By Liban Ahmad
Federalism in Somalia will turn 15 in October. Its utility points to increased interactions among Somali political classes, who had difficulty talking through problems that keep Somalia in a failed state status. Talking about political problems is one thing; having a genuine commitment to solving them is a different matter.
According to Professor Afyare Elmi “clan- federalism” in Somalia has its roots in building-blocks approach promoted by Ethiopia. Professor Elmi quotes from a 1999 paper by Matt Bryden. A 1995 UNDP report on a visit to Cam Aboker and Rabasso Refugee Camps brings to light the first post-1991 federalism proposal by “ Abdirahman “Tuur,” Jaama’ Mohamed Qaalib, and Isma’il “Buubaa,” … who…. denounced “Somaliland’s” secession and opted for a united, “federal” Somalia…”
The SNM splinter group led by the late Tuur did not have a powerbase to operate from. In contrast, Puntland transitioned from an authority in charge of three regions to an autonomous administration that had been functioning for six years by the time participants of Kenya-sponsored reconciliation conference agreed upon federalism in 2004.
Puntland characterises federalism as a middle ground between the secession proclaimed in Bura’o in 1991, and the centralised unitary state that Mogadishu-based leaders have favoured despite warlords reducing the capital city to fiefdoms.
Puntland argument for federalism rests on commitment to acknowledging that the concentration of political power in Mogadishu contributed to state collapse. The state of underdevelopment at peripheral regions after 1991 laid bare the extent to which post-colonial leaders neglected development needs of a two-third of the nation state.
Pre-Puntland dispensation known as Northeast Administration formulated the ‘live and the let live’ policy with which Puntland is now associated. Puntland prides itself upon having the most progressive pro-IDPs policy in Somalia.
It remains the champion of federalism but its people have not benefited from federalism to date. The irony is that regions thought to be associated with support for centralised unitary state make a headway in decentralisation. Federalism that Puntland promotes is one informed by the traumatic events that state collapse exacerbates. What Puntland leaders did is to weave a national governance narrative out of collective national political failure. This twist in the federalism project in Somalia puts Puntland on the defensive whenever its political elites think Mogadishu is threatening their political interests. The threat partly comes from the way Puntland interprets the draft federal constitution.
Puntland has insisted on outsourcing federal legislative duties to federal member states. The request for consultations before any bill gets passed can lead to duplication of the two legislatures’ work. The draft constitution does not empower federal member states to usurp legislative duties of the Parliament and Upper House.
Certain actions of Federal Government of Somalia have enraged Puntland. The decision to centralise the privilege to grant fishing licenses to companies has strained relations between Puntland and Mogadishu. Puntland accuses the Federal Government of paying lip service to federalism. Puntland has never shared with its people details about revenues from fishing licenses it had issued. The clan-based system Puntland has opted for empowers individual politicians at the expense of constituencies.
The political situation in Somalia opens the door for the need to renegotiate federalism in Somalia. The goal of renegotiation will emphasise adoption of a hybrid form of federalism that prevents either a return to a centralised unitary system or anarchic form of federalism based on the political marketplace.
Anti-corruption policy of the Federal Government reflects a political will absent in Puntland. Puntland forces do not benefit from training for the Somali National Army. Puntland political elites share no consensus on rooting out ghost soldiers in the payroll of Puntland Defence Forces.
Lack of political accountability in Puntland surfaced when embezzlement of funds for Garowe-Galka’yo road maintenance had come to light. If Puntland political leaders remain wedded to lack of transparency, the Federal Government should exercise its mandatory powers to investigate corruption allegations against a federal member state.
EU will give a direct assistance to the Federal Government of Somalia. Galmudug , Hirshabele and Southwest State, three federal member states in their infancy compared to Puntland, can benefit from the policy to grant the Federal Government monitoring role in the implementation of development projects funded by EU or multilateral organisations.
Described by one politician as a pre-federal State, Puntland has an institutional history that could help its leaders identify and assess development needs and priorities if Garowe had subscribed to principles of decentralisation, transparency and accountability. Different ways federalism gets implemented in Somalia points to the need to adopt a hybrid form of federalism. Concentrating political power at the centre does as much harm as mistaking lack of political accountability for federalism.
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