Press Review CW 14/2024: Constitution in focus
Press Review 28 March 2024 to 5 April 2024

Parliament in Somalia adopts constitutional amendments – Puntland withdraws temporarily from federal state

On Saturday, the Somali parliament unanimously approved amendments to the first four chapters of the country’s transitional constitution adopted in 2012. The semi-autonomous Somali region of Puntland subsequently temporarily withdrew its recognition of the federal government on Sunday and called for a full referendum on planned changes to the constitution. The constitutional reform was a key election campaign promise of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and was submitted to the bicameral parliament by the Independent Constitutional Review and Implementation Commission (CRIC) in February. According to the government, the constitutional amendments aim to stabilise the country, which has been characterised by clan rivalries and political fragmentation to date, as well as to defuse the protracted conflict between the offices of president and prime minister. In May 2023, an agreement was reached between the government and representatives of the federal states, which initiated the reform (press review CW 22/2023). Specifically, the constitutional amendments that have now been adopted provide for the reinstatement of a presidential system with general and direct elections, which was abolished after the dictator Siad Barré came to power in 1969. This means that the president will no longer be elected by parliament as before, but directly by the population. In addition, the president will be able to appoint and dismiss the prime minister independently and will no longer have to rely on a vote of confidence from parliament, as was previously the case. This is also linked to the abolition of the current power-sharing model, in which the country’s four largest clans have equal representation in parliament. Other changes include the lowering of the “age of maturity” from 18 to 15, the renaming of regional “presidents” as regional “leaders” and the extension of the presidential term of office from 4 to 5 years. However, the decision on the proposed religious provisions was postponed.

The adoption of the constitutional amendments was heavily criticised, with particular reference being made to the fact that President Mohamud was extending his own presidential powers with the reform. The Puntland region, which has been semi-autonomous since 1998, declared on Sunday that the government in Mogadishu had cancelled the previously valid transitional constitution with the amendments and arbitrarily replaced it with a new one. As a result, officials said, the regional constitution of 2009 now applies in Puntland, which allows Puntland to govern itself independently as long as the federal constitutional reform has not been approved in a nationwide referendum. In a separate statement on Saturday, a group of influential Somali politicians, including former Prime Ministers Hassan Ali Khaire and Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, strongly criticised President Mohamud for the constitutional amendment. Former presidents Sharif Sheikh Ahmed (2009-2012) and Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (known as “Farmaajo”) (2017-2022) also warned that the amendments could upset the fragile balance of power in the country. The introduction of the presidential system and the appointment of the prime minister without parliamentary approval would concentrate power in the hands of the executive. By increasing the president’s term of office from four to five years, Mohamud would also be extending his own term of office, according to critics. The lowering of the age of maturity to 15, while the age of responsibility is to remain at 18, has been particularly criticised internationally. On Friday, Human Rights Watch warned against the adoption of the draft as it would weaken the constitutional protection of children and expose girls to a greater risk of child marriage and genital mutilation. The adoption of the reform would contradict Somalia’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which defines children as being under the age of 18.

Puntland’s announcement and the widespread criticism of the reform add to a list of political problems for President Mohamud. In January, tensions between Somalia and the de facto autonomous state of Somaliland, which had unilaterally declared its independence in 1991, came to a head following a harbour agreement between Ethiopia and Somaliland (Press Review CW 2/2024). On Thursday, Somalia expelled the Ethiopian ambassador from the country and closed the Ethiopian consulate in Puntland after representatives of the semi-autonomous region travelled to Addis Ababa for a meeting. It remains to be seen what impact the temporary secession of Puntland will have on the local elections scheduled for 30 June, in which the new constitution is to determine the electoral process for the first time.

 

South Africa’s electoral commission excludes Zuma from the election – MK appeals

On Tuesday, the Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK) party lodged an appeal against the Independent Electoral Commission’s (IEC) exclusion of South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma from the general elections on 29 May this year. The IEC had previously announced last Thursday that, in accordance with Article 47 (e) of the South African Constitution, Zuma would not be allowed to contest the upcoming elections. This Article states that persons who have been sentenced to more than 12 months imprisonment without the possibility of a fine may not hold public office for a period of five years.

Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison in July 2021 after refusing to appear before a judicial commission investigating allegations of corruption from his time in office between 2009 and 2018. His imprisonment triggered nationwide riots in which more than 300 people died (press review CW 28/2021). After just two months, Zuma was released from prison on health grounds and served the remainder of his sentence under house arrest. An appeals court later ruled that Zuma’s early release had been unlawful and ordered his re-imprisonment (press review CW 50/2021). However, on 11 August 2023, after less than two hours in detention, Zuma was released again as he benefited from an amnesty scheme for non-violent offenders granted by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Zuma’s lawyers, meanwhile, argued in their grounds of appeal on Tuesday that Zuma had been convicted of contempt of court and not a criminal offence, which they argued amounted to a civil matter and therefore did not fall under Article 47 of the constitution. Furthermore, it was not within the competence of the IEC to implement the constitutional section – this was the sole responsibility of the National Assembly. Furthermore, MK had not been informed in writing of the reasons for the objection to Zuma’s participation in the election prior to the IEC’s decision on 28 March. The MK also accused the IEC of bias in its decision. However, the Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission, Mosotho Moepya, emphasised that the decision to remove former President Jacob Zuma from the MK party list was in line with the constitution.

Parliamentary and regional elections will be held in South Africa on 29 May and the African National Congress (ANC), which has been in power since the end of apartheid, is in danger of slipping below 50% for the first time, which would require the formation of a coalition government. The reasons for the poor poll results include the weak economy, but also accusations of mismanagement and corruption against the ruling party. It was only on Wednesday that ANC politician and Speaker of the South African National Assembly, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, resigned from office after the public prosecutor accused her of accepting bribes from a former military company during her time in office as Minister of Defence (2012-2021). Despite her resignation, she denies the allegations. The founding of the left-wing populist MK party in December last year and Jacob Zuma’s announcement that he would no longer support the ANC in the next parliamentary elections – where there have been internal power struggles for some time – but rather the MK in the election campaign, put the ruling party under further pressure. In response, the 81-year-old was suspended by the ANC on 29 January.

Since then, Zuma has been the face of the MK party and plays a central role in the election campaign. In his home province of KwaZulu-Natal in particular, but also in Gauteng, South Africa’s most populous province, Zuma continues to enjoy strong support. A survey published in February by the Social Research Foundation (SRF) showed that more than 60% of voters in KwaZulu-Natal – and at least 70% of black voters here – would opt for MK if they had the choice between the ANC and the MK party. According to a survey conducted by the opinion research institute Markdata in March, the ANC has 41% of the vote nationwide, while the MK is already at 11%. South Africa’s largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), is currently polling at around 27%, while the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) are currently polling between 16.7% and 18.5%.

The formation of the MK, which is named after the former militant wing of the ANC, uMkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation), which was disbanded at the end of apartheid, has already led to several legal disputes between the MK and the ANC, including over naming rights, the party logo and other MK symbols. On 19 March, the ANC also applied to the Electoral Commission to exclude the MK party from the elections. The commission rejected the application, whereupon the ANC went to court. The court recently rejected the ANC’s application and allowed the MK to stand for election.

 

In other news

The Grand Street Iftar festival took place in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa on 28 March. Around 80,000 Ethiopian Muslims came together this year to pray and break their fast. For many participants, the Grand Street Iftar is also a symbol of interfaith harmony, reflecting the peaceful coexistence of Christians and Muslims in Ethiopia. The Grand Street Iftar has been held for four years, usually on the 17th day of Ramadan, which commemorates the victory of the Prophet Muhammad in the Battle of Badr in the 7th century. This year, the breaking of the fast also coincided with the anniversary of the Battle of Adwa. In 1896, the Ethiopian army defeated the Italian army and thus secured the sovereignty of the Ethiopian people.

 

Event notice

On 15 April, the film “Love in Unequal Times” (VUTA N’KUVUTE) by Tanzanian director Amil Shivji will celebrate its premiere at the KulturBrauerei Berlin at 8 pm. The political drama is based on the award-winning Swahili novel by Adam Shafi and is set during the last years of the British colonial era on Zanzibar. One of Shivji’s aims is to counteract the one-sided image of Zanzibar as a tourist attraction and to honour it as the birthplace of resistance in Tanzania. This is why the film does not focus on the well-known district of Zanzibar Stone Town, but on the poorer part of Ng’ambo, where African slaves and their descendants lived and where the political upheavals began. The premiere is organised by jip film & verleih in cooperation with the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and the Tanzania Network. Admission is free. Interested parties can register at Berlinpremiere@jip-film.de.

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