Puntland, Galmudug, ASWJ, and the Somali Government Set to Face Off over Federalism Disputes

Galmudug elections hall in Adado

Meeting hall for Galmudug conference in Adado

The process to form a regional administration in central Somalia is in a tenuous state. While it first appeared that building the Jubaland and Southwest administrations would be the toughest assignments in Somalia’s state formation process, the stakes appear even higher in part because it has reignited border issues in the Mudug region.

To recap, the conference in Adado to establish the Galmudug Interim Administration (aka GIA or “Galmudug”) has completed several key steps:

  • a regional constitution was approved and an 89-member regional parliament was formed. Somali sites claim Galmudug’s new Parliament Speaker Ali Ga’al Casir is connected with the Ala Sheikh group (linked with ex-President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed);
  • the regional parliament elected Dam Jadiid candidate Abdikarim Guled, a close ally of President Hassan Sheikh, as regional president and Mohamed Hashi Arabey as Vice President;
  • Guled’s predecessor Abdi Awale Qaybdiid asked those loyal to him to defer to Guled’s authority in a perhaps under-recognized honorable transition in power.

The international community has praised the Adado conference. However. Puntland has rejected the legitimacy of the new Galmudug administration because it believes that the regional constitution passed during the Adado process claimed the whole of Mudug region, including parts Puntland claims as part of its own constitution. If true, this would go against previous agreements between Puntland and the federal government, and from a historical perspective, the 1993 Mudug Peace Agreement that partitioned volatile parts of the region during the civil war.

In October 2014 and April 2015, Puntland and the Somali Federal Government (SFG) had agreed to maintain Mudug as a region shared by Puntland (in north Mudug) and Galmudug (in south Mudug), but there continues to be a dispute about whether the provisional constitution allows a region to be shared by administrations.

Before Guled’s election as Galmudug president, he opposed aspects of these aforementioned deals, and this may complicate efforts to reconcile the dispute.

Galmudug’s new regional constitution has not been made public, so it is difficult to corroborate the veracity of Puntland’s claim independently. However, conference organizers consistently have referred to the Adado process as a merger between Galgaduud and Mudug (as opposed to south Mudug), so it would not be surprising if Puntland’s claims are true.

Puntland also has rejected the SFG’s nominees to several independent commissions because it was not consulted sufficiently, and the ongoing crisis over borders in central Somalia could lead it to “re-suspend relations” with the SFG, just as Jubaland recently did after the federal parliament controversially tried to “dissolve” Jubaland’s regional assembly.

Many observers look at the way in which the SFG interacts with Puntland as a barometer for how willing the federal government is to make concessions to regional leaders and vice versa.  Puntland has been an outspoken critique of the SFG in past federalism disputes, but the particular elements of the Adado process hit at one of Puntland’s most important concerns in the federalism process: borders.

ASWJ Protests the Adado Process

Pro-Ethiopian Sufi militia Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a (ASWJ) also decided to forfeit the Adado process because it had sought recognition to attend the conference as a “political” group rather than be broken down by its clan components, which ostensibly could decrease its influence in the process.

ASWJ also blamed the SFG for not fulfilling past deals it struck with the group.  In April, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud attempted to woo ASWJ to participate by unilaterally and controversially declaring ASWJ’s home base in Dhuusamareeb as the state capital of the re-emerging Galmudug administration, but this did not end up securing ASWJ’s commitment.

Instead, ASWJ staged an offensive against pro-Somali government forces in Galgadud region in June, which violated a February 2015 ceasefire. It also elected its own rival administration at a conference in Dhuusamareeb just days before Galmudug held its own elections in July.

ASWJ’s defiance is important because it is not simply a faction like SW6 in Baidoa that lacked a real capacity to exercise its agenda on the ground. Rather, ASWJ is a militia with a sufficient capable force and political leverage to pose a serious obstacle to creating a coherent administration in central Somalia if the SFG cannot negotiate successfully with the group.

Overall, there are three key issues that may be driving federalism disputes apart from the contested nature of how fair and inclusive the process has been so far.

Constitutional Crisis: The combination of contradictions and ambiguities in the provisional constitution and the absence of a constitutional court mean that disputes in the federalism process generally have to be resolved with an ad hoc political solution that is hard to enforce and implement rather than a legal settlement. While legal settlements would also be difficult to enforce, it is probably a better mechanism for disputes if the Somali justice system can gain the credibility to adjudicate major cases such as those posed in the federalism process.

Pressed for Time: The effort to help Somalia complete the formation of Federal Member States, revise and approve the provisional constitution, and prepare for national elections under a Vision 2016 timeline in 2013 was an admirable but lofty goal in any statebuilding scenario. Now that the SFG has failed to make enough progress in the first two years, its rush to complete important tasks may make it more vulnerable to mistakes that compromise the legitimacy of the institutions it is attempting to form before 2016.

SFG’s Confidence Gap: True or not, many political players in Somalia believe that the SFG continues to seek ways to monopolize the federalism process and to install President Hassan Sheikh’s allies into key positions (i.e., Farah Sheikh Abdulqadir’s efforts to maintain a high-profile position in the PM’s cabinet or Abdikarim Guled’s recent victory as Galmudug president.)

Expectations Moving Forward

Puntland probably will want the SFG and Galmudug to explicitly state that Galmudug’s borders are limited to Galgaduud and south Mudug, and Puntland president Abdiweli Mohamed Ali “Gaas” may threaten to suspend relations with the SFG — again — if this term is not met.

ASWJ may seek key positions in Galmudug president Guled’s cabinet since there is no real room for political accomodation now that the Adado conference is essentially over. As a result, ASWJ may request that Galmudug’s headquarters be re-located to Dhuusamareeb as President Hassan Sheikh had promised. The group also may try to maintain its miltia’s positions in key cities as leverage in talks.

All the political actors have their lines drawn in the sand, literally, and it seems there is little room for negotiating interests and even less availability of actors that can guarantee any agreement.

Correction: a misidentified Galmudug Deputy Parliament leader has been corrected.



Categories: Federalism

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