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Federalism: A Suitable Governance System for Contemporary Somalia

Policy Brief By PDRC


Federalism is not a newborn phenomenon in the Somali governance con- text. Post-independence Somalia tried to adopt different versions of governance systems; Federalism was among the proposed modalities advocated by pro-Italian South-West politicians. However, the country embraced British model of parliamentary system leading up to the 21st October military coup in 1969. The federalism doctrine slowly faded in backdrop of a strong Scientifically Socialist State. This centralist model concentrated power into the center and leaves the peripheral regions less protected and least developed. 

In the lead up to the resumption of the Third Republic in Embagati Kenya in 2004, the foundations were laid in the principle of a strong federal system and devolution of power. The country has embraced a federal system not because it is inherently the better system of governance, but it was seen as a viable solution to restore trust and peace. 

Federalism will distribute power and resources among member states, contrary to the unitary system where power and resources are concentrated into the center and in the hands of few. 

The key promoters of Federalism are Puntland, Jubbaland, Southwest and to a difference status the Somaliland. Their rationale is embedded in historical grievances based on violations of human rights, marginalization of peripheries and the abuses in civic rights. The fact that state became a “One City State” and the concentration of power resources in the capital has resulted in the revolt of the 80’s and 90’s. Moreover, there is a belief that after the civil war these regions have organized their citizens and turned the region into a “successful” administration with relative peace and working institutions that have parliaments, executive, judiciary, police, revenue collection systems, and district level local administrations. 

Other proponents of federalism are Somali academic circles and practitioners of peace building such as Civil Society Organizations and Think Tanks. Their arguments are based on the presupposition that a divided society such as the Somali with diverse clan backgrounds, grievances and unsettled scores, with separatist or secessionist tendencies due to the civil wars; diffusion of powers though decentralization, devolution or federation is the solution. 

The Somali people have been making efforts to reinstate their statehood and a series of reconciliation conferences held inside and outside the country to restore hope. 

In 2004, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was formed in Nairobi-Kenya, which initiated the first Somali Federal Government ever. In 2012, the TFG adopted a provisional federal constitution, which turned the Federal Government of Somalia to a federal status and thus an internationally recognized Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) was born. 

Since it was adopted, Federalism as a system of governance has been the core complex discourse that has raised debates and arguments within the Somali society. There is a lack of clear understanding and consensus about the concept of federal- ism in Somalia and how it will apply in the country and transit from the unfair 4.5-clan system of resource and power sharing. The state building process has been hard to achieve due to mistrust, weak government institutions and a society that is still healing from the wounds of the civil war. 

Three Stages of the Somali State 

The Somali state is a product of colonization; two of its stages are directly inherited from the colonial powers. 

1.The Civilian State (1960 – 1969) 

Independence movements spread throughout Africa in the 20th Century. On June 26, 1960, British Somaliland became independent and the UN trusteeship over Italian Somaliland ended five days later. The amalgamation of these two regions formed the Republic of Somalia on July 1, 1960. For the majority of the population, allegiance was still based on clan- ship. “Nationalist leaders saw only too clearly how clan differences and self-interest had in the past facilitated the partition of their people by foreign powers”. For these reasons, ‘pan-Somalism ‘became the preferred and stressed form of nationalism. Nationalism politics were also designed to disregard tribalism and eclipse the role of traditional elders. 

Adan Abdullah Osman, president of the Legislative Assembly, was elected President of the newly born Republic of Somalia. President Adan Abdullah appointed Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke as prime minister on July 12, 1960. 

Legislative elections followed on March 30, 1964, and the Somali Youth League (SYL) won 69 out of 123 seats in the National Assembly. The Socialist National Congress (SNC) won 22 seats in the National Assembly. 

Elected in 1967 by the National Assembly, President Shermaarke and his prime minister Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal focused on uniting the divided Somalis. Since many Somalis remained in Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya, President Shermaarke promoted national integration and the idea of Greater Somalia. He used the Somali five-point star flag as a symbol of unity between the Republic of Somalia, Somaliland, Djibouti, Ogaden and the Northern Frontier Districts (NFD). 

The civilian governments worked well in the early years, but marred by corruption, nepotism, misrule and tribalism, which have resulted in a lack of progress in the country. 

Read More: Federalism: A Suitable Governance System for Contemporary Somalia

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