The UN envoy for Somalia on Wednesday insisted the country was making progress, a day after the government said elections cannot be held as promised in next year.
On Tuesday, Somalia's government admitted that insecurity and lack of political progress means there cannot be "one man, one vote" elections in 2016 as envisaged by the United Nations, foreign diplomats and the government itself.
"The road to democracy is there, but 2016 will be a stepping stone short of full democracy," said Nicholas Kay, the top UN diplomat in Somalia.
Kay said the announcement, which was greeted with dismay in Somalia, was "no surprise".
"It's a reality we've been staring at for quite a while," he said.
Kay spoke to AFP on the sidelines of the so-called High-Level Partnership Forum, a meeting of Somali and foreign delegates held in the capital on Wednesday and Thursday, despite a weekend suicide truck bombing at one of the city's biggest and most popular hotels.
The last forum was hosted in Copenhagen. Kay described this week's gathering as "the largest international meeting in Mogadishu in modern times" with discussions of what will happen in 2016, when the current government's four-year mandate expires, at the top of the agenda.
Kay said the process of state-building, after decades of civil war and anarchy, and the creation of a federal rather than a centralised administration, "is going well but has taken longer than expected".
Al-Qaeda affiliate, the Shebab, still controls parts of the rural south and attacks at will in Mogadishu, contributing to the difficulties of holding a nationwide poll.
- Government buying time? -
Late Wednesday the UN Security Council passed a resolution authorising until May 2016 the deployment of the 22,000-strong African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which fights Shebab and protects the government. The same resolution extended the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), headed by Kay, until March 2016.
Kay dismissed suggestions that the government might be stalling elections in the hope of extending their own mandate, and with it their employment and salaries.
"There is an overwhelming consensus that there should be an electoral process in 2016," he said, although he admitted, "one or two voices expressed interest in an extension of the current government's mandate."
What that electoral process might look like will be decided by the end of the year, with the Somali government due to hold public consultations before presenting proposals to the international community in early 2016.
"Whatever process happens in 2016 it must be demonstrably different -- and feel different -- to 2012," when President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and his government were selected by clan elders.
That process was flawed and rife with vote-buying but Kay said it was, nevertheless, "an incredibly important achievement at the time".
"Something must happen that's a step forward from the 2012 process," Kay said.
The UN envoy insisted the 2016 deadline for a transfer of power "is still there" but warned of "a genuine risk" that rushed elections "could drive conflict".