Women rights are some of the many casualties of a three-decade old civil war in Somalia that followed the collapse of the last effective central government in 1991.
Somalia is now ranked the fourth most dangerous country to be a woman and the endless civil war continues to fuel violence against women.
Mogadishu is a living hell for women struggling to feed their children amid war, drought and famine, Maryan Qassim, former Somalia’s minister for women, said.
According to UN Women, Somali women bear an unequal brunt of the hardships occasioned by poverty, conflict, and clan-based culture which promotes strict male hierarchy and authority.
Somalia’s 30 years of conflict has put women in a dangerous situation; they face rape and other forms of violence both in government and al-Shabab controlled areas. Thousands of women have been displaced from their homes in central and southern Somalia due to famine and fighting and, this has put them at risk of being raped. Many women have been raped and others jailed for reporting a rape case.
In 2013, a court in Mogadishu handed a six-month jail sentence to a 19 year-old woman who said she was raped by members of the country’s security forces. Two journalists who reported the rape were also jailed for “defamation and insulting state institutions.” Reporting on rape is one of the most sensitive topics in the conservative Horn of Africa nation due to culture and social stigmas.
In 2018, al Shabab killed a woman they accused of being married to 11 women at the same time. They buried her neck-deep and stoned her to death at a public square in southern town of Sablale. Victims of al Shabab brutality do not get fair legal representation at al Shabab “Islamic courts”.
These are just examples, a big number of Somali women continue to suffer the same way. Many women, mainly those in internally-displaced camps, live in a constant fear of rape. According to Human Rights Watch, lack of justice for sexual violence remains the norm in Somalia.
The African Union soldiers helping the government fight al Shabab are also accused of rape but no one has been arrested for the crime.
However, the government has taken positive steps to create laws that guarantee women their rights. The Somali cabinet approved a bill known as “National Gender Policy”, but it is yet to be approved by parliament. If approved and implemented, the bill will do away all forms of gender discrimination in employment, politics and education.
It also guarantees women to have the legal right to earn as much as men and to run for political office, including the presidency. A number of women declared their interest to run for the presidency in the last election, but withdrew their candidacy due to threats from al Shabab group and other sections of the society.
Al Shabab, an Al-Qaeda-linked group fighting to overthrow the internationally-backed government based in Mogadishu, condemned the bill, saying it “promotes Western culture” and “legalizes same-sex marriage”.
Although Somalia’s top Islamic body – the Somali Religious Council – vowed to support the new bill, it was previously opposed to it. The council said the policy will give women “excessive” rights and will “turn women against their parents and husbands.”
The minimum quota for women in parliamentary representation is 30 percent, but this has not yet been achieved. Women represent around 25 percent of Somalia’s current parliament.
Although this is an improvement, women were not involved in the initial stage of the election. Currently, the Somali politics is a clan-based which requires male traditional elders to select delegates which would in turn elect members of parliament. But in the coming elections, the country may go for a direct election and women will still face the same challenges.
Despite the presence of legislation, policies, and support from the international community, women will continue to suffer in the ongoing conflict in Somalia until laws and policies are implemented.
Can Farmajo use Covid-19 to delay elections?
Many countries around the world have delayed or canceled elections for fear of Covid-19, and some did for political reasons.
More than 50 countries have delayed national or regional elections due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a research from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
In Somalia, the term of the current parliament will end in six months, and the president and his government will have just two months to leave office and hold an election, but it is still unclear whether the country will have elections in December 2020 for parliament and February for president due to Covid-19 pandemic and other political factors.
Even if there will be elections, Somalis still do not know which electoral model to take. Somalia is in dilemma; it has two electoral options, one person, one vote and the clan system, each with its own risks. However, some within the government and its international partners want to gamble and subject the country to universal suffrage although Somalia has not fulfilled some key conditions to hold this kind of election. Others fear the introduction of universal suffrage may make them lose power, which they enjoy now because of a clan power-sharing formula.
Somalia has more than 2,000 cases of coronavirus, with the first case recorded on March 16. The pandemic has disrupted the normal life as the government suspended international flights except for humanitarian purposes, closed schools, mosques and restricted gatherings and imposed nigh-time curfews to slow the spread of the virus.
The government is struggling to contain the spread of the virus and has little resources to deal with this pandemic. The country’s health system has been gutted by three decades of conflict.
Opposition parties are already worried that President Mohamed Farmajo might use Covid-19 fears to delay both parliamentary and presidential elections and prolong his stay in office.
In May, Prime Minister Hassan Ali Kheyre told members of his cabinet that ‘holding a timely election is more important than anything else at this time and it’s one of the primary goals which the public entrusted us.’
Although the government said it is committed to hold the election time, it could take advantage of article 53 of the new election law which says that ‘elections could be delayed if serious circumstances such as widespread insecurity, diseases and natural disasters arise.’ The electoral commission could ask for a delay if it feels it is unable to hold elections within the time allotted.’ Some parts of the country remain under the control of al Shabab, making it difficult to conduct a direct election.
The pandemic has also affected the electoral process, delaying the return of parliament to resolve election-related issues.
Elections have been rescheduled before. The presidential election cannot happen in February 2021. No doubt about that because of procedural delays. The last two presidents had their terms extended; Sharif Ahmed extended his term by a year following a wrangle with his prime minister – the current president – and Hassan Mohamud stayed six more months in office. This time the concern is an extension of another year or two.
The Forum for National Parties (FNP), an alliance of six political parties, including two parties led by former presidents, Sharif Ahmed and Hassan Mohamud, accused the government of ‘overlooking the urgency of implementing the multi-party system in the country, and interfering in the activities of a joint parliamentary committee on elections, leading to suspension of its work drafting and completion of an electoral law, saying those are tactics to delay the polls.’
An election delay might also result from logistical challenges. Somalia procures election materials from abroad and Covid-19 created challenges for manufacturers. The procurement of election materials might take time.
Somalia has little time to prepare and it should act quickly.
The government should not try, deliberately, to extend its term in office to ‘buy time to organise an election.’ This will be a reputational risk for Somali’s statehood, and it could plunge the country back into crisis, jeopardizing gains made in the last few years.
Whatever electoral form the country decides to pursue, it should not lead to violence, and should come as a result of a consensus on a clearly agreed time-table. To avert any crisis, the government and the opposition must start dialogue on electoral process before it is late.
House leadership: Duale’s shoes too big to fill
Arguably, Aden Duale is the second most powerful person in Kenya today. Duale’s status stems from his office as the National Assembly majority leader.
The leader of the ruling Jubilee party dominates the floor of the National Assembly. He is the sponsor of all Government Bills.
Duale, who is also the Garissa Township member of parliament, plays a central role both in crafting major bills and in shepherding them through the legislative process from beginning to end, cultivating carefully the expectation that he is responsible for setting the House agenda and for regulating the ability of his colleagues to participate in the decision-making process by offering amendments.
Duale’s hold of this position is uncetain as Jubilee began a process to remove allies of Deputy President William Ruto from parliamentary leadership. His colleague in the Senate Kipchumba Murkomen has been removed from his position for allegedly violating party norms. The Senate Majority Chief Whip and the deputy speaker were also replaced. A number of senators allied to Ruto were also removed from committees membership.
Now, Jubilee is coming for Ruto allies in the National Assembly. Majority Chief Whip Benjamin Washiali and his Deputy will be removed. But it is unclear whether Duale, seen as a Ruto supporter, will lose his position which he held since the post was introduced in 2013.
There is already a good deal of mumbling about who will replace Duale should he be removed and what they will do as the leader of the majority party in the National Assembly.
Unlike Tangatanga, a group of MPs backing Ruto’s 2022 presidential bid, Duale openly supports the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), and advocates for the creation of a prime minister’s position.
Duale argues that the president’s and Raila Odinga’s initiative will cure the political dominance of the presidential seat by the big tribes. He says ‘Raila and I are political bed fellows. I support it because it will give equal opportunities to all the communities in the country to have a share of leadership positions.’
Some believe the position will go to Northeastern region, though not a guarantee. But who can replace the Garissa Township member of parliament?
It takes something very special to be the Majority Leader of a ruling party, and it is not that being just a lawmaker fills the bill.
Just what qualities mark a man as fit for the leadership of the leader of a ruling party in Kenya’s National Assembly are undefined. But the imprecision of the standards in no way lessens the intensity of the belief that there are standards to be maintained.
Whether Duale survives the Jubilee purge or not, he will remain the greatest leader the National Assembly has ever seen, his portrait could adorn the House reception room. He will be one of the outstanding men and women in the history of the Kenyan parliament.
Duale is a man of eloquence, who can supply the oratorical gloss to finished legislation during floor debate, and has the legal skills that make him a superb craftsman behind committee doors. Duale has excelled at protecting government interest. That is why, despite seen as a Ruto ally, he has earned praise from State House for delivering on any assignment the president has given him in the House.
What determines which member of parliament to become a party leader in the National Assembly?
Energy, eloquence, wit, good humor, intelligence, frankness, honor—all these are worthy qualities, esteemed by the holder of the office of the Majority Leader. None of the members of the National Assembly from Northeastern region possess half of these.
These virtues describe the special qualities that make a lawmaker an excellent leader in the House.
The position of the Majority Leader is a national one. The holder serves his conception of the national interest. It takes time to develop influence in the parliament and a member’s greatness is measured by the reach of his influence.
The instinct or the drive in some members that takes them to the heart of the issues of their time is a quality that anyone aspiring to be a leader in the House should have. Since 2013, Duale engaged himself publicly in all the major debates.
Duale owes much of his influence to the simple fact that he studies more intensively and knows more intimately the provisions of the bills he is debating than the vast majority of his colleagues. Bringing in a new Majority Leader will delay government agenda in the House, as the new office bearer will need much time to familiarise.
The Garissa Township MP has not only achieved great reputations as spokesman for his region, but also developed national and global perspectives.
He has shown a breadth of interest and refused to be bound by the parochial concern of one’s own Constituency or county. A leader in the House should see beyond the borders of his own constituency.
Some will come forward to try to take over Duale’s job simply because they have nothing but their names to recommend them.
Seniority, talent, diligence, breadth of vision and a grasp of major issues will enable a lawmaker to contribute his or her full share to the making of national policy.
Although most of the members of parliament from this region do not know why they are in parliament, contributing almost nothing on the floor of the House, there are a few men and women of ability who have achieved distinction and performed well at parliamentary committee levels such as foreign, accounts and legal. But this alone is not enough to lead a major party in its legislative aganda.
The tragedy of William Ruto
In 2013, William Ruto joined the government as an equal partner and became Kenya’s Deputy President as an established politician and is departing both as an accomplice and a victim.
In 2020, he is being forced out of Jubilee, the party he wholeheartedly helped build to make it look like a national party. But what matters is the reason behind the creation of Jubilee as a stand-alone party. Previously, Jubilee was a coalition of The National Alliance (TNA) and the United Republican Party (URP) and Ruto ran a coalition government with President Uhuru Kenyatta.
The coalition governed between April 2013 and August 2017. In 2016, one year before the presidential election, Ruto was convinced to dissolve his URP party and join TNA and other small parties to form Jubilee party. That day was the beginning of the process to block him from succeeding President Uhuru Kenyatta.
The buccaneer Sugoi kid who became a member of parliament in 1997, was eager to make a mark on politics, but the harsh reality is that he will be remembered for abandoning the bulk of his deputy-presidential duties to concentrate en election 10 years away, and behaving as a co-president.
Ruto’s political obituary was written on March 9 2018 when President Kenyatta and former premier Raila Odinga signed a deal to work together and initiated a constitutional change process. Two years later, on May 11 2020, it was reaffirmed when Ruto’s closest allies were removed from the Senate leadership after Jubilee and KANU – a party led by Gideon Moi, Ruto’s rival, signed a coalition agreement.
Following Jubilee-KANU deal, Senator Kipchumba Murkomen (Elgeyo Marakwet), was removed and replaced with Senator Samuel Poghishio of KANU (West Pokot), and Susan Kihiga (Nakuru) was axed as Senator Irungu Kingata (Murang’a) took her position as the Senate Majority Whip. Jubilee is now Uhuru Kenyatta’s.
Ruto established himself as Rift Valley political kingpin, then a national figure. In 2016, he turned a blind eye to the dissolution of his party. Now he must be regretting that decision.
There has hardly been anyone visible in Jubilee than Ruto, who believed the party will help him ascend to power in 2022, and seemed duty-bound to deliver on promises Jubilee made to voters, crisscrossing the country, seemingly selling the government agenda; boosting the economy, constructing roads, uniting Kenyans, but in reality campaigning for the next election and trying to wrestle support from Mr Odinga in Western and Coastal regions that traditionally backed the former prime minister. He even appeared on international media on behalf of Jubilee insisting his party won the 2017 presidential election, and labelling Mr Odinga as a ‘serial loser who will not accept the will of the people.’
The shortgun marriage between President Kenyatta and Ruto was a success in their first term in office. They built the strongest political alliance Kenya has ever seen. The president’s allies avoided criticising Ruto even when they felt he was undermining his boss because they needed his support in the following election, but hell broke loose after the March 9 handshake.
Ruto has been the face of opposition to the initiative championed by President Kenyatta and Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga. He feared the handshake between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga represented an existential threat to his path to State House. The handshake was a crisis for Mr Ruto – it complicated his political future. The ‘hustler’ as he calls himself, who carved his niche in Jubilee, is now partyless and an outsider within his own government.
Ruto felt the unity between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga threatened the existence of Jubilee and made his relationship with the president complex, shattering his dreams of becoming Kenya’s next president.
From the moment he became a member of parliament, a cabinet minister and, ultimately, a deputy president, Ruto had his sight on State House.
In an interview in 2009, he was asked whether he wants to be president. “Why would I be in politics if I do not want to be a president,” he responded.
By choosing to be a deputy president, Ruto chose the wrong path to State House. Historically, deputy presidents don’t succeed their boss. Ruto could become president, but not in 2022.
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