Seated next to the Prime Minister of Somalia Abdiweli Mohammad Ali (right), the President of Somalia Sharif Shaikh Ahmad (left) signs the document to approve the country's draft constitution after a meeting with other signatories held in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on June 22, 2012. Image Credit: EPA

Nairobi: Somalia’s leaders said on Friday they had adopted a draft constitution, billed as the key to lifting the Horn of Africa nation out of two decades of instability and civil war.

The draft law must first be approved by a constituent assembly whose members will be designated next month and then, at a date still to be determined, put to a nationwide referendum.

“This is the most critical step because it ushers in the major step to end transition,” UN Special Representative for Somalia Augustine Mahiga told reporters in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

The adoption of the text came at the end of three days of meetings between Somali President Sharif Shaikh Ahmad, Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohammad Ali and the speaker of parliament, Sharif Hassan Shaikh Adan.

Also there were the leaders of the self-proclaimed autonomous republics of Puntland and Galmudug, and the head of the Sufi movement Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa.

Somalia’s transitional institutions, including the presidency and the parliament, were set up in 2004 but must be replaced by permanent institutions by August 20.

Somali elders will designate the members of a constituent assembly, which is supposed to convene for the first time around July 12, as well as the members of the new parliament.

The members of parliament are to choose a new president by August 20.

Somalia’s Al Qaida-linked Al Shabab rebels have been forced to abandon their positions in the capital in recent months by an African Union force fighting together with the fledgling Somali army and troops sent by Kenya and Ethiopia.

The military operations have also wrested back control of many of Al Shabab’s bastions in southern and central Somalia.

Somalia has been without a stable central government since the ouster of former president Siad Barre in 1991.

Prime Minister Ali highlighted the degree of autonomy for Somalia’s different regions and states provided for in the draft constitution.

“These states play an important role within the Federal Republic of Somalia. The constitution caters for already existing states within Somalia and those that will emerge in future,” he said.

Somaliland, which unilaterally announced in 1991 it was breaking away from the rest of Somalia, did not take part in the talks on the constitution.

Ethiopia said Friday it intends to keep its troops in Somalia until the new institutions are in place.

“There is no current plan to evacuate from Somalia, until such time that a proper Somali constitution is ratified... [and] a new democratic and constitutional government will be ensured, Ethiopian forces will remain there,” government spokesperson Shimeles Kemal told reporters.

“The peacekeeping force shall remain there until the transitional government ends and the succeeding government... will be able to fully manage and control the stability and peace in Somalia,” he added.