Back to Square One: Somalia’s Clan Federalism Leads to Civil War


ahmedJamaby Hon Abdullahi Jama (MP)

Somalia treads into great unknown territory and, recent developments indicate that, as we attempt to implement our complex Provisional Constitution, it becomes harder and harder to reconstitute our beloved nation-state once again. The reason is that, Somali intellectuals and politicians have yet to transcend the clannish tittle-tattle politics that ruined Somalia in the first place.

Federalism is, nowadays, an instrument to weaken nation- centric efforts intended to revive state institutions, hence, strengthening the so called clan interests found in clan federalism. There are two distinct camps in the Somali Parliament and in the wider society: Federalists and Anti-federalists. In reality, the so called federalists are, in fact, confederalists that believe separate and co-sovereign branches of the government (national & regional). What President Farole is advocating is not federation; it is confederation or dual federalism, if you like it.

Dual federalism is a long and painful process experienced by the U S between 1789 and 1901. In this context, the supremacy of national Government is not recognised.
Indeed, the American Civil War (1861-65) was not just about slavery but about Confederacy too. The Southern states refused to recognise the supremacy of federal Government and declared secession, holding the view that States, not the Federal Government, retain the ultimate power. Hence, President Lincoln dismissed the idea of Confederacy defeating secessionists by military means. The ugliest face of dual federalism comes when competing branches of the Government are identified with specific clans; hence, clan pride becomes paramount that many, with obvious reasons, subscribe to its defence. Somaliland and Puntland are doing today what the Southern states of the U S have been doing 200 years ago. Somaliland seceded from the union and Puntland challenges the supremacy of the Federal Government and dismisses the Provisional Constitution Somalia?

The U.S, one of the oldest and most successful federal states in the world has been debating the exact nature of the union, the powers and privileges conferred upon the states or reserved to the national government, for over 200 years. How long Somali pastoralists need to understand such a complicated system of governance? My guess is that they will never. Federalism may be a right system per se but it’s being applied in a wrong place.

Somalia’s fault lines always fall on clan borders, the Jubbaland administration (one of the many clan driven administrations in the making and attributable to SSDF/SPM) has ignited a polarized form of clan federalism. Accordingly, it attracted spontaneous reaction from RRA instigated regional administration recently announced in Baydhabo with overlapping claims of six regions incorporating Lower Shebelle ,Bay, Bakool, and the three regions claimed by Jubbaland(Lower & Middle Juba regions and Gedo).

Similar overlapping claims already exist in the disputed regions of Sool, Senaag & Cayn between Somaliland and Puntland states. That disputed area has now become Khatumo state of Somalia which is at odds with both contesting administrations. Most probably, USC inspired south-central state consisting of eight regions including Mudug, Galgaduud, Hiiraan, Middle Shebelle, Benadir, Lower Shebelle, and Lower & Middle Juba will soon emerge from Mogadishu. Undoubtedly, this kind of federalism sews seeds of mistrust and ultimately leads to civil war pushing the country back to square one (1991).

Therefore, Somali politicians, intellectuals and traditional elders need to take a hard look at clan-based building blocks designed by Somalia’s archetypal foes. And, before we even debate about the merits and demerits of federalism, we need to put our house in order. Frankly, there is nothing to federate before we restore the rule of law. And, rule of law often requires an effective form of governance, which many of us are eager to prevent, particularly at a time our nation is at war with extremist religious ideology like Al-Shabaab.

Indeed, fixing a failed state is a daunting task and, Somalia is no exception particularly if the state lacks a proper constitution. The current Provisional Constitution is a mish-mash of random ideas and political compromises reached between the Roadmap signatures over the course of transitional period. It needs tremendous amount of goodwill and a sense of patriotism for the current parliament to put it right. Based on these facts, the future remains bleak until we decide to do politics differently.

Hon Abdullahi Jama (MP)
Chair, Standing Committee on Economy, Trade & Industry