alliance for the Future” (Xisbiga Isbahaysiga Mustaqbalka, in Somali). As a presidential candidate in 2020, I refused, against the tide, to sign the agreement of September 17, 2020, which perpetuated the holding of presidential and legislative elections by indirect vote. Ostracized, criticized, mocked and threatened, I defended the idea that all Somali citizens, regardless of gender, tribal affiliation, religion or social status, have the right to participate in the democratic process. In reality, universal suffrage is not just a source of legitimization for political authority. It was, in my view, the prerequisite for giving the Somali state the means and tools to put an end to Somalia’s mire in extremist violence, poverty and chaos.

Three immediate priorities and challenges must guide us to ensure that universal suffrage sets Somalia on the path to renewal and the restoration of its international legitimacy.

First and foremost, education. To be able to vote and properly decide on the best choices for the future of our country, we need an enlightened people, capable of resisting the power of money and discerning between political alternatives.

Secondly, a fundamental institutional reform is imperative. To this end, I am proposing a major conference of Somalia’s dynamic forces for an open, sincere, inclusive, and transparent political dialogue to define the institutional architecture of the new Somalia. Fundamental issues such as the electoral system, the organization of the State, the form of the Republic and public liberties must be discussed seriously and rigorously.

Thirdly, we must act for our youth. A wise man once said: “The politician thinks of the next election, but the statesman thinks of the next generation”. We must act for Somalia’s youth, who have long been forgotten. The last thirty years have been a waste for our country, with its immense potential but ravaged by war, permanent conflict, and instability. We have offered several generations no other choice than exile or weapons. Let us now offer them the path of hope and renewal, for, united in the same ideal, Somalis will be able to eradicate terrorism and corruption. AS

Editor’s Note: Abshir Aden Ferro is a Somali politician and president of the “Alliance for the Future” (Xisbiga Isbahaysiga Mustaqbalka)

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