New Article on Constitution-making, Media and the Politics of Participation in Somalia

  • Abstract: The United Nations-led constitution-making process, while highly controversial, has sought to create an opening to help Somalia transition to a new phase in its political development. This article considers the structural features, problems, and opportunities of the process, particularly in the context of debates over external interventions and state sovereignty. It also addresses an area that is often overlooked during constitution-making: the role of media and communications in advancing narratives that not only shape perceptions, but also define the scope of the debate. International actors have worked to promote legitimating narratives, emphasizing certain aspects and values with a focus on the constitution being ‘Somali-owned’. This article shows how local and private media treated and reshaped these emphases and priorities. At this stage it is not possible to conclude whether efforts to “sell” the constitution have generated greater legitimacy, but what is clear is that the narratives that have dominated public discourse have been focused on participation and politicking, reflecting underlying concerns about which groups will have access to state resources, as well as responding to the interventions by international actors. This emphasis has obscured the role of local legal cultures and previous experiences with grassroots constitution-making processes and reconciliation in the Somali territories that might allow for the re-imagining of the nation.