April 19, 2011
I begin with a compressed background to the current plight of Somalia. Second, I will offer brief comments on the frequently raised option of a “federal state.” Third, I will advance the value of a “decentralized unitary” version that I advocate. I will conclude with brief reflections on the necessity for a combination of a particular type of administrative cadre and a cohort of extraordinary political leadership.
By all accounts, Somalia is now regarded as a supreme example of a failed state. This is due to a bloody and devastating clanistic civil strife that broke out soon after the two-decade dictatorial regime of Siyaad Barre crumbled in the teeth of resistance and wide popular alienation.
During this prolonged communal war, more than 15 peace and reconciliation conferences have been mounted and paid for by the “international community.” Alas, All of them had ended up in total failure. The tremendous efforts, resources and time invested in these efforts, particularly, those held in Arta, from April To August 2000 and at Eldoret/Embagathi from October 2002 to November 2004, have taught us numerous lessons. For one thing, those who had been invited to participate as “Somali leaders’” were, except at Arta, primarily, warlords and their cronies. This new visibility bestowed on them legitimated ill-earned name recognition as the sole Somali leaders to be reckoned with. The warlords knew all along that restoring peace, as we know it, would be tantamount to a loss of the limelight and fortunes they had ill gotten, as well as expose them to personal vulnerability. Thus, it became clear that the warlords’ real interest had always been to fuel the on-going civil war.
In view of the above, what has become ironic is why the international actors would acquiesce, and at times with palpable enthusiasm, to such context. It might not be unreasonable to question the sincerity of these outside facilitators. Rather than steering the Somali people to search for a durable and sustainable solution to the multiple crises, the efforts of the international actors led to the continuation of the ruin of the country and sawed strong suspicion among Somalis towards the outside world.
During the decade and half of the warlords’ reign of terror (January 1991 to June 2006), at least two third of a million Somalis about 600,000 and 800,000 had been killed by bullets or perished of starvation and other diseases related the reign of terror. In addition, about a million more fled and sought refuge in other countries, while another one and half million were internally displaced. A further national cost has been the looting, by the warlords and their henchmen, of the public wealth and property.
Though long over-due, (i.e. after more than 16 years of untold death and devastation), those criminal warlords would also face, at long last, and the same fate of their predecessor, Siyaad Barre. A popular uprising in Mogadishu in mid 2006 overran them irreversibly. Now, the challenge is to bring warlords and their accomplices to account for their deeds.
III. The Federal Option:
A combination of blurred vision and shortsightness is evident whenever the question of the future constitutional structure for the future of the Somali Republic is brought up for debate. Because of the autocratic nature of the last regime, characterized by excessive centralization and incompetence, many Somalis express an antithetical view of a unitary, even decentralized, state. This is the reason, among others, why the consensus of those involved in the debate is generally, and summarily, in favor of a federal system, to the point that it has been already suggested that a federal system – that is, one which “institutionalizes clan-based power-sharing" formula - as a precondition for any future political dispensation.
In my view, the characteristics that might even remotely warrant a federal system for the Somali Republic are absent. Among the factors that might/would justify federalism for any given country are: the existence of unbridgeable and irreconcilable ethnic, religious or other cultural differences, and/or geographical barriers that would make inter-action/interconnection among the inhabitants difficult or impossible. Fortunately, none of such factors exist in Somalia. Yet, and regrettably, many, many Somalis don’t seem to value, let alone be thankful for, the God-given blessing of strong commonalities – an attribute so rare in most of Africa. As Professor I. M. Lewis, and other scholars, had asserted long ago, ”... in contrast to the rest of Africa where states are struggling to become nations, the Somali people represent a nation struggling to become a state”. Similarly, Dr. Abdirahman Ali Hersi, in an essay on the subject a few years ago, had this to say: “Those who insist on federalism may wish, wittingly or unwittingly, to dig a grave for the Somali state that they purport to have been trying to revive”. Dr. Hersi concluded with a clear forewarning by declaring: “Without doubt a federal system of rule is the ultimate, i.e. the most effective prescription for Somalia’s NATURAL SELF-DESTRUCTION”. I believe there can hardly be a better way of articulating the inherently disastrous consequences of adopting federalism as a constitutional system for the Third Somali Republic.
Here, my basic proposition is this: although a federal system has been good and workable in countries like Switzerland, U.S.A. Canada, and Germany, to name just a few, it is less likely to be so in the Somali Republic’s case. A major reason is the huge gap in social, economic, political and civic standards between the peoples of the abovementioned countries and the people of the Somali Republic. Closer to home, we have an African country, Nigeria, which, from the very beginning of its national independence in the 1960s, adopted a federal system patterned on that of the U.S.A. Because of myriad problems of local nature, including – but not limited to – sharp ethnic cleavages, linguistic and religious differences, and low levels of modern political experience, the arrangement has not worked as the original hope was. Soon after independence, the military found a justification to take over power. After decades of military rule and a horrendous civil war, it is only these past ten years that the country had a democratically elected civilian federal government. Still, Nigeria is bedeviled by internecine and religious violence and the sustainability of the federal system has yet to pass the crucial test: stable cohesion of regions, the harmonization of socio-economic conditions, and the steep challenges of developmental transformation.
Despite the above, many who advocate a federal option, to the exclusion of other possibilities, justify their position primarily as a reaction to the military authoritarianism and the ensuing civil disorder. Furthermore, active supporters of “ Federalism” are the neighboring countries of Ethiopia and Kenya – they were mandated by the OAU (later to become the AU) to organize and convene the 14th National reconciliation and Peace Conference at Eldoret. Here, then, a few highly relevant reflections are in order. It was Ethiopia who took the lead organizing and influencing the composition of the Somali participants in that conference. In that capacity, Ethiopia selected those warlords whom it deemed to be amenable to Ethiopian priorities. Basically clients, the warlords endorsed Ethiopia’s long-held strategic design to forestall a strong Somali national state. This convergence of Ethiopian and the Somali warlords’ interests shaped the promotion of the federal option. As a result, the current Transitional Federal Constitution, which was written up and approved in 2004, has been blessed by those who are bent on the continuation of the brittleness of any future Somali national institutions. Moreover, the New DRAFT Constitution, authored by primarily non-Somali experts, will soon be submitted to the current Transitional Parliament for approval, instead of a popular referendum. It, too, calls for a federal system, with no opportunity for an alternative to be presented.
The other key outside players in the Somali drama have been conspicuous in their condoning of “federalism.” Preoccupied with their own “national/security interests” in the Horn of Africa, major nations seem to think that their concerns would be best served by supporting Ethiopian/ Kenyan designs, even if that leads to the further balkanization of the Somali people. The evidence of such collusion is clearly underscored by the December 2006 Ethiopian illegal invasion of zones of southern Somali Republic, including Mogadishu. This, it has now become public, was undertaken with the encouragement of the US administration of President George W. Bush. That Ethiopian aggression continued for well over three years and in the process had wrecked havoc of catastrophic proportion. Ethiopian meddling in the internal affairs of the Somali Republic can also be observed in the ways in which the other regions of the country are often cavalierly transgressed. Ironically, while Western powers publicly announce to the whole world that they firmly recognize and respect Somali Republic’s national unity and territorial integrity, they, at the same time, give approval of acts that accelerate the fragmentation of the Somali people. An example of this, is the wheeling and dealing directly with the leaders of “Somaliland” and “Punland” on an equal footing with, if not preferable to, the TFG. Western governments ought to remember that it was they that had, in essence, helped create this federal dispensation as the only legal/constitutional authority responsible for all matters, big and small, concerning the Somali Republic. If the USA/EU powers honored their own public commitment to the rebuilding of Somali national state and institutions, such a firm stand could have easily instructed the leaders of the two regions of the rules of engagement. More damagingly, Western governments have now moved to devise a new policy: dual track – an engagement that offers those regions (and perhaps others to follow) full economic and security assistance. Such a posture will no doubt be interpreted by many, including the regional ambitious, to press hard for seeking an independent status of their own.
1V. ALTERNATIVE: Decentralized Unitary System.
To demonstrate that NOT all unitary structures are pernicious, it should be remembered that it was the European colonial administrations in Africa, and elsewhere, that had unified colonial peoples in those countries, including Somalia, under one single central and, yes, able administrative structure. Before the arrival of the colonialists, those countries were divided into principalities, kingdoms, chiefdoms and other sectarian/faith-based social orders, with no meaningful and consistent inter-actions/inter-connections in a national sense. One has to summon up a little bit of courage to give that much credit to the by-gone European colonizers, in spite of the many awful injustices they inflicted. I don’t think there is much dispute about the fact that those colonial centralized administrations were competent, despite the fact that the tools of communication were not as highly advanced and reliable as they are today.
It is unwise to quickly write off a unitary state just because it has strong central institutions. Moreover, in the case of Somalia, Mohamed Siyaad Barre's 21-year autocratic and excessively concentrated rule should not be taken as a paradigm for the unitary option. It should rather be seen as an unfortunate and aberrant episode. These remarks ought not to give the impression that I am an advocate of an absolute centralized system of government. On the contrary, I am a strong believer in democratic representation and a capable constitutional order. An example of this type could be found in such diverse countries as France, South Africa, Britain, Tanzanian, Ghana, and Botswana – all reputed to be successful and stable.
From the structural standpoint, federalism seems to be substantially different from the Decentralized Unitary form. It’s not only that federalism is more complicated in terms of legislative and bureaucratic perspectives, but, also, it is also more likely to be amenable to threats to national unity and territorial integrity of the state. Power-hungry and self-serving federal state(s) office-holders could easily threaten and/or blackmail the federal government to secede if their demand(s) were not met. It’s also easy for foreign meddling in the Somali Republic’s internal affairs through incipient federal states. We have already seen clear evidence of this in the current case of “Somaliland” and “Puntland.”
Rather than importing federal arrangements that govern strong and advanced constitutional societies, I proffer that the proposed federal system for the Somali people might, if adopted, bring easily about an unintended and counter-productive spectacle of a country divided into numerous zones(i.e federal states) that are based on clanist allegiances, instead of national civic-mindedness. Such a situation would potentially erode the very foundation of national unity and territorial integrity. Clearly, it would sanction the current situation – a time in which the country is already in a condition of clanistic divisions or war-lord-dominated enclaves. In such a specter, it’s easy to foretell that the would-be elected office-holders will have to come from the bigger clan(s) of the major clan-family of a given region. This would mean that the political and economic powers would come to be concentrated, in perpetuity, in the hands of a small but powerful clan-oligarchy, thus bringing about what detractors of the centralized system were supposedly trying to forestall. Worse yet, there can be little or no chance for the mid-sized and/or minor clans/sub-clans to get their fair share of the political dispensation.
In light of the foregoing, a decentralized unitary system, with guarantees of regional or local autonomy, would be more, much more, appropriate for the Third Somali Republic. The unitary decentralized system provides not only regional/local capacitation but it’s also more pragmatic and cost-effective. Though regional/local autonomy should be constitutionally guaranteed, its implementation should be contingent on each region’s demonstrable administrative ability to undertake such duties and responsibilities. Once such capability is verified a transfer of such a mandate should be constitutionally delineated and put into action.
V. Conclusion: Low Human capital and a Paucity of Qualified Leadership.
In my view, the real problem facing today’s Somalia is not, primarily, the form of constitutional structure that may be most appropriate. The core of the whole matter is, in my considered opinion, the human factor. On paper, any system of governance may sound good and workable. But whether such a constitutional order is, in actual fact, good or not, will depend on the ability, dedication and good faith of those who are called upon to make it work on the ground. Therefore, the focus and attention of all those who sincerely have Somalia’s prolonged tragedy at heart and willing to extend a helping hand should rather be directed on how to urgently provide such qualified manpower -- though worrying about constitutional structure is appropriate. Without a cadre sufficient in quantity, and with proven educational and administrative skills, any form of constitutional framework will be doomed.
To be sure, education and skills are necessarily but not sufficient for good governance. Perhaps the most supreme factor is the appearance on the stage of a political leadership with an appealing and achievable VISION and grounded in trust and lawfulness. The combination of these two, in concert with a genuine international solidarity that is generous enough, will, for the first time in two decades, commence the long journey of reviving Somali national spirit and institutions.
If and when this happens, clanism (“Qabiil ama Qabyaaalad) and its divisive relevance/influence on national politics will be reduced to a minor and anachronistic reminder of a time that is no more. With this new age, then, begins the genuine struggle to overcome chronic underdevelopment.