Is Federalism the Best Path for a State Like Somalia?

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Parliament Speaker Mohamed Osman Jawari (left) and the President at the 42nd Anniversary of the Somali Script

6 March 2015 – Since the toppling of the government in 1991 and the civil war which followed it, Somalia is just finding its feet as a government. The Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) led by President Hassan Sheikh Mahamoud came into power in 2012, but as Vision 2016 slowly creeps up on the state, it makes everyone, including myself, question whether federalism is truly the right path for Somalia.

Somalia has had their fair share of government administrations in the follow up to the collapse of the state government.

Nevertheless, the current internationally-backed government has struggled in many aspects, particularly with the relationships between the President and Prime Minister, which has seen 3 Prime Ministers appointed by President Hassan as we approach his 3rd year in power.

Continued bickering in Villa Somalia and the degree of insecurity in some regions has led to an increase in extremism, internal political fighting and foreign exploitation.

The idea of federalism in Somalia is not something new to us; talks date back to pre-independence, but the key discussion and ideas for it came as a product of the civil war in the 1990s.

Previous governments before the FGS failed to implement federalism successfully, in part because it did not control many cities and its area of influence was based largely in Mogadishu.

Now, Somalia is continuing state building in a much more difficult and complex process. To date, there have been 4 formed state governments: two have just commenced the state building process at the regional level (the Interim Jubba Administration and Interim Southwest administration), one wants no part of a federal government (Somaliland), and one would like to continue to govern their own region with a limited amount of power to the federal government (Puntland).

The idea of federalism for Somalia that past leaders have had, yet failed to achieve, seems good in a verbal and linguistic way but more must be done to achieve these plans.

Speaking at Garowe II in 2012, former president of Puntland Abdirahman Mahamoud Faroole described the type of federalism that Puntland aspired as ‘’a system where power and resources is divided between the states and a federal level. Gone are the days when power and resources was unfairly concentrated in a single city-state.’’ 

But with this point in mind, the worst fear of federalism in Somalia is the production of a new sort of federal system: Clan Federalism.

For example, in May 2014, whilst addressing an audience in London, Head of the UN Mission in Somalia Nicholas Kay explained that “Federalism should be seen as structuring Somalia along strictly clan lines. There will be minorities in each state and each state must ensure it is inclusive.”  Not only does this confuse everyone, this also comes across as a negative description of a federal Somalia.

Many problems and conflicts are feared to be formed from clan federalism, where some have identified and predicted problems such as; impossibility to develop countrywide civic citizenship, inter-clan feuds, tension between ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ clans and more.

One problem that Somalis and Somalia faces is the lack of support from a majority of the Somali citizens regionally, as this is evident from the consistent bickering from the Somaliland and Puntland governments. In addition, the bickering and verbal clashes between the federal government and regional states is as much based on legal disputes as it is characterized by clan entitlements. The late Professor Said Samatar described the rhetoric behind this dispute as a “my clan is good/better while your clan is wrong/right.” The failure to communicate has also been evident in more recent formations of states, particularly the merging of Mudug and Galgudud regions, with Puntland having made its concerns about the border between the two states.

My personal opinion is that, clan federalism would weaken our nation, our unity and most importantly our identity. So if clan federalism is the worst product to come out of a federal government, what could be the best option or path to choose from federalism?

The most recent study carried out by HIPS, The Heritage Institute for Policy Studies in Somalia has provided the government with an excessive amount of data from the Somali public, which would be best to consider for the future of the nation. A survey was carried out in the 5 major cities of Mogadishu, Baioda, Kismayo, Garowe and Galkacyo. A majority those who participated in the survey agreed on the fact that federalism was the most suitable form of governance but criticised the current formation of administrations as deeply flawed due to the fact that it is seen as an externally facilitated scheme that promotes clan identity at the expense of citizenship.

The call for genuine social reconciliation was hugely demanded by the participants, and this was identified as a key to successful implementation of federalism in Somalia. Nevertheless, despite a large amount of support for federalism, many failed to understand the true nature of it, which may suggest that a huge education campaign on federalism must be created in order to receive the best out of citizens and this form of governance.

If the path of clan federalism is taken by the government, then federalism in Somalia will never work due to consistent clashing and feuds. Despite that, federalism could work in Somalia although it is a complex and multi-layered governance style, with social reconciliation as a crucial part of healing the past wounds from the civil war and onward.

For federalism to work in Somalia and for the government and the citizens to receive the best from it, the key will be to listen to the people and to communicate internally, instead of the consistent need for foreign “helpers” meddling in every regional or state government crisis.

Written by Amina Adan

Twitter: @aia_24

Source for HIPS: http://www.heritageinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/HIPS-Briefing-Federal-Somalia-ENG-3.pdt

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