Somalia's various political factions and the Transitional National Government (TNG) on Thursday signed a landmark agreement after days of delay and disagreement.
After days of bargaining, the leaders of the Somali groups meeting in a hotel in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, reached agreement over the number and mode of selection of the members of a future interim parliament, a source from the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is coordinating the talks, told IRIN on Tuesday.
The agreement comes after more 14 months of talks aimed at establishing an all-inclusive, recognised national government.
Kenyan Foreign Minister Kalonzo Musyoka was quoted as saying on Thursday that there would be a functional government in Somalia within a month.
Musyoka's involvement was said to have been critical to reaching the agreement. "He spent untold hours in the Safari Park Hotel, shuttling from one leader's room to another. I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that without his direct involvement we would not be here," Asha Haji Ilmi, a civil society leader and one of the signatories to today's agreement, told IRIN on Thursday.
Asha said that she hoped that the signing would mark "the beginning of our of country's long nightmare. We have been given a golden opportunity by our neighbors and the international community to help ourselves. We should not lose it."
She also drew attention to the fact that this had been the first time in Somalia's history that a peace agreement had been signed by a woman. "I think today Somali women crossed a bridge and there is no turning back. We are full partners in the process," she stressed.
The leaders reportedly agreed on amendments to a controversial interim charter which was adopted in July last year by the delegates, but rejected as "flawed" by the TNG and some factions.
A statement issued at the time by the conference organisers said the delegates had agreed that parliament would comprise 351 members; the life of the transitional parliament would be four years. MPs would be selected by the political leaders - who had been party to the Declaration on the Cessation of Hostilities signed in Eldoret on 27 October 2002 - and by politicians originally officially invited by the IGAD's Technical Committee in consultation with the traditional leaders.
The compromise amendments reduce the number of MPs to 275, with 12 percent of seats set aside for women. The selection of MPs is also specified in the proposed compromise as designed "to address the concerns" of those who had rejected the July agreement. Selection will now be effected by clan political leaders and must be endorsed by "recognised traditional elders". The life of the transitional parliament is now raised to five years.
The leaders agreed that these amendments would come into force after the conference's plenary adopted them and after their endorsement by the Transitional National Assembly in Mogadishu. This was seen as a formality, since all the leaders had agreed to it, a diplomatic source involved in the talks told IRIN. "We expect this to happen by next week," the Kenyan ambassador to Somalia, Muhammad Abdi Affey, told IRIN on Thursday.
Immediately after the agreement was endorsed the talks would move to the third and final stage of the conference, Affey added. In this phase, MPs would be selected "on the basis of the 4.5 formula, the clan formula", he said.
According to this formula, Somalia's four major clans will each select 60 MPs, and an alliance of small clans will select 35. The task of dividing the seats along subclan lines is left to each group. "This could be a very long process, since each subclan wants to get what it considers to be its fair share of the seats," one Somali delegate, who requested anonymity, warned.
But Affey was more upbeat. "We expect the clans to submit the names of their MPs within 21 days. Parliament will be constituted and the MPs will elect a president, who will in turn appoint a prime minister," he said.
Affey told IRIN that a ceremony would be held in Nairobi at which the TNG would "officially hand over to the newly elected government".
But an international observer involved in the talks was more cautious. "Let's not talk about a timetable now. We have definitely achieved an important goal and we should build on it. What we need to do now is not to lose the momentum," he said. He cautioned that the selection of MPs and the election of a president would take time, "but that is fine so long as it is a transparent process".