Mohamud’s U.S. Visit Foreshadows Federalism Debate

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One issue that stuck out during President Mohamud’s largely successful first visit to the United States was the future of federalism in Somalia.

After a warm reception in the Washington, D.C. area, Mohamud encountered significant protests in his subsequent visit to Minnesota in which many in the Somali community demonstrated against the president’s perceived interference in the process to form Jubaland state.

These protests signal the serious debate that will take place when Somalia’s parliament reconvenes in March 2013. Somali Parliament Speaker Mohamed Osman Jawari recently stated that the legislative body will need to amend the constitution to clarify how Mogadishu will divide power, responsibilities, the sharing of resources (e.g., profits from ports), and autonomy between Mogadishu and other regions.

Why the Debate?

The issue goes back as recently as when Somalia’s National Constituent Assembly approved the country’s draft constitution in August 2012. Many details about the how the concept of federalism would be applied were left out of the document.

The gaps were partially due to the rush to approve the new constitution before the end of the Transitional Federal Government’s (TFG) mandate. But, there were also significant unresolved differences about how to implement federalism between Mogadishu and the rest of the country. Somaliland, as an example, has claimed total independence.  Other regions like Puntland have accepted semi-autonomy.

In the weeks before Somalia’a parliament takes up the federalism debate, political players in the country are busy trying to fortify other regional administrations.

Officials from the Galmduug and Ximan and Xeeb administrations are in talks with militia leaders from Ahlu Sunna Waljama’a (ASWJ) to form a joint administration in central Somalia. There are also ongoing talks in Baidoa (Bay region) to assess the possibility of a new region comprising of Bay and Bakool states, populated heavily by Rahanweyn clan members.

Though unperfect, this map is a good impression of how Somalia's regions are divided

Though not perfect, this map is a good impression of how Somalia’s regions are divided

Important Things to Note

Federalism goes far beyond the more publicized talks between Somalia and Somaliland to unify.

On one side of the debate, many communities outside Mogadishu want to take control of local governance after seeing the ineffectiveness of successive Mogadishu administrations. Some see potential interference from Mogadishu as either evidence of its attempt to consolidate power or its intention to deny the rights of rival clans to gain greater influence.

At the same time, others fear that regional administrations are based on clan dreams to have a state and do not always fully address the interests of all clans in those regions. For instance, one can look at the clan dispute over Mayoral elections in Saylac, Somaliland or reports about certain clans’ perception of marginalization in Puntland (see report here).

There has also been plenty of media coverage about the role that foreign countries play in supporting these administrations as a way to exercise their influence in Somalia. (Of course, the same can be argued about their influence in Mogadishu as well.)

In the near future, there will be two big debates on federalism in Somalia. One will take place at the parliamentary level and will involve amending the constitution in order to define Somalia’s center-periphery relationship. This is bound to be contentious but is necessary.

The other debate will take place within these independent regions regarding how to organize the internal administrations. States like Jubaland will have to figure out how to provide security and share profits (from lucrative sources like Kismayo port) in a large and diverse region. Other states such as Puntland will try to peacefully settle issues regarding its own constitution, such as President Farole’s controversial extension of his presidential term by one year.

It’s unlikely that the idea of federalism will disappear anytime soon in Somalia. Thus, it will become increasingly important for regional administrations not to repeat the mistakes of its counterparts in Mogadishu.

It also will be critical for Somalia’s government to establish an open forum for discussion on how federalism can best be implemented in a way that addresses the underlying factors that affect the success of its implementation.



Categories: ASWJ, Ethiopia, Int'l Community in Somalia, Jubaland, Kenya, Kismayo, Mogadishu, Puntland, Somali Constitution, Somali Government

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