Thursday, January 23, 2020
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WE ARE OTHERS

By Liban Ahmad

The least-discussed aspect of Somali politics is the alliance of Somali clans known as Others. In 2000 when the Djibouti-sponsored reconciliation conference was going on in Arta city, participants agreed the infamous 4.5 power-sharing mechanism.

4.5 clan power sharing

The digit 4 refers to  self-styled four  powerful clans. This division of political power neither took into account political realities prevailing in Somalia nor the impact  arbitrary allocation of parliamentary seats has on the executive and legislative branches.

In 2000 Somalia was divided into three parts. In the ex-British Somaliland, an administration that unilaterally seceded from Somalia was about to celebrate its ninth anniversary. In Bari, Nugaal and parts of Mudug an autonomous administration founded in 1998  was beginning to make its presence felt in the Somali political landscape. In South-central and Southern parts, warlords ruled with the exception of Bay and Bakool then under Rahanweyn Resistance Army.

The sponsors of the Arta conference promoted the reconciliation strategy as a sharp break with the past in the sense that they described participants as the civil society.

The exclusion of warlords and leaders of existing administrations necessitated the use of the phrase civil society. Influential participants at Arta shared an outlook with participants of earlier reconciliation conferences, who looked upon  commanding clan militias as a basis for substantive political power.

At the reconciliation conference elites from the four clans resolved to institutionalise and defend what participants   of earlier conferences were not able to agree and cement. Somali clans whom the four clans relegated to a minority status had not accepted the lowly citizenship status imposed upon them. Members of each of the four major clans do not outnumber the clans under lumped into Others category.

The phrase xaq maannu raadinayno, xal baannu raadinaynaa (we are not looking for restitution, we are looking for solution) was the new aphorism on which the reconciliation conference was rested. There was no a logic to relegating Somali social groups in inter-riverine areas and major urban centres of Mogadishu, Middle Shabelle,  Lower Shabelle and Hiiraan to a minority status. They have suffered disproportionately when clans with armed militias carved out Somalia into clan fiefdoms.  What remains puzzling is the consensus forged by self-appointed representatives of Somali clans to put themselves on pedestal to be able to deny their compatriots political rights and associated privileges.

In a stroke of pen they have institutionalized unfounded minority status for Somalis whose work ethic and commitment to equality are what Somalia has been striving to regain. With Somalia preparing for one person, one vote poll in 2021, the plight of Somalia’s political disenfranchised is likely to deepen the fifth time. The federal system Somali participants of Kenya-sponsored reconciliation conference adopted in 2004 is premised on the 4.5. The enlarged, transitional parliament of 2009, and post-transition parliament of 2012 were based on 4.5, so are the current federal parliament and the upper house.

Although the  International Community has hailed the  progress made in institution-building, the dominant Somali political class has been, through indifference, disensitisising non-4.5 constituencies to the political inequality that affect lives of roughly 50% of the Somalis. The estimated percentage might lead someone to conclude that 50% of Somalis enjoy political rights denied to a half of the population.   The establishment of Federal Member States made the discriminatorily subordinate status of the Somali citizen starker. The pre-federal dispensation institutionalised 4.5 whereas federalism deepened it.  Federal Member States reflect political power of the four clans on the one hand and the marginalisation of Others (0.50) on the other  

The perpetuation of minority status seems to be confined to some Somali social groups. Their lack of political rights codified in the 4.5 system translates into lesser life opportunities in fiefdoms carved out by self-appointed, politically powerful clans.

Minority status in Somalia cancels out equality of opportunity. Somali social groups known for creating  value by using their skills and business acumen now lack a level playing-filed in their homeland.

Belonging to a clan with political privileges means having an unfettered access to public resources and an unfair business advantages over minority clans.

There is a consensus among political classes of the four politically powerful clans to avoid discussing the plight of their compatriots as a result of the 4.5 system.

A tweet posted by the Somali Investment Office woos potential investors who could benefit from the “high rate of return in the farming sector.” Arable lands in southern parts of Somalia particularly Middle Shabelle, Lower Shabelle and Bay region have seen heaviest battles during 1990s, when clan militias were vying for the control of  districts near Shabelle river. The 1992 man-made famine hit those areas hard.

Agricultural productivity in inter-riverine areas has dwindled after the bulk of the traditionally agricultural communities were forced to flee marauding militias and became Internally Displaced Peoples in other parts of Somalia. Skills of one-time small-holder agricultural communities remain untapped due to security constraints facing them.

On a closer look, the policy to marginalise “Others”  does not spare members of politically powerful clans either. Identification   of Federal Member States assigns some clans privileges to enjoy concrete political representation and nepotistic economic advantages over the politically and residentially excluded.

If Person X belongs to Federal Member State Y, he/she cannot exercise citizenship rights to compete for jobs in another Federal Member State. In a regions where an administration adopts a pro-citizenship policies the fear of being evicted hangs over the heads of citizens, who are presumed not to belong to the Federal Member State.

Acknowledging that the political dispensation based on 4.5 values political might over citizenship rights could contribute to undoing the political marginalisation affecting Somalis in one way or another. What was intended to violate citizenship rights of a select Somali clans has now become a collective imposition on all Somali clans, proving the validity of Martin Luther King’s dictum: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Somalis we call Others are not poor or minorities. Our social contract aims to make them poor and politically powerless. How can we remedy injustices meted out to them? How does the plight of politically and economically marginalised Somalis square with the following sub articles of Article 2 in the Draft Constitution: “ 1) All citizens, regardless of sex, religion, social or economic status, political opinion, clan, disability, occupation, birth or dialect shall have equal rights and duties before the law.

(2) Discrimination is deemed to occur if the effect of an action impairs or restricts a person’ s rights, even if the actor did not intend this effect.”  

The Draft Constitution guarantees rights of the Somali citizen. In this context the 4.5 mechanism violates the letter and spirit of the Draft Constitution. Without speaking out against the discriminatory and marginalising powers built into the 4.5 system, the judiciary of a country whose political system disenfranchises citizens cannot become one of the foundations for reconciliation and nation-building   after catastrophic state failure. 

Liban Ahmad
Email: [email protected]


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