Somalia: Frail Leadership, Federalism Frenzy, and the Fragile Peace

By Jamal Ali

In an etiological analogy, Somalia’s current state-building detractors resemble like the mythical Medusa’s head.  It appears that Perseus had cut them all off exhaustingly, except his blade slashed the last head before it hid in a ruble. Hence, a mysterious Oedipus like showed up and took over the aftermath mission for securing Thebes. Instead of staying on the task, he follows his hubristic ego to give a Midas touch like on the last dangling venomous head, just to heal it for the sake of controlling Andromeda –or Maandeeq in this case- the mythical she-camel personified commonly for Somalia’s statehood inception figuratively. The point is Somalia’s governance-building mission faces yet another domestic setback due to frail leadership. President Mahmud’s obsession with dominance and control, his stalemate toward the nascent Federal Member State (FMS) of Jubaland, and his Policy Unit’s constitutional revision maneuvers pose a threat to Somalia’s fragile peace; these could delay the International Community’s (IC) envisaged New Deal invitation, and impede the UN Recommended Assistance Mission for Somalia’s state and peace building.

As many political analysts may acknowledge, Somalia went through a long journey on a rough road to arrive to its current fragile state, and become a presumptive model for the war against North Africa’s Al-Qaida linked extremist networks.  Somalia was in a vegetative state for more than two decades, and ranked #1 annually in the world’s failed states index. Recent gains of diplomatic recognitions for the Somali Federal Government (SFG) gave a glimpse of hope to Somalia reclaim its statehood slot at the world stage. Many Somalis welcomed the international ties restoration for Somalia with a mixed feeling of both optimism and uncertainty, caused by either a war-fatigue or a loss of public trust. Although it is a positive step the world has taken to help Somalia recover its fumbled governance; yet the FSG has misconstrued it as a green light to assert a centralized rule. There are mounting evidences about the SFG seizing the recognition momentum to promote a divisive-top down conflict strategy, which undermines the peace-building efforts through dialogue approach. Without a domestic ‘New Deal Coalition’ of willing addressing the current political gridlock, the SFG could forfeit its national legitimacy and becomes just like any other self-governing entity in Somalia.

Because President Mohamud has embraced a regressive conflict strategy in order to transplant his authority in the South-Central regions of Somalia, he imperils the E Pluribus Unum optimism many Somalis anticipated after the transition. The President has taken an eclectic approach to deny people’s rule concept by distorting and trying to redefine Somalia’s decentralized federalism implementation. In other words, the foundation of new beginning slogan President Mohamud introduced  seems an elusive pathway for advancing illusive dominance and control agenda for reestablishing a highly centralized state, first in the South of Somalia. He obviously triggered a new paradigm of politicized federalism frenzy in order to show a solidarity for his Mogadishu base; so long for the anticipated national reconciliation process! The SFG has unfortunately provoked a clan based resentments when it opposed the formation of Jubaland-State, which already passed an interim constitution, erected its flag, and established its statehood framework at a locally owned conference held in Kismayu. The SFG actions opened the door for constitutionalists’ outrage, when it relieved a sitting selected governor, and appointed another one for Bay/Bakool regions unconstitutionally. It has endangered the Ethiopian peacekeepers reinforcing the AMISOM mission in the region. It has been reported that the local political tension forced the Ethiopian troops to pull out of Hudur city in order to stabilize Baidoa (the biggest urban city in Bay region), due to clan friction politics turned into an armed militia standoff. That created a power vacuum filed in quickly by Al Shebab in the Bakool region. President Mahamud’s “Yes for federalism, but…” attitude toward the legislatively defined “Federalism” outsets a constitutional conflict. He undermines the power-sharing principles between Federal Member States (FMS) and the Federal Government. This could even lead to a deeper two-tear power struggle driven by the Somali politics’ philosophical divide over Somalia’s future state-structure. If this debacle between stakeholders and the government continues without donor-power’s mitigation, it could hamper the overall AMISOM mission, IGAD’s Grand Stabilization Plan, and the general prospect of harmonizing and widening the East-African federalism trends for regional stability and economic growth.

Understanding the correlations between the main political manifestations still entangled in the post anarchic Somalia’s politics, and their value-propositions for the Somali society, is very important for anyone invested in Somalia’s peace-building initiatives. In Somalia, there are cessation/confederation advocates on the right, decentralized federalism pioneers in the middle, and the unitary-centralization revisionists in their own bubbly sphere of the past. By the way, President Mohamud can be fairly identified in the latter of the three. Just to refresh your memory, it was in 2004 when countless Somali stakeholders including the infamous warlords had politically agreed to go forward with decentralized federalism as the tradeoff for both of the cessation and the centralization state-forms for Somalia.

The first Transitional Federal Government was established in Kenya then, which forced its way in and resettled its authority into the warlord invested and anarchic Villa Somalia, for the first time since 1991, with the help of regional and international actors. After 9 long years of a transitional government led efforts, and 60 million dollars of donors’ money, the current Somali Constitution was adopted, and a decentralized federal government system was re-approved by traditional elders, and selected National Constituent Assembly. On August 20, 2012, new Somalia was reborn with a constitution that says “Somalia is a federal, sovereign, and democratic republic founded on inclusive representation of the people, a multiparty system and social justice.” article 1.1. The Somali Constitution also defines explicitly the structure of the Somali government by emphasizing: “The Federal Republic of Somalia is founded upon the fundamental principles of power sharing in a federal system” in article 3.3.

So, why would President Mahmud is so preoccupied with anti-constitutionalists’ wrong fight, and risk the only opportune Somalia has to recover from years of lawlessness, so it can glue itself back together? Why would he want to derail Somalia’s governance building chances at this stage? Well, it is a no brainer! He wants to kick the ladder off, after he climbed on the top seat, just like any other first term African President, more like his role models –Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, and Ismail Omar Guelle of Djibouti. President Mohamud has introduced a Six Pillar Plan right after he came to the office, which gives little or no explanation about its practical execution beyond Mogadishu, based on his leadership style and the areas under the SFG’s control. Many analysts see the President’s plan unrealistically overambitious, and called it a top down action plan, embedded with a blue print for power concentration in Mogadishu, which misplaced the SFG priorities disorderly. For instance, instead of  urging to complete the missing piece from the SFG legislative branch—The Upper House—via an empowerment strategy for the Federated States’ (FS) formation process; President Mohamud postpones plays sort of deny and delay politics. He continues to rally for an army building strategy from the clan-exclusive militia-army of Mogadishu, without diversifying and offering them screening and psychological evaluations. Dr Badiyow described the current SFG problems eloquently by saying security is deteriorating, the economy is waddling and Jubaland project is biting hard”.Another strain on Somalia’s progress reversal in the making, initiated by the SFG, can be seen within the Somali Diaspora’s splendid. The anti-constitutionalist base was galvanized by President Mohamud’s  recent overseas visits with the assumption–not only faces have changed in Villa Somalia accidentally–but one of their grassroots leaders is on the top leadership seat, with a vision of a unitary state-form on his desk. And according to them, the only thing they see as a threat standing on their way is soon to be overhauled constitution.

It is unclear now that the sponsors behind the alleged ghost campaign funds, for then little-known candidate Mahamud, are happy with his current performance and narrow vision for Somalia. How long and at what cost will they continue to commit for more resources into Mogadishu’s black-hole and aid entitlement culture, without any tangible outcome of good governance? Whether their investment plans will go smoothly and pay off in the long run, within the current SFG state-building vision, or they will pressure the SFG to shift the political discourse, is the waiting political reality racing against the time. Considering the nature of the macro-Somali society’s “back off” mindset toward foreign intrusion, Somalia has a long way to go to have the necessary institutions in place for accommodating major foreign investment. Giant multinational oil corporations’ investors have been reported to be in the center of Somalia’s political partisan. Particularly, Qatar and Turkey are rumored to be pushing President Mohamud’s top down stabilization plan in or der to have the ‘single door knock’ approach for all of Somalia’s affairs. If that is true, it is counterproductive as it heads on a collision course against IGAD’s grand stabilization plan for peace building, which is backed by many western donors who are also paying the AMISOM troops tap.

 It is now an open secret that the Other Agencyhas its ears down to the Somalia’s grounds, and its modern Gorgon-Stares soaring in the skies of Somalia 24/7. Many insightful Somali political analysts did not expect the decision of Hillary Clinton to award the SFG with a diplomatic recognition, without a US embassy installed yet in Somalia officially. Ironically, President Obama has renewed recently the sanctions against anyone destabilizing Somalia for another year, within three months after the SFG was recognized. This can be interpreted that the US is sending a message to those obstructing Somalia’s state building efforts. Not only that,  President Obama has also approved for US State Department to consider arming and training Somalia’s future army, which is another indication that the US not only pays the most of the AMISOM tap, but it plans ahead an exit strategy for the AMISOM mission, too. Training a professional Somali force, which can keep the security in all of Somalia, in a way consistent with the lifted arms embargo conditions, sounds promising for many ambivalent Somali stakeholders.

 Some analysts including this author concur with the rationale behind the newly modified US policy toward Somalia, as to empower the SFG secure Mogadishu and its militant hotspots nearby; but not to dismay the overall post transition enthusiasm Somalis have shown. However, if the new US policy does not implement a holistic approach that utilizes the already existing local authorities in Somalia, through integrative and inclusive military building and training programs, it could create an operating space for renewed instability. And if god forbids, things head to that backward direction, the current Somalia’s security progress could be reversed. The possible consequence could be far worse than the disastrous warlord backlash, and even could lead to an inter-clan warfare quagmire.   One may recall the story about a pact between the clandestine operatives and the Somali warlords in 2005. Jeremy Scahill’s investigative report revealed the shortcomings of that spook-run project, and how it produced extremists led insurgency at the end. Regardless of who is calling the real shots behind the curtain in Somalia, it is too risky to watch the looming Federalism foray drama, between the forces of control/dominance in Mogadishu vs. the vertical power division proponents in other parts of the country, on the sidelines.

The successful US Dual Track policy had balanced well both ends during the transition, and assured that extremist elements were dealt with carefully. The SFG advocated single track policy for Somalia encouraged and brokered by the Turkish has its tendency of calamity, if the SFG continues to keep its current political discourse. The stakes have never been higher for Somalia as the domestic politics reach at the highest boiling point, close enough to reactivate the currently dormant clan warfare. The SFG’s hubris have sadly mishandled the Kismayu shenanigan, and President Mohamud naively invoked a deeper clan dissatisfaction implication, which has emotional connection to the 1991 clan cleansing atrocities in the South of Somalia. He reinvigorated a constitutional federalist movement in the largest geopolitical area inhabited by any single Somali community with a vital strategic, political, and economical weight, and with international gateways in both sea and land, as well as unequivocal human capital. Instead of benefiting from them to save Somalia’s unity, he contained them due to mistrust and for political “Unitarian Centralization” base solidarity.

According to a released UN Special Representative Recommendation Report, President Mahmud requested “ One Door To Knock” approach for all of Somalia’s internationally supported programs, which was not recommend by the UN for the obvious reason,  ‘not to politicize the aid programs’ for Somalia. However, the Turkish Aid Agency seems to be the only IC entity duped to pour aid money blindly and partially in support of SFG’ political agenda. It has inflated the SFG’s centralization driven policy, by overly putting almost all of its development projects into Mogadishu. The Turkish model has become lately a buzz word for cash-cow projects around Mogadishu, which are rumored to be awarded only to President Mohamud’s inner-circle subcontractors. It somehow gained 15 minutes of fame by linking its feasibility to the Ottoman’s historical ties to Africa. Some argue unscientifically, the historical connection gives Turkey a competitive edge over the western countries’ development and future foreign investment projects bids for Africa. The current Somali leadership even showcased the Turkish involvement and signed bilateral agreements, as though it has the magic wand, to resolve Somalia’s recurring humanitarian crises for good. In fact, it raises a high expectation, and because of their lack of experience about the fluid situation of the Somali politics. They could exacerbate the situation, and create more rivalry over resources in Somalia’s clan-conscious environment unintentionally. The Turkish aid model is seen by many Somalis residing outside of Mogadishu; that it empowers a city-state regime, which channels most of its aid money to a counterproductive conflict strategy for holding and expanding its power. The recent meeting between the SFG and the Hargeysa administration held in Ankara was perceived as a political slender on Somalia’s sovereignty by many unionists, and it resulted a nationalists’ outcry. 

The current SFG leadership dismisses all of these political dynamics, growing opposition, and real peace threats for Somalia. It could no longer put it under the carpet unnoticeably, while it paints a rosy picture and it plays the sovereignty card for gaining more support and resources. President Mohamud’s agenda and power greed seem an impediment to the main purpose of Somalia’s state and peace building plans. He defensively published an open letter with the High Representative Catherine Ashton of the European Union (EU), in which he rejects the aforementioned domestic concerns as a cynicism of outsiders. He stated “spoilers may bark but Somalia’s caravan of peace moves on”. Apparently, the lead camel of President Mohamud’s so called peace craven appears blindfolded and moves in circular motion only! At the same token, the President asked the UK Parliament Members to help revise the current provisional constitution for the unknown reasons, without any parliament or stakeholders’ consultation as required by law. If that proceeds as SFG leadership pleaded, one could expect unprecedented constitutional-conflict, and an uproar within the tribally selected Somali parliament!

Actually, the political atmosphere in Mogadishu is so explosive now, it has already split the parliament along the clan lines partisan. Many of them left Mogadishu because of their safety concerns, after they spoke out about the fledgling federated states constitutionality. Some of the most respected academics and expatriates in the Somali parliament have also returned to their second home-countries, because, they felt unwelcomed in today’s clan exclusive Mogadishu. In the most recent parliament sessions held, there were less than two third of the 275 selected MPs present, mostly from the President’s political base. So, it will not be a surprise if the SFG Policy Unit tries to take an advantage from the current friendly house, and push for amendments on some of the articles preventing the SFG from dominance, control, and tyranny in the upcoming parliament sessions, without any merit or grounds. The Provisional Somali Constitution (PSC) allows discussions on 57 predefined articles, and any additional alterations on the constitution without a public referendum will be unconstitutional.

The Somali people’s optimism about the EU invitation for Somalia to join the “New Deal” , and become part of the fragile countries utilizing in peace and state building programs is very high. It offers an opportunity for Somalia to mobilize resources in order to overcome its post-transition financial challenges, and have access to IMF, World Bank, and African Development Bank funding. However, it needs in-country actors’ partnership and collaboration for compliance. It has to ensure that a real peace building and political settlement compact is in place locally. Unless the SFG implements a fully fledgling decentralized federal system, through people-owned conflict mitigation processes, the New Political Order for Somalia the G8 countries look forward could fall short, and lack significant components and players for a wider community impact. The SFG’s legitimate power ultimately rests on its people’s political support, and acceptance attained through dialogue. 

The SFG needs to take a mediated-state approach, and compromise its current political position. It has to expand the decentralized federal system, and maintain the current cooperative agreements with future federated States, and offer their portion of the aid pie fairly. Connecting the dots of– Jubaland Member State forming without the blessing of the SFG, the UN embargo for small arms lifted and SFG pilling up military hardware,while realigning itself with anti-federalist think tank for policy consultations–and the Cessation/Confederation bargain waiting to settle unrealistic scores–there seems to be a great need for a drastic changes at Somalia’s leadership level. Otherwise, the current fragile peace of Somalia could be at risk, and the International Community (IC) may find itself back to a square one— another humanitarian, political, and security crises in Somalia—requiring more interventions and more commitments.


Jamal Ali is a Somali Political Analyst, Human Rights Advocate. He currently works at the African Community Center of Denver, CO.  He can be reached at: . Twitter: @Jay23481.


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