Kirsti Samuels explains how, for a society emerging from civil war, a constitution building process provides opportunities for reconciliation and for achieving consensus on areas of division. Despite disappointments and risks in Somalia, there remains a valid role for constitution building in peacemaking. But this process could prove divisive if it is not sufficiently representative, participatory or consensus based.
Participatory processes in constitution-building increase the legitimacy of the constitution and peoples’ support for it, which is essential for the constitution to play a meaningful role in creating a stable state.
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Somalia is one of the most difficult contexts for a constitution-building process. Not only has it experienced 20 years of civil war, but its younger generation has grown up in a failed state. Having lived through two decades of dictatorial repression followed by two decades of violent conflict, many Somalis living in Somalia do not have the conceptual models or personal experiences of an effective and peaceful Somali state, especially in terms of institutions, governance structures and leadership.
The 2006 constitution-making process
By the time the Somalia Transitional Federal Parliament convened for the first time in the town of Baidoa on 26 February 2006, the constitutional process was high on the list of urgent business. In 2004 parliament had been sworn in, and according to the transition timetable a draft constitution had to be ready by October 2007.
Even if the country had not returned to war Somalia would have faced substantial hurdles to building an effective constitution. Putting in place elections, designing new institutions and choosing the best constitutional language will not necessarily result in conditions for peace and stability.