As of yesterday, Somalia has a new constitution. Over 95 percent of the 645-member constituent assembly voted for the new document. With the support of the United Nations, the Somali parliament is now scheduled to approve a new head of the country on August 20th.
Is it a new dawn for state building in Somalia? Only time will tell. We should acknowledge, though, that the current government is still largely confined to the capital city, Mogadishu. Even so, that precarious grip on territory is largely the result of the armed African Union mission that has recently pushed back the Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamist group Al Shabab.
Beyond the military and legal issues is a more fundamental question: Do Somalis want a centralized state in the mold of the Westphalian order? Even before the formal end of the Mohammed Siad Barre government in 1991, the Somalia state had largely collapsed. Or in certain functional areas – such as policing and the judiciary – the post-independence state never established these public services (see the works of Ken Menkhaus and Christopher Clapham). A key reason is resistance from ordinary Somalis. With the exception of Somaliland, the people of this strategically important land have not adopted a cost-benefit model that favors a centralized state. Local institutions of governance have prevailed. Should we expect change now, just because the US, the AU, and the UN want it? Or just because a constituent assembly has overwhelmingly voted for a new constitution?
*** Did you like what you read here? You might be interested in the new book by this blog’s author, Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses.