updated 7:33 AM MST, Nov 17, 2017

Federalism in Africa: The Somalia Case

  • Published in Opinion

By Abdi Adan Tawane,
Despite criticism, fortunately the Federal system had found a way in Somalia, creating hope for the formation of would-be federal member states in which law and order can be restored at the grass root level.
Federalism often encapsulated in ‘the federal idea’ – refers to the recognition of difference and diversity in its many forms as the driving force of federation – the federal state – which is the tangible institutional expression of this idea. Put simply, then, difference and diversity produce federalism and federalism produces federation. But just as there are several different kinds of state, so there are many varieties of federalism and federation. Indeed, it is perfectly possible to have federalism without formal federation for the simple reason that some federalism do not necessarily achieve fully-fledged federation but instead produce highly decentralized states that allow considerable local autonomy. Federalism in Africa does not have a positive image. Its record of success is patchy while its failures seem manifest.

Currently there are only three established federal political systems among the 54 states in Africa: Nigeria, Ethiopia and South Africa (Samatar, 1993). However, the evident paucity of successful contemporary federal systems must not be allowed to convey the impression that federalism in Africa is redundant. On the contrary, it continues to resonate as part of a continuing political discourse about the nature of political authority in many formally non-federal states, such as Somalia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Ever since the world fed up on the prolonging civil war and anarchy in Somalia, International community along with Somali leaders came up with a system "Federalism”, a scheme that can put up Somalia despite the hatred and division inherited from the civil war (Abdirizak, 2012). After widespread consultations with Somali politicians and experts, joint efforts was made to erect transitional federal government mandated to pave a way for friendly environment in which regional administrations can come up, who will later form Central Federal Government that can bring back political, economic and social stability in Somalia.
Despite criticism, fortunately the Federal system had found a way in Somalia, creating hope for the formation of would-be federal member states in which law and order can be restored at the grass root level. Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government led by Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed have willingly taken a milestone steps towards implementing the agreed system {Federal System} which was believed could lead Somalia into a governance in the face of over two decade civil war (Abdirizak, 2012).
A Federal System that cuts across clan lines
The South-West and Jubaland States cut across clan lines and are populated by more than one unrelated clans. Galmudug State which unites the old regions of Mudug and Galgudud, and bring together different Somali clans that has more in common than their related clans in remote areas such as Bosasso and Banadir.
Puntland remains the only fully established Federal Member State followed with a far margin by Jubbaland, SouthWest, Galmudug and the recently established Hirshabelle state of Somalia being Interim Administrations. Puntland plays a leading role in Somali politics but of late is leading a bad example by trying to exercise some sort of sovereign maneuvers that will directly liquidate the integrity of the entire endeavors of the Somali federation. It can also end the on-going conflict in these regions over resources and imaginary borders inherited from colonial periods.
As long as Somaliland clings to defunct and imaginary colonial borders and tries to force other clans to join its impractical separatist agenda by force, and as long as Puntland claims the Khatumo State regions by virtue of kinship, it will be difficult for Somalia to achieve stability and unity (Spears, 2003). Somaliland faces a new challenge in the recent Awdal uprising which has been in the making for a long time because of inequitable resource sharing and differences over Somali Unity (Abdirizak, 2012).
All the Southern regions have embraced a Federalism System that cuts across clan lines. Only Puntland and Somaliland may oppose adopting such an approach (Spears, 2003). Unfortunately, the current leaders in these two self-declared enclaves may not have the leadership qualities of Sheikh Zayed, an un-educated Bedouin, who managed to unite the seven emirates with his vision and wisdom.
A North South Federal System
If Somaliland renounces its separatist stand, autonomous states including a restructured Somaliland State, Khatumo State including Makhir, and Awdal State can form a federal state that can collectively renegotiate the ACT of Union with a single federal state that incorporates all the autonomous states in the South (Spears, 2003). This approach can satisfy some of the demands of Somaliland for autonomy and address most of the grievances it has against the center (Abdirizak, 2012). It can also assure the different non-separatist clans in the North of an equitable share of resources and political power.
Again, this approach faces a lot of hurdles given the intransigence of the current Somaliland leaders and the deep-rooted feelings of the Somaliland population of being wronged by the South. There is also the mistrust that Somaliland has created among the unionist clans in the North over the last two decades by their actions (Abdirizak, 2012). These actions include the forced occupation of some cities in unionist regions, the murder of more than 300 nomads in the kalshale conflict, the current mobilization of large armies to invade Awdal, and the labeling of certain clans as minorities in talk shows. All these actions contributed heavily to the perpetuation of such mistrust.
However, all of this can be overcome with reconciliation and willingness to negotiate in good faith. If it were possible for whites and blacks in South Africa to let bygones be bygones, why would it be impossible to reconcile people who share the same language, color, religion and even ethnicity despite the wrong perception held by some as being the descendants of Arab Sheikhs who crossed the red sea from Arabia. Ironically, even those Sheikhs were also related. Okail and Ali were both the sons of Abu Talib after all (Spears, 2003).
Federalism amid political and military chaos in Somalia
Rebuilding the broken state haunts Somalia’s political class, its neighboring states and, of course, the US-EU-UN-led international community that has been trying to put together the deeply fragmented, divided and, in many cases, warring Somali factions. The latest formula prescribed for Somalia is the 2012 constitution which is still a work in progress—and which lays down federalism as the future form of governance for a fractured society that has not been governed by a central state since 1991 (Abdirizak, 2012). Unlike other Horn of Africa countries, state-building in Somalia is happening along a diagonally divergent trajectory. For instance, whilst Kenya and Ethiopia have had entrenched, established and highly centralized state structures and institutions for decades before embarking on reform through devolution and decentralization, Somalia has been shredded into pieces since 1991 (Samatar, 1993).
The emergence of a Somali Federal Government (SFG) in Mogadishu under the new constitution in September 2012 led to a New Deal Compact agreed in Brussels in September 2013 under the auspices of the European Union and other members of the international community. The deal sets several benchmarks key among them is establishment of regional federating states or regional administrations before the planned 2016 election (Abdirizak, 2012). Though, this might have largely been achieved, the institutional functions of the Federal Member States and the federal government seems to be not clear, an example being the Heads of the FMS playing the role of the foreign affairs Minister by conducting ‘bilateral’ deals with foreign owned multinational co-operations’.
Political and religious snags
Two Somali prime ministers have been sacked since the emergence of the Somali Federal Government in late 2012 under a new constitution-though provincial while the third one has stepped down upon the expiry of Hassan Sheikh led government on 8th of February 2017. In the previous episode, in December 2014, in response to Prime Minister Abdiweli’s cabinet reshuffle in which some of the president’s close allies were removed, President Hassan Sheikh Mahamud nullified the decision, leading to a vote of no-confidence in parliament (BBC News Africa, 2012). This enables the president to regain control and appoint a head of government. Regardless of who he picks to be his prime minister, the dual nature of the executive office in the constitution suggests that another showdown between the two will not be far down the line. This happened as predicted as the last appointed Prime Minister, offensively campaigned to replace the president before the both lost the election to an American bureaucrat and former premier of Somalia-Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo. President Farmajo appointed his first prime minister and are highly expected to defy the old norms of political snags between the two highest executive offices in Somalia
Analysts point to a structural problem in Somalia’s political system under the new constitution that seems to accommodate two executive offices. "This hybrid system where you have an executive president and executive prime minister, both powerful offices, does not work,” says Rashid Abdi, a former senior analyst with Crisis Group (Spears, 2003). The earlier Somalia makes a constitutional amendment to create a simpler system, where only the president or prime minister has executive powers, the better.
Another Somalia observer notes that while the provisional constitution vests executive authority with the prime minister, with the president intended to play a balancing role between the cabinet and parliament. Indeed, former President Hassan Sheikh has taken a robust interpretation of his mandate, which donors have tended to countenance seeing in his civil society background a potential partner with whom they could work, and who would mark a significant departure from the domination of politics by former warlords under the SFG (BBC News Africa, 2012).
Unlike the Ethiopia and Kenya, the Somali constitution lays down a state religion, espousing Sharia as the supreme law (Abdirizak, 2012). The new prime Minister- Hassan Ali Khaire pledged to work together with the president’s on his campaign slogan-Danta Dadka iyo Dalka this if, fulfilled, would give a halt to future in fights between the two executive offices of the federal government. Jason Mosley of Chatham House notes that the sacking of the last two prime ministers of the previous governmemt also underscores the competition between different conservative visions of how the goal of enforcing Sharia should be pursued, though I don’t fully agree with him, there are signs that the motivation for the present infighting is linked to the question of building the judiciary. Competition is fierce between different conservative Islamist visions over how Sharia will form the base of Somalia’s constitutional order, and how the country’s nascent judicial apparatus will evolve to interpret and implement such an order.”
Ascendency of religious movements: A report by the Life & Peace Institute (LPI) had concluded that, while none of the original Somali protagonists in the civil war had an ideological religious orientation, the political landscape in south-central Somalia is now dominated by Islamist organizations and movements of various hues. For example, three of the seven political groups covered in the study al-Shabab, Al-Islah and Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jam’a are avowedly Islamists and make religion the main plank of their ideology and an Islamic state and society their ultimate goal (Abdirizak, 2012).
The federal provincial constitution also pledges to establish an Islamic state. The Jubaland administration, whose President Ahmed Mohamed Islam Madobe is the leader of Ras Kamboni Brigade, is also Islamist in its orientation and was part of the Islamic Courts Union which ruled south-central Somalia from June 2006 to December 2010. Even the organizations not covered by this project such as Hizbul Islam, Ala Sheikh and al-Ictisaam are religious movements (Spears, 2003).
Diversity within ‘political Islam’:
The above scenario challenges the notion of a monolithic Somali movement of ‘political Islam’. Whilst an LPI’s research clearly draws out a number of similarities between these movements in terms of organizational structure, modus operandi and strategies for socio-political transformation in Somalia, the fault-lines that divide these Somali Islamist groups are so deep, to the extent of being a source of violent conflict. In addition to divergent religious orientation and sectarian differences, these groups also have different political agendas and sometimes rival foreign sponsors.
Unlike 2006 when 17 Islamist groups of all strands, including al-Shabab, had come together to form the Islamic Courts Union and ruled south-central Somalia for a rare six months of stability and peace, the LPI research shows that the gaps and differences between them have widened to an extent that a reunion seems unlikely in the near future (Abdirizak, 2012). While the international community and regional powers back so-called ‘moderate Islamists’, both at the centre in Mogadishu and in the regions such Jubaland, the extremist fringe has been further radicalised and broadened its recruitment base as well as sphere of covert activities.
Regional and clan markers:
Despite their ostensible approach to transcend clan and regional boundaries, and promotion of an Islamist-Somali nationalism, political groups in Somalia tend to get associated with a specific regional span or dominated by a clan family. That is true of almost all the groups interviewed for this research except al-Shabab which retains a cross-clan—and even a non-Somali, international base. All established and emerging regional administrations are associated with particular clans (Abdirizak, 2012).
The dichotomy between these groups’ nationalistic and, at times, universal outlook and, on the other hand, the imperative of clan dynamics emerges as one of the key features of the struggle for political power in the new federal setup.
The idea of regionalization
After over a decade of disengagement from Somalia, the United States resumed a robust diplomatic and military engagement as part of the war on terrorism. Especially since the emergence of al-Shabab as the main protagonist in the Somali conflict, the goal of countering and containing the threat of extremism and terrorism has shaped American and, to a large extent, European policies towards Somalia (Abdirizak, 2012). The Obama’s so-called ‘dual-track’ approach to put Somalia back together as a state was first enunciated in 2010 as a policy for supporting the central government in Mogadishu in addition to Somaliland, Puntland, and other entities that were emerging in Somalia (Spears, 2003). Since then the US recognition of the Somali federal government and support for the Djibouti process has given further impetus to the idea of installing regional states in south-central Somalia as constituent units of a federal setup.
Both steps in the process of bringing together different clans and factions under one regional authority and making the relationship between Mogadishu and regional authorities work have thus far proved to be a source of political tension and, in numerous cases, claim of sovereign powers by regional authorities leading to armed conflict. Leaving aside the northern regions of Somaliland and Puntland both claiming independence and autonomy from Mogadishu the process to form regional administrations in south-central Somalia, the main theatre of conflict, has exacerbated the existing conflicts among clans controlling, or laying claim to, certain regions.
This perennial clan dilemma has been further complicated by the peculiar religio-political and military context in which the federal project is being laid out in Somalia. In political terms, as the following discussion argues, religion and control of internal and external resources prevents the possibility of a wide-ranging and durable political settlement among the various political and armed factions. From a military perspective, the role of al-Shabab, most of its Somali armed rivals (that also have feuds among themselves) as well as the multi-nation African Union force (AMISOM) are the key actors whose actions directly impinge upon the processes of building a Somali federation (Samatar, 1993).
An overcrowded military landscape
Another major factor to be taken into account with the federalism enterprise is the presence of dozens if not hundreds of clan militia scattered across south-central Somalia, thousands of soldiers from other African countries and several other militaries from round the world maintaining a direct or indirect operational capability for strikes inside Somalia. Amid this chaotic and busy military activity, the process to form a Somali National Army—critical to state building has yet to make much progress (Abdirizak, 2012). Furthermore, direct foreign military interventions are all grist for al-Shabab’s propaganda mill.
AMISOM’s role:
At present, military contingents from six African countries are clubbed together under the military component of AMISOM—the African Union Mission in Somalia. Howsoever small, the mission has political and humanitarian components as well. Authorised by the UN Security Council Resolution, 2124 and first deployed in March 2007, AMISOM now comprises 22,126 soldiers in addition to 540 police officers, with troops drawn from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Sierra Leone, Kenya and Ethiopia who are deployed in six sectors carving up south and central Somalia (Spears, 2013). Kenya and Ethiopia were not originally part of the AMISOM contingent and their troops had had an independent operational presence, mainly in regions along the Somalia border, before formally putting on the AMISOM hat.
According to AMISOM authorities, the "military component has been instrumental in helping Somali National Security Forces push the Al Qaeda-affiliated terror group, al-Shabaab, out of much of southern Somalia including most major towns and cities. It has created a relatively secure environment which has allowed the Somali peace process to take root, allowed local population the opportunity to…establish accountable local governance institutions that can begin to deliver services as well as rebuild the local economy and create linkages to the national economy and government (Abdirizak, 2012).
If the Somali Government in Mogadishu believes in Somali Unity it should come up with innovative solutions for the creation of States that can enhance Somali Unity and allay the fears and concerns of the people in these states. It should also refrain from entering into talks that can potentially undermine such unity. The Djibouti and Mogadishu declaration may have been interpreted by some as being an agreement between equal and sovereign states. Such cloak and dagger negotiations that skirt around the core issue of resolving the obstacles facing Somali unity will only prolong the status quo.
The formation of States that cut across clan lines may help Somalia achieve the illusive unity that it has been seeking for more than two decades. With fine cautious tuning, Somalia may finally end up with a solution to end its prolonged mistrust and clan Pickering to the satisfaction of all sides.
Our worst nightmare is for the current situation to continue with the country languishing under the mercy of foreign troops that may not have the best interest of Somalia at heart. Such an atmosphere will make it very difficult to get rid of the extremist elements among us and delay the withdrawal of foreign troops from Somalia. It is like being caught under a rock and a hard place.
The only way we can overcome this prolonged nightmare is to start talking to each other instead of talking over each other. Talks between the top leaders of the Federal Government and its federal member states and Somaliland should be transparent and should include all stakeholders. The fate of Somalia cannot be decided by Farmajo and Silanyo alone.
The traditional leaders of Somalia must have a say in these talks now that an upper house consisting of traditional clan leaders has been established, they should embark on reconciling and healing the deep rooted inter-clan grievances. The educated elite must also have a say in these talks and must portray professionalism as opposed to the traditional leaders. The political leaders of the various Federal Member States must be involved too like in the national consultative forums that smoothly generated a peaceful political transition. Short of that, Somalis will interpret these talks as a conspiracy to undermine Somali Unity.

by Abdi Adan Tawane,
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Abdi Adan Tawane is a writer and analyst focusing on the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes regions.