Is Forced Federalism a Panacea for Somali Disunity?

By Hudda Ibrahim


In the wake of the collapse of Somali regime in 1991, competing armed militias established clan fiefdoms dominated by their respective clan groups. Such dismemberment of Somali nationhood precipitated direct and indirect meddling of neighboring countries into Somali affairs. With view to federalism, hostile neighboring countries of Ethiopia and Kenya undermined local peacemaking mechanism and therefore held a series of reconciliation conferences to introduce clan-based federalization system instead. The main agenda of that externally dominated federation was to divide and rule Somalia. Without understanding what federalism is, some regions established an ethnic federal system. This type of forced federalism does not grant full credit to autonomy and neither does it maintain the harmony of Somalia. The aim of this paper is to scrutinize the merits and the demerits of federalism. This paper will analyze whether this system is suitable for transforming Somali conflict. I will explain what federalism is and answer the question whether federalism is a viable solution to Somali disunity.

What is federalism?
Federalism is a form of government characterized by or constituting a form of government in which power is divided between one central and several regional authorities. For most scholars and writers, federalism refers to a spatial or territorial division of power between two or more levels of government in a given political system (Joschka, 2000). For William H. Riker (1955), federalism is “a political organization in which the activities of government are divided between regional governments and a central government in such a way that each kind of government has some activities on which it makes final decisions.” The political system William is arguing is about how federal states come under a central government to maintain a measure of independence such as the USA, Australia, Canada, Germany, India, and Switzerland. In those countries, central government has supreme authority, but the constituent states preserve a substantial amount of autonomy. Those above-mentioned governments control foreign policies, national defense, and financial policy, while the state governments are in charge of issues relevant to public health and education. James Madison, the fourth American president of the United States hails constitution in his “Federalist No. 10″ as the key champion and protection for minority right (Renka, 2007). Madison provides with a good rationale for the American political system’s use of both separations of powers. Federalism is the sharing of power between national and state governments.

Federalism in the Case of Somalia
In Somalia, federalism is a system alien to the country. Previous Somali governments had a centralized system. Federalism has become a byword, but most people do not have a rudimentary understanding what this structure offers to the country. This federal system was created for countries that have different ethnicities, religions, languages and cultures. Somalia is a close-knit homogeneous country that shares a unique ethnicity, language religion and culture.

For Somalia, according to Matt Bryden, the legal framework, institutions and processes of a federal system do not yet exist (Bryden, 2013). Matt argues that the provisional constitution itself is a “poorly crafted document rife with internal contradictions, omissions, and ambiguous, nowhere are these deficiencies more pronounced than with respect to the question of federalism, leaving plenty of scope for legitimate differences over the issues” (Bryden, 2013). In Somalia, federalism entails decentralization. This means the main power is taken away from the central government. As John Cohen and Stephan Peterson (2009) argue, the institutionalization of federalism may generate political decentralization and administrative decentralization. In order to evaluate the efficiency of federal structures, it is important for people to assess what federalism has attained so far, its failures and shortcomings.

Federalism renders the central government anemic to cope with rising localized clan conflict and segregation of minority communities living in regional administrations. Another predicament is that most people are unaware of how federalism affects Somali business people who transport their commodities across federalized states. Each state levies a separate tax on such goods. Overlapping payment surplus tariff will considerably reduce free flow of commodity and commercialization from one region to another. Federalism augments mistrust between federal governments. During the Jubbland conference, a new accusation sprang up that al-Shabab received indirect military support from the federal government (Bryden, 2013). Matt Bryden states that the Somali Federal government consistently labeled the Jubaland initiatives as unconstitutional and refused to recognize the declaration of the state government of Jubaland headed by Madobe (Bryden , 2013). This distrust will generate new hostility until all federal administrations resolve their differences.

Federalism in Somalia is Neo-colonialist Concept
Since the collapse of Somalia’s nationhood in 1991, numerous external actors contested with one another for holding conferences for Somalia. For instant, Djibouti, Egypt, Libya, Eritrea, and Sudan championed for the formation of a unitary centralized nation (Af Yare, 2010), but IGAD, EU, and AU hailed the federalization system as a sole plan that would unite Somalia. The two neighboring countries of Ethiopia and Kenya that harbored a secret agenda sabotaged each reconciliation move. According to Af Yare, “these two countries had concerns with the notion of a greater Somalia. They wanted to instill a regime that was opposed to the idea of a greater Somalia” (Af Yare, 2010). This clan-based federalism was born out of the consecutive externally-driven conferences held outside of Somalia. It is clear that an external force is the major challenge impeding general stability in Somalia.

In his article “Myths about Federalism in Somalia” appeared on Hiiraan on Saturday, February 15, 2014, Mohamed Uluso attributes this brand of forced federalisms to some neighboring countries that are members to IGAD, AU, UN, and EU (Uloso, 2014). Somali people have had a unitary governance recognized well in the world for so long, and Somali communities lived in peace. The question is why such external entities are pressuring a system unfamiliar to Somalia’s political structure. According to Uluso, federalism is a foreign initiative bent to abort national reconciliation and to institutionalize social fragmentation (Uloso, 2014). In order for Somalia to remain divided and antagonistic to one other, Ethiopia’s vision is to consolidate its hegemonic role and rule in the horn of Africa. External powers in the neighboring countries perceive Somali national unity as a threat to the regional supremacy.

Many Somali political analysts have argued the question of foreign driven process of federalism in Somalia. Since the introduction of clan-based federalism, two camps that hold divergent views have risen. Opponents of ethnic federalism fear that it invites ethnic conflict and risks state disintegration while other groups argue it ushers Somalia interdependence and peace. One of the salient stumbling blocks to federalism is that it replaces national identity with clan identity. The critics of federal system posit that foreign elements are the main drivers of this system. Both Af Yare and Uloso agree that it will be easier for our archrival neighboring countries to control smaller states who are not politically cohesive. Many other writers that include Dr. Yusuf Al-Azhari argue federalism is the right alternative for Somalia. He theorizes decentralized systems can help overcome the continuing “political decomposition, agony and antagonism” that Somalis face today (Al- Azhari, 2013). Al-Azhari fails to understand the repercussion of federalism would have on small minority clans living side by side with majority clans in federal states. Both minority clans and women have no similar rights to those belong to the region.

Federalism is a Recipe for Conflict
In Somalia, violent political tensions shook people in the Bay region, the capital of Baidoa over federalism. Protesters who supported for the creation of Southwest State. One group argues that Southwest State should comprise of six regions Bay, Bakool, Lower Shabelle, Gedo, and Middle/Lower Juba clashed, while other counterparts campaign for three regions of Bay, Bakool and Lower Shebelle. These clashes have resulted in exchanges of fire and casualties.

Conflict over federalism as well reached to Puntland and Galdmudug. These two federal states have already disputed over Galkacyo airports (Puntlandsun,2014). Small skirmishes occurred in Bandiiradleey of Mudug region between forces loyal to semi-autonomous regions of Puntland and Galmudug (Xog, 2014). For example, myriad of competing clans share Jubbland state and the tensions are still manifest. Moreover, federalism legitimizes territorial allocation for “clan ownership or dominance” and it does not recognize “the concept of citizenship” (Uloso, 2014) stipulated in the constitution.

Rift in Demarcation Border
Some writers who contend this federalism hastens disunity of countries adopted. On the other hand, ethnic federalism accentuates ethnic conflicts, increases secession, suppresses individual citizen’s rights and eventually leads to the disintegration of countries (Ake, 1996; Fleiner, 2000; Mamdani, 2005; Nordlinger, 1972; & Nyong’o, 2002). Somali style federalism prevents the formation of a national unitary and centralized government, leads to a lack of accountability because clan federalists segregate minority clans within its territories. Furthermore, clan federalism instigates confrontation, and dispute of clan boundaries. Some proponents of centralized governance argue there are no clearly marked borders of provinces that are going to form the federation (Abow, 2007). Historically, Somalia is Africa’s most homogeneous nation with a population sharing a common language, religion, culture, values and ethnicity. For centuries, pastoralists used to trek around the countryside with their herd looking for a better grazing land without the restraint of regional and clan boundary. The main reason of political volatility is that clan federalism may eradicate the national government from controlling contentious grazing or land issue. The question of regional border demarcation is another ticking time bomb that will go off any moment.

Way Forward
In order for Somalis to reconcile their differences and build more legitimate, accountable and efficient states and governance, an inclusive bottom-up locally owned national peacebuilding should be held inside the country to hammer out a comprehensive peace deal acceptable to all parties. Homegrown conflict management mechanisms should be prioritized. Conflict in one country has implications for other countries in the region. All foreign entities such as EU, AU, IGAD and neighboring countries should allow Somalia to steer its polity. Somali leaders should prioritize peace and general interest of the country instead of maximizing their personal, myopic and parochial interests. The best approach to resolve imminent problems is to adopt a de-ethicized unitary state. Such simmering tension, if not contained now through dialogue and reconciliation, Somalia will plunge into another catastrophic situation akin to that of the 1991 civil war.


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