Friday, November 27, 2020
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Somalia Needs a Sustainable, Constitutionally Driven, Hybrid Federal System

By Deeq Suleyman Yusuf

In the comparative African context, federalism has been relatively successful in “overcoming and containing the syndrome of state disintegration and large-scale internal disorder” that has afflicted a number of conflict-ridden African states.[1] In Somalia, there is a growing consensus that federalism is not only the answer to its intractable past conflicts but holds the key to unity, national reconciliation and the prospects for a brighter future. According to key policy analysts, federalism has many noted advantages that nations like Somalia can benefit from.  For example, federalism offers a myriad of governmental units where opportunities exist for citizens to directly influence policy decisions in their respective states or communities.[2]

As a system, federalism reduces or eliminates monopolistic tendencies at the centre, dismantling state tyranny and despotism. Further, the competitive nature of federalism facilitates the systematic “reinvention of government” where creative solutions to locally experienced problems are replicated. Additionally, it bolsters the progressive professionalization of state and government. Federalism is also credited with dispersing power, enhancing citizen participation, and increasing effectiveness at all levels of government. It is widely held that it is a system through which the foundations of a democratic and just society can be built where the fundamental rights of all citizens including minorities are protected. More importantly, federalism creates a “system of checks and balances in the political system that often prevents the federal government from imposing uniform policies across the country.[3]” As a result, states and local communities have the latitude to address policy issues based on the specific needs and interests of their citizens.

In advanced federal models like that of the US, systems of governance go beyond the prominent national and state governments and include other government entities such as counties, municipalities, townships, school districts etc. Apart from Mogadishu that boasts of a semblance of local government, municipal and county systems of governance are not yet fully operational across Somalia. While institution-building within Somalia’s current federal system is still in its nascent stage, policymakers and stakeholders alike need to consider and speed up the idea of “municipalization” of governance as the country gradually transitions to full-fledged federalism.

One of the most touted models of federalism is that of Dual Federalism, a governance system in which fundamental governmental powers are divided between the federal and state governments, with the states exercising broad powers. Many advanced democracies in the West including Canada, Germany, Switzerland and Australia follow a system based on Dual Federalism while a large number of countries in the South such as Argentina, Brazil, India, Mexico, Malaysia, Nigeria and Venezuela have adopted this system as well. In Dual Federalism, the national government has exclusive control over foreign, national defence, immigration, and monetary policies, while states have exclusive control over schools, healthcare, law enforcement, and public works etc.

Another system of government decentralization is that of Fiscal Federalism. The term was first coined in the late 50s by German-born American economist, Richard Musgrave who posited that a just distribution of income among federal units can build economic stability and create an efficient system of governance based on effective allocation of resources[4]. Since units in most federal systems are not inherently equal in terms of availability of natural resources, the Federal government can create an economic balance through just redistribution of national resources. Musgrave argued that a federal or central government should be responsible for fiscal and economic stabilization and income redistribution, but the actual allocation of resources should be the responsibility of state and local governments. Fiscal Federalism can best be applied in democracies that have achieved highly advanced monetary systems with well-established ultra-efficient tax collection regimes.

A third model of decentralization is that of Cooperative Federalism, which asserts that “governmental power is not concentrated at any governmental level or in any agency. Instead, the national and state governments share power. For instance, bureaucratic agencies at the national and state level normally carry out governmental programs jointly.[5]” This system has been used intermittently in the past in select jurisdictions to address constitutional crises or to unlock political stalemates. In the US, Cooperative Federalism came into force between 1901 to 1960. This period was marked by greater cooperation and collaboration between the various levels of government. It was during this era that the national income tax and the grant-in-aid system were authorized in response to social and economic problems confronting the nation.[6]

In the case of Somalia, a hybrid system of Dual-Cooperative Federalism is highly recommended. There should be a clear emphasis on collaboration among and across units of government while continuing to respect the distinctive priorities and needs of populations in different states and jurisdictions. As the recent historic deal on the electoral process illustrated, sustainable intergovernmental relationships are critical to building a durable federal system. While Dual Federalism will lay the foundation for institutional democracy, Cooperative Federalism will help consolidate constitutionalism through extended cooperation between the FGS and FMS entities. This process should be built on an ongoing constitutional dispensation that should last at least two election cycles. Once constitutionalism has been established to its apex and a dynamic fiscal system is in place to the point that Somalia attains the ability to control its own purse independent of foreign largesse, the country can then transition to a hybrid, Dual-Fiscal Federalism in the future.

Successful federalism in Somalia would require that political and administrative entities continually engage in intergovernmental initiatives, to find a common ground to iron out differences and to maintain effectiveness and professionalism.

Finally, Somalia should create an institutionally sustainable federal system anchored on constitutionalism with clearly defined powers of each layer of government. This is because such as system is reflective of regional and geographic diversity, establishes democratic institutions, provides for equitable sharing of resources and more critically, creates the perfect environment for unity and national reconciliation.

Deeq S Yusuf
Email: [email protected]

Deeq S Yusuf is currently the Director General of the Ministry of Women and Human Rights Development of the Federal Government of Somalia, a former Chief of Staff of Puntland State House, a former Principal Advisor to the Prime Minister, a former University Lecturer at Puntland State University and a former Expert Consultant on stabilization at the Institute of Peace and Security Studies – Addis Ababa University.

[1] Federalism in Africa: The Nigerian Experience in Comparative Perspective.
[2] Federalism:
[4] Musgrave “Fiscal Federalism.”
[5] Cooperative Federalism.
[6] Cooperative Federalism, 1901-1960.

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