March 20, 2023
MISINFORMATION OR MISREPRESENTATION OF FEDERALISM IN SOMALIA
A man of mixed Italian and Somali races once told his interlocutors that he knows Somalis well because his aunt was a Somali. I am quoting him now because I was in positions to know Somalis closely. Somalis are satirical and critical of anything new and any emerging ideas within the society. They quickly react to news and they get suspicious when they couldn’t explain new developments. Usually, they have preconceived opinions on things from clan or regional perspectives. Traditionally, a Somali person is programmed from childhood without knowing it, they are conformed and opinionated. He or she rarely examines or questions their long held personal views and beliefs, especially in public arena. It is important to note that public debates and questioning long held opinions, habits and ideas are part and parcel of a good governance.
To this I would like to add another story that took place in Germany about a wedding. The story goes to tell an incident that occurred at beginning of the wedding ceremony and moral lesson learned (to be completed orally), with the ending that every person is important in nation-building.
Why am I recounting this? I am re-telling these stories because world view of the Somali citizen is relevant to the issue of Somalia’s governance.
FALLACIES IN RECENT SOMALI POLITICAL NARRATIVES
So, it started with the name of the Somali State in 1970s. The government was then anything but democratic. Nevertheless it was called the Somali democratic Republic.
- Was Somali Democratic Republic democratic? Is democracy compatible with military regime? SDR had no constitution, no political parties, no opposition and no vibrant civil society. It was misinformation and misleading at its best.
- Was Somali Democratic Republic a socialist? Somalia never had organized labor, means of production and independent trade unions. Somalia had camel herdsmen and goat keepers- still signs of a primitive society. That was truly intentional misinformation or misrepresentation, masking repression and violations of all human rights.
- Yes, I know some people would say that what had happened after the Military Regime was worse. This is also misinformation ignoring the fact that the violence was not sponsored by a government. It was popular chaos and anarchy whereby in the political vacuum ensued mobsters took over the streets of urban centers of the country. There was no government taking responsibilities for violence and mayhem that followed the fall of the regime. Anything was expected to happen in a stateless situation.
- Now it is called Federal Republic of Somalia more by de facto than de jure, following vicious civil war. National Peace and Reconciliation Conferences, including the one in Mbagati, Kenya, in 2002-2004, only recognized this reality on the ground in Somalia. A temporary truce in the form of a charter had been reached. Since then Somalis continue to keep that truce in the form of an incomplete Federal Constitution and establishment of mostly nominal Federal Member States (FMS), some of which don’t even meet their constitutional requirements to form a state. Let me ask the audience, does Somalia has a constitution? Please review the characteristics of a national constitution.
- Successive Mogadishu Federal Administrations were trying to behave in the same way as the dictatorship of the Somali Democratic Republic, albeit they had no capacity and institutions to implement their centralist policies by force of repression, fortunately or unfortunately, based on your perspective.
- The latest governance system agreed upon by all Somalis is federal, however, it is sad that it is being misinterpreted by many as weakening Somalia’s state, even to the extent of dismembering the country. That is extremely dangerous propaganda. It neither reflects on the political realities in Somalia nor on experiences in many federal countries in the world. On the contrary, Somalia is much stronger with different levels of democratic government. Elected local councils are some of these important levels of a government. The Federal Government isn’t the Central Government only. It is one just one level of the Federal Government. The Federal President can’t dismiss elected Garowe City Council in the same way Puntland President can’t.
- Another misleading story is that many bought the notion that federalism doesn’t work in Somalia or it is unfit for Somali governance. Opponents of federalism dismiss that the fact that in order federalism to work, someone has to implement it. Most Somali Federal presidents since 2009 were against it, or had no idea about it like Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, or they were undermining it like Hassan Sheikh Mohamud 1.0 and Farmaajo. The question is who will then implement federalism? Federalism is an idea and system to work on and make it operational and functioning.
- Formation of Jubaland Administration was a turning point for federalism and for South Central Somalia (Galmudugh, Hirshabelle, and even for Southwest). In the waning days of HSM 1.0 he and his constituency saw the writing on the wall and accepted federalism.
- Now HSM 2.0 is attempting to use the so-called NCC (Madasha Qaran) to grab more powers for Mogadishu Central government. This is an abuse of power as it is also undermining federalism. Madasha Qaran isn’t constitutional body. It has been established to decide on politically contentious national issues. Its decisions must be ratified by respective constitutional bodies.
- Another lethal propaganda by anti-federalist forces is the question they pose as to how many presidents Somalia could have at the same time. This an attempt to discredit and ridicule the heads of Federal Member States, some even suggesting that they should be called regional governors. They ignore the fact that each FMS had come into existence as a result of a union of two or more regions – a political situation quite different from the era when a regional governor was appointed by the central government for a particular region. They also dismiss the fact that federalism entails doing away with old political clichés and habits of past bad rulers of Somalia. Anti-federalist forces are advocating for the repeat of the same mistakes and abuses of power that led Somalia’s state failure in the first place. That is unacceptable to many Somalis today.
- Federalism and its variety of confederalism finds relevance in Somalia’s traditional clan society where most clans are more bonded by federation than by blood lineages. The infamous 4.5 clans are confederate clans. Most clans in Somalia are social constructs for strengthening them numerically for
common protection. Nowadays, Somali Clan confederates are lately used for securing political edge in power-sharing rivalry.
- Still others shamelessly propagate that Somalia’s Federalism was derived or adopted from ethnic Ethiopian federalism. Knowing historical facts about national efforts of re-instating Somali State after its failure in January 1991, and having participated in most national reconciliation process, I confirm that Ethiopian involvement in the drafting of Somalia’s governance holds no water. Some Somalia’s constituencies were demanding federal system long before independence. It is a fallacy to interpret Somali federalism that way. It is just another anti-federalist tactics to unravel the modest gains of the Federal System and discredit its supporters. Unfortunately, many gullible Somali citizens bought this dangerous falsehood.
- Another misinformation is that Puntland State is part of Southern Somalia. That is the same as the notion that SSC is part of Somaliland, given colonial history. Puntland State is located geographically in Northeast and Northwest regions of Somalia and colonial borders had lost relevance after the Act of Union of 1960 forming the Somali Republic.
- Finally, Mogadishu and Hargheisa have same misleading policy on Puntland State: They propagate that Puntland is part of Southern Somalia and SCC is part of Somaliland. This is neither true nor acceptable to us.
The situation on the Somalia’s “Debt Relief” is worse than you think. Interest payments or “Debt Servicing” on Somalia’s Sovereign Debt is paid by the people of Somalia, including those in Puntland State. It is paid from portions of bilateral and international donations. The Central Government divides these donations into two portions, one going to Somalia’s debt servicing, and the other portion is further subdivided, small amounts of which are thrown to FMS in the same way you throw pieces of meat or fish at lunch table to the cats, and the bulk of it is burned in Mogadishu and used for non-stop international travels of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. People of Puntland are among those paying these big-ticket expenditures.
Make no mistake. “Fiscal Federalism” you hear about these days is being negotiated and conducted under these abnormal situation. Don’t expect any fair distribution of resources any time soon, if this course of action is maintained.
Legislations and institution-building are runaway power abuses and corruption. Best examples are recent laws of NISA, Petroleum, and Fishery, just to name a few. Who passes these laws in Federal Parliament, by the way? By the representatives of Puntland State, because if they don’t conform they wouldn’t be safe in Mogadishu.
Now, tell me how Puntland State could work with Mogadishu Regime, which respects no agreements and laws of the land with total disregard to the governance system most Somalis agreed upon? This gives you an idea on what is happening between FGS and Puntland State.
People say let us complete the Federal Constitution.
- The question is whose constitution is it?
- Is it a national constitution or a constitution of South Central Somalia?
- Where does Somaliland stand here?
- Are we talking about negotiations between South and North Somalia again, after a constitution for South Central Somalia is passed with potential Puntland State unwise consent?
- Where do Puntland’s SSC Regions stand here?
- What about one and half region state in Central Somalia supposed to be an
“Interim administration”, but now having the same rights and status as Puntland State?
- What about other mini-states whose headquarters are located in or operating from Mogadishu, challenging Puntland State at Madasha Qaranka, and Mogadishu Regime is using them against Puntland State’s legitimate concerns?
- In conclusion, would Puntland State past MOUs and agreements with the Central Government since 2009 need ratification by Puntland constitutional bodies?
I leave you with these questions to ponder.
However, I warn you that the struggle between pros and cons of federalism will go on until one side wins the game. Keep fighting.
By Ismail H Warsame
Member of Puntland State Technical Committee for Federal Negotiations, TCFN.
References (from author’s personal observations and as a witness, and as a writer of several books on Somalia, including HAYAAN and Talking Truth to Power in a Tribal Context).
- Author’s long experiences in Somali Peace and National Reconciliation Conferences (1995-2004);
- Public Management Exposure, the Somali Experiences (1998-2004);
- Public Debates in Somali held conferences on the issue of governance (1995-present).