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Last Updated: Friday, 8 October 2004, 19:18 GMT 20:18 UK
Somalia's parliament: A day in the life
By Gray Phombeah
BBC correspondent in Nairobi

There is no pomp or ceremony here at Somalia's parliament in exile. No sight of a coat of arms or a sergeant-at-arms. Everything is simple.

Somali MPs in a parliamentary session
The parliament resembles a noisy classroom

In fact, the Somali parliament sitting in the outskirts of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, could easily pass for a noisy classroom in any part of Africa, except perhaps for the advancing age and sometimes menacing beards of some of the honourable MPs.

Here, on land sandwiched between the city of Nairobi and a national park teeming with wildlife, is where 275 MPs drawn from warring clans plan to elect a new Somali president on Sunday - from 28 candidates, after almost 14 years of anarchy and bloodshed.

'Hostile'

Forget about horse-drawn carriages or a fleet of slick cars, or Mogadishu's armed pick-ups.

Royalty or warlordism is tolerated only under sufferance here.

So loud Somali music blares from buses and taxis dropping off the members of parliament outside this 56-year-old college of higher learning, known as the Kenya School of Communication and Technology.

Somali faction leader Hussein Aideed
The situation in the parliament is still tense because there is no trust
Faction leader Hussein Aideed
And on the way to the house, there is always time for a quick chew of khat, a mild narcotic plant.

Inside the conference hall, the session is a hopelessly ad hoc affair.

A quick survey reveals that the separate fiefdoms back home are here too, and the rows of seats separating them serve as a metaphor for what has happened to their country.

There is very little eye contact between warlords, certainly no handshakes as they take their seats.

"They are still hostile to one another," says Hussein Aideed, a former US marine and one of Mogadishu's main faction leaders.

"The situation in the parliament is still tense because there is no trust.

"The trust was broken when I was seven years old in 1969 after a military coup in which the then president was assassinated."

Cacophony

Presidential candidates square off in this steamy makeshift parliament.

Clapping and cheers, and then a booming laugh from one of the candidates followed by a bark of pleasure from the audience that is simultaneously hearty and ironic.

Somali MP Amina Ahmed Mursal with warlord Mahmood Said in the background
The parliament's fashion is marked by colour and contrast
But the shrieking shout of a warlord and the speech of an angry MP brings the house down to earth - to the reality of war-torn Somalia.

Here, the old is very old, and the new, very new in the new battle between high-tech and traditions.

For example, the clash of prayers and mobile phone ring tones in the house.

Or the ring tones providing the new musical bed for the 44-year-old national anthem, which warring clans sing in unison for the first time in 13 years.

Colour and contrast is to be found in the dark suits worn by warlords and the traditional Somali robes worn by lesser mortals.

Strangely, Somali's future seems bright from here: no street fighters toting Kalashnikov assault rifles, and what might seem as an echo of the civil war in Somalia could just be a roar of a lone lion in the nearby Nairobi National Park.

Come the hour a new president is in place on Sunday, a new brighter chapter in Somali's sorry history will hopefully have begun.






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