Leaders in Somalia signed a deal on Tuesday planning to hold elections within a year, aiming to end a string of ineffective transitional U.N.-backed administrations.
The deal commits the government to a new constitution, stipulates reforms in governance and security services and calls for talks with armed opposition groups. It also says African Union troops supporting the government should spread beyond the capital of Mogadishu.
That is all the territory the transitional administration currently holds. Most of the rest of southern Somalia is held by Islamist insurgents, although allied militias hold a few other areas in southern Somalia.
The plan says the international community will provide financial support based on the achievement of results. The government currently gets little direct support from Western donors, who worry about corruption. But over the past two years it has received tens of millions of dollars in cash, mainly from Arab states. Most of that is unaccounted for.
The plan is an "important measure" that sets out timelines and benchmarks, said Augustine Mahiga, the top United Nations official working on Somalia.
"The Somali people are expecting us to achieve full security so that they can have a good life. We will sustain and honor their dignity, and will lead them to prosperity," said Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the agreement by Somali leaders on a "roadmap" for completing the current transitional period and urged them to implement it "in the interest of bringing unity, peace and stability to Somalia and its people," according to the spokesperson for his office.
A long-running feud between the president and the speaker of parliament is one reason the government has remained weak and divided.
War-ravaged Somalia was supposed to have elections last August but the government extended its mandate by a year after the international community could not agree what to do. Somalia has had transitional administrations for the past seven years but has not had a functioning central government since 1991.
The current administration is widely perceived as corrupt and ineffective, and many analysts say that as long as it is assured of the support of the international community in the fight against the Islamist insurgency it has little incentive to change.
Currently four million Somalis _ over half the population _ are dependent on food aid, according to the U.N. Around 750,000 living in famine-affected regions are at risk of starving to death in the next four months. Aid cannot reach most of them because the insurgents block many aid agencies from working in their territory and even in government-held areas shoot-outs at aid distributions are common and up to half of food aid is stolen and sold.