Somali leaders have adopted a political “road map” for reforms that will culminate in elections within a year for a government that will replace a string of transitional regimes in a country blighted by conflict, instability and now famine.
The UN, which has been brokering a long-term solution, said Somali political leaders will carry out reforms on security, the constitution, political reconciliation and good governance. The planned reforms were recommended by a Somali preparatory committee last month, with polls expected by August 20 next year for members of a revamped federal parliament, local administrations and a president.
Somalia has been plagued by violence with no effective central government since the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. The current transitional government came to power on the back of an US-backed Ethiopian invasion that drove out the Union of Islamic Courts, which has been replaced by more radical and militant Islamist groups, notably al-Shabaab.
It is unclear whether the road map and elections will lead to greater stability as any new government will still have to deal with al-Shabaab, whose more hardline elements have aligned themselves with al-Qaida. Al-Shabaab has been fighting since 2007 against the weak transitional government, which is propped up by 6,000 African Union peacekeeping troops.
Al-Shabaab, which wants to impose its own strict version of sharia law, controls large chunks of southern and central Somalia and was camped in the capital until its fighters pulled back in August, saying it was a tactical move. The insurgents have banned most western aid agencies from distributing emergency supplies in the areas they control, and even deny that there is a famine in the country.
In their latest anti-western moves, al-Shabaab has ordered businesses and shopkeepers on the outskirts of Mogadishu to remove English and Somali posters and replace them with billboards in Arabic. The latest diktat blaring from loudspeakers on cars is a sign the militants are intent on stamping their own strict laws on areas they control.