For decades, Somalia has been regarded by many as the epitome of the failing state, ruled by warlords who have denied Somalis their own say in how they are governed and have prevented successful intervention by the international community. But a glimmer of optimism is now offered following the inauguration of Somalia's first national parliament in more than 20 years.
Whilst it is still far too early to claim an end to Somalia's woes – the president has criticised the membership of the parliament and the International Crisis Group has expressed concerns about the fledgling democratic process and prospects for stability – the newly-sworn in MPs, around 20% of whom are women, offer hope that the Somali people will be allowed to shape their own futures. As Freeplay has observed in its many years of providing wind up radio and solar radio products throughout Africa, community development and the creation of sustainable democratic institutions, whatever form they take, rely on effective communication with – and within – the population. As Somalia's new parliament gets to grip with what is, in effect, long-term disaster recovery, let's hope that it recognises the importance of free speech and a free media, and that it not only keeps Somalis informed about what it does, but also listens to and acts upon the views and aspirations of a people who have been disenfranchised for far too long.