Thursday, November 21, 2019
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Can Federalism Work for Somalia?

By Mohamed Abdi

Somalia’s federalism is ambiguous and unbinding, but the Somali people ought to stomach it as they have opted for it. The federal system adopted by the country to bind its people and bring about a socially cohesive state is fallacious, as the concept and its begotten system are neither local nor clear to the residents’ minds.

Why have we chosen a federal system?

Due to protracted mistrust stemming from injustice and mismanagement of shared resources, Somalis have lost faith in a unitary system where power rests in the hands of one sole authority; and when the last, abhorred central government of the country fell apart in 1991 followed by throat cut civil wars, the fabric of the Somalia people dissolved and disintegrated. Somali clans killed one another and could not coexist anymore; hence, they have congregated in particular areas of the country predominated by the individual clans.

The civil war led to division and discord. Somalia disintegrated with its people dispersed in every direction of the world. Unfortunately, Somali opposition movements that teamed up to bring down the central government failed to stop the civil war, or hold the country together. Instead, they disbanded the country’s national army, causing confusion and callousness, after the army melted into the crowd of their clans’ militiamen to partake in the civil war.

The whole principle was, it seemed, to dismember the country, discolour its society, and distance the nation from a possible recovery. Not a single rule was spared, and civilians did not know what to do when attacked. Anybody could do anything he or she wanted. No police officer, no armed soldier, no authority figure that could stand in the way. Therefore, and riven by instability, many Somalis abandoned their dwellings and sought refuge in the neighbouring countries, hoping to return one day.

The federal system was eventually born out of desperation.

The federalism system was chosen, for a unitary system could not pull the people together. So, determined Somali men and women eventually got together to reconstruct a new post-civil war Somalia. They sat down together on benches and under trees and told their toils, their trails, their fears, and their hopes. But, seeing what lay ahead and loomed on the horizon, some of them were not hopeful, however they strived.

Many reconciliation conferences facilitated by different countries and aimed at gathering Somali leaders together to resuscitate the country were held at different places. Djibouti and Kenya conferences in early 2000s are two examples. At that time, restoring Somalia was a do or die assignment. After long deliberations and discussions, an alienating 4.5 formula and an alien federalism system came to being respectively. Somalia was now to stand on its feet, it was thought.

What is federalism?

According to one definition, “Federalism is a system of government in which entities such as states or provinces share power with a national government.” This is a crystal clear definition. To elaborate a bit more on this definition, federalism is a system that calls for genuine power-sharing standards stipulated and implemented by constitutional statutes. Outlined in a hierarchical structure of government (federal, provincial, municipal), each level of the government is aware of its responsibilities and obligations. For example, maintaining an army, protecting borders, making own currency, and forging a foreign diplomacy are responsibilities shouldered by the central government; on the other hand, regional states are responsible for community policing in designated districts, maintaining public schools, running  hospitals, and providing social services.  

Is Somalia’s federalism working?

No, it is falling apart. The country has constructed itself and formed five federal states, with the exception of Somaliland which has unilaterally separated from the rest of the country. These five states are Jubbaland, Galmudug, Puntland, Hirshabelle, and Southwest.  Each one has a president of its own, a misleading name which often demeans the country’s general president. Imagine five member states’ presidents and the central state’s president assembling somewhere bearing the same title: President. How many presidents do we have here? In fact, the term “President” is too heavy a name for a regional state leader. Let us invent suitable names for the provincial leaders, and reserve the name “President” for the country’s top official only. Of course, there are brilliant Somali minds that can come up with some appropriate names.

President Farmaajo and President Ahmed Madobe shaking hands and amicably smiling

This federal country has a draft constitution in place, which stipulates obligations and responsibilities shouldered by all branches of the federal system. However, the concept of “federalism” is not sinking in for the Somali people. That is why President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo and federal states’ presidents are always at loggerheads. The issue is over fighting resources and who is to take the biggest share of the pie. Well, let the constitution divide the pie. The federal constitution should not only mediate between the central government and its member states, the constitution has to work within the states themselves, where grievances of different kinds exist.

To put it simply, presidents of the member states must not develop dictatorial attitudes and destroy anyone that get in their way. The system ought to work for everyone, ranging from the highest authority to the lowest cells of the society.

Are the regional states rising up against centralization of power?

Yes, they are. Nobody is following the constitution. Both individual and collective responsibilities are plainly stated in the federal constitution, yet there is a continual collision and confusion regarding power sharing methods. The central government and its regional states collide and conflict with one another on a regular basis. What is causing the continual conflict? It is the federal system. Nobody respects it. Nobody adheres to its principles.

President Mohamed Farmaajo and Prime Minster Hassan Ali Khayre seem to be oblivious to the country’s federal system. What do they want, then? Are they centralists? If so, centralism cannot work for the country’s residents. The top officials must change the course and obey and implement the federal system. They need to cordially work with the regional states to help the residents rebound from prolonged setbacks of different sorts. Waking up to the reality on the ground is the only way forward, at least at the present time; and that reality is federalism.

If President Farmaajo does not work hand in hand with the regional states, he is going to dismember the country. To work with the federal member states is to listen to their concerns, to consult them, and to provide their rightful shares of the federal resources. In addition, the president should not validate one regional leader or invalidate another one. It is the choice and duty of regional states to hold fare and free elections and choose their own leaders. However, the central government has to set up mechanism in which to protect the people’s rights. For example, principled, non-partisan Election Agencies can be put in place to prevent election manipulation or vote rigging from happening.

With a deep rift currently simmering between Ahmed Mohamed Islaan (Ahmed Madobe) of Jubbaland and the Central State headed up by President Farmaajo, the federal constitution is anything but a reconciling one. Each side is accusing the other of ignoring the country’s constitution and subduing its people. Jubbaland recent elections sparked the dispute. Ahmed Madobe had been in office for eight years before he was re-elected on August 22, 2019, but the fairness of his re-election has been disputed. He has been accused of handpicking election committees, bribing some elders and banning others from participation, and belittling concerns coming from election candidates and community members of the state. Also, Abdirashid Hidig, a member of parliament (federal), and Abdinasir Seeraar, a former spokesman for Ahmed Madobe, held other elections in Kismayo on August 23, 2019, and declared themselves the Jubbaland State’s presidents.

Strangely, on the morning of August 24, 2019, the state’s people woke up to three presidents claiming leadership victories at the same time. However, the Federal government has called Ahmed Madobe’s re-election unconstitutional and void. Conversely, Ahmed Madobe has fiercely defied his opponents’ disagreements and vowed not to kowtow to the central government. As a result of the dispute, the two sides meted out harsh measures to each other. Mr. Ahmed Madobe banned government officials from coming to Kismayo, whereas Mr Farmaajo restricted Jubbaland’s sky and prevented airplanes from landing in Kismayo before coming to Mogadishu. Some Somalia’s former presidents suffered the consequence. President Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed is a case in point. He was first denied to fly to Kismayo to attend Ahmed’s inauguration, but was later on authorized. President Sheikh Sharif’s restriction was called an outrageous action by opposition leaders, including former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

President Ahmed Madobe eventually went ahead with his inauguration on October 12, 2019.

His inauguration was highly attended by Kenya, Somali opposition groups, and the Puntland State. Among other opposition members, President Hassan and President Sheikh Sharif attended the inauguration to firmly stand with Ahmed Madobe. Without permission from Somalia, Kenyan delegation left for Kismayo, violating the country’s territorial integrity.  By attending the inauguration and applauding for Kenya’s badmouthing and platitude, the two former presidents have lost credibility amid the Somali people. Ironically, during his tenure, President Hassan strongly opposed the formation of the Jubbaland State, or Ahmed Madobe’s legitimacy, for that matter; but the former president has now endorsed Ahmed’s re-election and inauguration, simply because he is a sworn enemy of Mr.Farmaayo. What a short sightedness. Regarding the inaugurations, Abdirashid Hidig and Cabdinaasir Seeraaralsoinaugurated themselves on the following day. This was mayhem. Three leaders have been at each other’s throat in Kismayo, not to mention the brutal clash between Mogadishu and Kismayo.

Somalia’s federalism is in crisis due to its ambiguity and ineffectiveness.

Unless the country holds to the federal constitution, the Somali people will continue to suffer and safeguard other nations’ interests.  Again, a unitary system is not an option for the country and its people due to the aforesaid matters, but the federal system is not an easy way, either. Nevertheless, Somalia must stick to the agreed upon federal principles, or else the country will relapse to where it emerged from and deepen into a disorderly condition. Here, Power sharing schemes enshrined in the constitution must be implemented to help the society pull in the same direction. It is the constitution that protects everyone’s right if it is carried out. It fights injustice, insecurity, and enmity.

Both established federal states and those in the making ought to respect the will of their people when it comes to participation and election aimed at finding a suitable leader for that individual federal state. Choosing a leader is a right owned by the people, not an obligation shouldered by the central government.

Nonetheless, the central government ought to help the regional states hold fair and free elections by providing needed resources. Is that doable? Yes, if justice and sincerity are to be adopted and adhered to. Furthermore, corruption and cruelty will end if each federal level attends to its delegated responsibilities.

 For many years, corruption has been rampant in the country, which evoked horror, disgust. Of the thousands millions known to have been spent on Somalia, a tiny percent of the money has been put in its rightful place. Corruption is not only confined to financial gains, but touches on sharing resources, such as employment, army recruitment, investment programs, etc. to be specific, the central government should not focus on one area of the country and ignore other parts of it. If it does so, it is a dishonest government. “Corruption Perceptions Index 2018”compiled and ranked 180 countries and Somalia became the lowest country on the list, no.180. What a shame. What is happening in Somalia is neither federalism, nor centralism. It is something else.

Mohamed Abdi is a Somali-Canadian Writer
Email: [email protected]


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