By Hassan Mudane & Adan Makina
The first part of this article will examine the “zero-sum thinking” road which was taken by Somali politicians to come to a generally acceptable consensus, noting that it is akin to that of a country just coming out of conflict. We looked at this because some political scientists contend that premature elections, especially those that are held soon after conflict, often lead to renewed instability, violence, and authoritarian rule–rather than to the road to sustained peace and meaningful political change.
In the past, elections were touted as the only route to democratization. However, recent research has revealed that since 1988 polls have lost some of their democratizing powers. In this article, we will explain how, in deeply divided countries such as Somalia, elections are not an appropriate mechanism for resolving fundamental differences. Therefore, we urge Somali politicians to immediately engage in a dialogue and put aside their personal interests, because right now we don’t see positive conditions for conducting peaceful and credible competitive elections in 2021.
Deliberations and continuous debates are the best ways to stir the soul of any democracy. With the approach of the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) presidential elections slated for the month of February this year, it would be historical for all political parties, members of the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament, Heads of Federal Member States (FMS), international partners, and clan elders to have a convention to deliberate on how to rescue the nation from further political imbroglio and perhaps, wrest control of further sudden unanticipated collapse.
It would be crucial to start the proposal for the convention right away and set the agenda for discussion since time is limited. Consulting each other on the affairs of the state and its systems conveys the required necessary information to the society that looks to its leaders for the best ways to govern and deliver without any encumbrances.
The Zero-sum Thinking Road to Consensus
Somalia is headed into an election season that’s constitutionally mandated which was supposed to occur by December of last year for parliament and February 2021 for the presidency. However, security is still quite fragile in some areas. Al-Shabaab remains a potent force and the country is still dependent on external security actors such as AMISOM to enforce security as well. On the other hand, politically, the country is also quite divided and making the environment around these upcoming elections politically quite bamboozling, even though, looking at the state of affairs, the much-awaited election will, perhaps, be the most contested if the right path is taken.
We think this was highlighted throughout 2020 where Somali politicians argued quite a bit over just what kind of electoral model they were going to implement and push for the impossible one-person, one-vote plan which was scheduled for 2020-2021 but dragged on due to a number of challenges but the opposition felt the conditions were not really right enough. Regardless of the translated Somali adage “let’s pull each other hands is a way of tiring hands”, it could have been conducted in a timely manner given some delayed preparations.
Nevertheless, there was really a zero-sum series of discussions between FGS and FMS until in September they agreed to conduct another indirect election so very similar to the elections in 2016-2017. We think that it was a very positive step as a consensus on a path forward but it will take so much time and capital to put a lot of pressure on conducting these elections in a rush timeline.
The Unresolved Political Stakes
Any political scientist or political analyst will attest to the fact that Somalia’s federal model of government is not pure federalism but Consociationalism–a formal condition that is unfavorable in modern democracy mainly due to the absence of proportionality in a coalition government, differences in educational priorities, languorous electoral system, unbalanced civil service, and impartial job opportunities for minority communities.
In fact, what is referred to as federalism in Somalia is hegemonial exchange model or segmental autonomy. Thus, the current FMS representatives and their leaders are divided along clan lines and on the other hand, political aspirants are either aligned with religious sects or are immersed in political obscurantisms and political penumbrations. Those who cleave to or remain immersed in political penumbra are peripherally and indeterminately obsessed with the processes of causing irreparable damage to the cause of federalism. The causes of the visible social divisions or cleavages in Somalia are related to clan and religious segmentations, and elite manipulations or cooperation.
Wherefore, here are the three unresolved political stakes that require political rectifications before the anticipated election:
- The first and foremost burning issue is the disagreement on the credibility of election management bodies. Even though there is disagreement on the selection criteria of the election management bodies and that it is common for people to “agree to disagree” or “agree to differ” with enmity and scorn, holding fast to the doctrinal essentials of the state is what matters most.
- Conducting election in Gedo region that is part of Jubaland State is another factor that requires resolving. The FGS and the Jubaland State could sit down and reach a solution what Somali traditional and customary laws refer to as ‘sabeen xir’ (ewe lamb repayment) so as to set aside all forms of inconsistencies and create harmonious relationships between the FGS and Jubaland State.
- The system to manage voting for the Somaliland seats could deflect the process because Somaliland considers itself an independent country that seceded from Somalia in 1991. A better political approach that will not antagonize Somaliland could be implemented, not only for the present but for posterity.
What to do?
To avoid violent conflict and to address everyone’s concerns and reach consensus, there needs to be thorough participatory debates and eventually compromises on all sides before 8 February 2021. We understand that there are strongly held divergent views among the leaders and political tensions are high in this pre-electoral period. Yet, it is precisely during such moments that it is most necessary for the Somali politicians to engage in dialogue and put aside their personal interests.
Hassan Mudane is the founding executive director of the BARAARUG LIBRARY (A digital library for e-textbooks and scholarly articles), where he engages youth civic responsibility education for the construction of subsequent Somalia. He is also a part-time lecturer at University of Somalia.
Email: [email protected]
Email: [email protected]
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