On 25 December, three districts in Somalia’s Bakool region formed a breakaway administration after claiming its communities were marginalized by the Interim Southwest Administration (ISWA).
Upper Bakool (aka Bakool Sare) – including representatives from Yeed, Aato, and Ceel Barde districts — defiantly selected Ahmed Nur Sheikh Mohamed as its regional president.
According to Somali media, the plan to create Upper Bakool was lead largely by a faction of Darod-Ogaden-Aulihan clan members.
Days after the administration was formed, photos surfaced online of Upper Bakool’s security forces comprised of only 12 fighters standing with MP Ahmed Aabi.
Throughout Somalia’s federalism process, stakeholders in dispute over state formation processes have varied in responses from violent conflict to political protests to forming an “autonomous” administration.
In March, Sharif Hassan finally succeeded in reeling in opponents who wanted to expand the southwest administration to include the Jubaland region. In addition, ASWJ is largely operating independently in some parts of central Somalia amid an ongoing dispute with the Interim Galmudug Administration.
In Bakool region, the Ogaden-Aulihan clan is not satisfied with representation in ISWA, as it only received three seats in the 145-member regional parliament. In early December, Ogaden communities with the clan distribution of seats in the regional parliament.
In a mid-December meeting in Mogadishu, ministers of parliament (MPs) from the Ogaden clan and former finance minister Hussein Abdi Halane for creating a regional parliament that would abide by his wishes.
Forming a breakaway administration is a drastic step that may not necessarily enable Upper Bakool stakeholders to improve services to communities, especially since one of its grievances is a lack of resources.
It does, however, raise the profile of the Aulihan’s grievances and could trigger negotiations where they can gain some concessions, including increased representation.
After the Jubaland administration formed its regional parliament in May, Digil-Mirifle clan leaders and ISWA president Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan claimed that its communities were not fairly represented in what some observers believed was an administration most favorable to the Ogaden sub-clan.
Finally, in September, Jubaland president Ahmed Madobe promised to add 10 members of the Digil-Mirifle clan to the Jubaland regional parliament. Now, Madobe may be watching with a wry smile as an Ogaden sub-clan makes the very same claim about Sharif Hassan’s southwest administration.
Perhaps fittingly, Sharif Hassan may have to make the same kind of compromise that was afforded to Digil-Mirifle clan communities on representation in Jubaland.
Though Puntland is often displeased with those who support the Khaatumo breakaway administration in its own claimed territory, Puntland president Abdiweli Gaas supported the decision to establish Upper Bakool because he believed Sharif Hassan had not addressed the grievances of the Aulihan. Gaas’ statement may not be a clan-linked decision based on Darod affinity. It could simply be a shrewd political move to encumber a wile national figure and political rival in Sharif Hassan.
Going further, Mirifle-Jilible clan MP Mohamed Hussein “Afaraale” insisted that Puntland and Jubaland were fueling the disagreement through their support for Upper Bakool.
As a result, the Bakool dispute is not simply a provincial affair.
Sharif Hassan has tried to expand the legitimacy of his administration by increasing the size of security forces, making frequent (and often dangerous) trips across the region, and naming Barawe as the regional capital of the administration. The dispute in Bakool region may cause him to adjust his priorities at a critical juncture.
Heading into the final year of the federal government’s mandate in 2016, the Upper Bakool dispute cannot be ignored simply as a political inconvenience.
Regional leaders are still unlikely to agree easily on a “hybrid” process for 2016 elections when a new federal parliament and president are expected to be chosen. Self-proclaimed “breakaway” administrations like Upper Bakool that rebuff regional leadership and create tensions between regional leaders will probably stifle a consensus on how to pick new political representation at the national level.
If Sharif Hassan can reconcile with the Ogaden-Aulihan faction, he will probably need to do so without upsetting other clan communities in Bakool that could lose out if certain concessions are distributed exclusively to the Aulihan without wider consultation.
After all, it is clear that representatives from other prominent communities in southwest Somalia, such as Sheikh Aden Madoobe, do not agree with the efforts to further divide the region.
Ultimately, the cycle of clan-based disputes and their respective resolutions will confirm or challenge the perception that federalism in Somalia will lead to “clan fiefdoms” or pluralistic political communities.