Myths about Federalism in Somalia


culusow_20111030In the context of Somali political culture and discourse, it should be clear by now that the meaning of the principle of “federalism in Somalia” is completely different from the one of political power decentralization for governance explored in the legal and political literature. The Somali federalism legitimizes territorial allocation for “clan ownership or dominance” and it does not recognize “the concept of citizenship” adopted in the provisional constitution. This allocation of territories to specific clans is having far reaching negative implications on the political and security stability, socio-economic development, and resource sharing and distribution among “citizens.” The efforts of the international community to enforce the conflict-ridden federalism in Somalia with the tweak of appealing for democratic values and constitutional rights are patently hypocritical.

Not surprisingly, federalism in Somalia is hitting rock-bottom for new challenges. Some of the challenges include:

(1) New Puntland strategy of claiming an equal footing with the federal government as a regional and national power center. President Abdiweli M. Ali included in his new Cabinet ministers from clans not formally constituent stakeholders of Puntland state.

(2) Continuation of Jubbaland crisis on multiple fronts (escalating assassination of prominent personalities and widespread clan based human rights violations, President Ahmed Madobe refusal to engage the federal government as a party not as a leader, and the six regions conference in Baidoa, etc.);

(3) Hawiye’s scramble to create four federal member states with the center in Mogadishu; This will fundamentally alter the federal government’s raison d’être.

(4) The brazen foreign dictates in display in Baidoa where AMISOM forces ordered the closure of over a year-long conference on federal member state of six regions while they supported a new conference for federal member state composed of three regions. The UN special representative for Somalia, Nicolas Kay, issued a bias statement after AMISOM forces opened fire to disperse an angry citizens protesting against the closure of the conference (video). As replay of 2013 Jubbaland fact finding mission to kismaio, the African Union, IGAD, and UNSOM are sending a fact finding mission to Baidoa to support the three regions group and accuse the supporters of the six regions as spoilers since all organizations member of the mission endorsed Jubbaland state which comprises three regions claimed by Digil and Mirifle. The federal government has forfeited or been deprived of the representation and leadership role of Somalia affairs.

Many myths propagated in defense of federalism in Somalia became entrenched and hard to countervail. Some scholars and journalists continue to repeat the misleading myths about centralism, distrust, and agreement on federalism.

The recently published briefing of the United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) titled “Can Federalism work in Somalia?” tried to reflect the divergent views on federalism without critical analysis of some of the pro federalism assertions or without pointing out the danger and unconstitutionality of the current UN led state formation process with no political and legal foundations. The briefing failed to mention that Somalis, for the restoration of the Somali nation-state from 2000 Arta Conference in Djibouti to 2012 Conference in Mogadishu, did agree only on the distribution of power on the basis of clan formula (4.5) representation rather than on any other method. Notwithstanding of those observations, the briefing explicitly reiterated that “Somalis disagree about whether federalism is a recipe for sustainable peace–and even whether such a system is practicable.” Therefore, the next logical move is a genuine national dialogue on the issue.

The specter of centralism

The Military regime of Mohamed Siad Barre is presented as an example for the danger of centralism and necessity for federalism. It is true that the military regime concentrated the power of the state in the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC). But the regime has created national, regional, and district bodies, and passed laws for the purpose of bringing the government closer to the people for public participation in the political, development, and security discussion and decision making process at the central, regional, district, and village levels. The passed laws laid down well-structured decentralized political and administrative structures and powers.

Then, what went wrong? The core problem was due to the systematic disregard of the laws and orders issued or announced and the impunity for abuse of power, nepotism, and corruption. This kind of power exercise has cultivated the culture of saying whatever is right and doing whatever is illegal or morally wrong. Leaders at all levels competed to support every action that breaches the laws, procedures, and good common sense to satisfy power-holders. This culture has become national trait and strategy for advancement.

The Provisional Constitution is not similar to the military revolutionary charters. It creates democratic system of governance with multiple institutions with checks and balance powers: political parties, parliament, free media, social organizations, civil society, and independent judiciary system. The important condition is to find Somali elite inside and outside the government ready to sacrifice for the application and respect of the rule of law at any level and with regard to everyone fairly and systematically. Federalism or any other system of governance in any part of Somalia cannot change the specter of centralism behavior unless the Somali people and elite dedicate serious time, resources, and thinking about the solution to this deep seated culture that fails the existence and survival of a Somali state.

Federalism without Reconciliation

Another astonishing myth is the claim that Somalis did not reconcile but agreed on constitutional federalism. Am I wrong to see this sequence as a fallacy?

The assertion that Somalis did not reconcile but agreed on federalism because the national government carries the name “federal government” is charade. The definition of the basics of the federal system has been left to the national stakeholders represented in the federal parliament. The reason why Somalis could not agree on federalism is the incompatibility between federalism based on clan ownership/dominance and federalism based on citizenship and democratic values. Unfortunately, the international community deliberately obstructs the frank debate of this question among the Somali people.

What kind of distrust is in focus?

Another myth cited for the support of federalism is the deep distrust among Somalis. But the question is what kind of distrust is in focus? Is the distrust between clans, between clans and state, between individuals, or between individuals and state?

The military regime collapsed when it failed to provide the basic security needs of the individual citizens. Clan federalism cannot build the trust needed between citizens and state, between clans and state, or between clans or individuals. The Federal Provisional Constitution protects and defends the individual rights of citizens. Democracy is the agreed relationship for trust between State and individual citizens.

Twist in the Federalism based on 18 regions

The IRIN briefing didn’t look into the breach of article 49 (6) of the provisional constitution, which states that “based on voluntary decision, two or more regions may merge to form a federal member state.” This voluntary decision concept based on regions has been replaced by the concept of compulsive dominance of one clan and one person as sole power holder for the creation of each state. Somalia has a cultural tradition that regulates interactions between clans (individual is clan member) but not between state and citizens. Constitutionally, clan is classified as an instrument for racism.

In 1969, Somalia had 8 administrative regions. Merger of the present 18 regions could reconfigure the 8 regions in line with the provisional constitution and study of an Independent Boundaries and Federation Commission.

Federalism is foreign initiative

The consensus is that the federalism in Somalia is a foreign initiative bent to abort national reconciliation and to institutionalize social fragmentation. The process for the formation of federal member states follows certain pattern: (1) an area is assigned to a certain sub clan; (2) an individual or small team is selected and supported politically, militarily, and financially by IGAD, AU, UN, and EU; (3) The individual or small team enjoy the full power to hold conferences and invite their kinfolks; (4) IGAD, AU, EU, UN attend ceremonies for legitimacy; (5) national (Federal) Government is either bystander or accomplice. Puntland, Khatumo, Jubbaland, and the new Conference in Baidoa share that pattern.


Again, the prospect for a Somali State remains gloomy because of Somalis being prone to foreign-allegiance rather than to intra Somali loyalty and compromise. For example, by pursuing secession, Somaliland remains dependent on Ethiopia which supports Khatumo and Puntland as roadblock for Somaliland’s ambition. Jubbaland is a buffer zone between Somalia and Kenya as well as a base to quell the Ogaden Liberation Front. Puntland plays the role of cooperating with Ethiopia and Kenya to challenge Somaliland and the federal Government.

The Federal Government, Somaliland, Puntland, Jubbaland, Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama, have signed separate security agreements that allows Ethiopia security forces and other officials to freely operate in Somalia. By taking advantage of Somali leaders’ selfishness, Ethiopia has systematically erased all symbols of national sovereignty and independence of Somalia.

It is sad to admit that the process for making clan federalism in Somalia as fait accompli will continue because Ethiopia, Kenya, UN, and EU want it to happen. The priority of the African Union to qualify for a relevant regional organization for global security cooperation outweighed its principal responsibility to protect the unity, territorial integrity, sovereignty, dignity, and long term interests of the people of the worn-torn Somalia. Somalia divided in 1884 faces another historical tragic disposition in 2014.

Mohamud M Uluso