Options for political reconciliation in Somalia

Somalia’s federal and regional leaders have been in intense political friction recently. At the peak of these tensions, the regional presidents and their aides – who met in Kismayo in early September 2018 – decided to suspend their relationship with the federal government until their concerns were negotiated and addressed via the mediation of a third party. The regional presidents justified this position by citing a number of political and security concerns with the government in Mogadishu.

President Farmajo’s immediate call to meet with the regional presidents in Mogadishu on 17 September fell on deaf ears and no state president attended the meeting. However, the position of the federal government was publicly stated by Prime Minister Khayre, who denounced the assertion that Mogadishu is unsafe, and dismissed the need for a third-party mediator.

Further, new motions against Galmudug’s top executive and legislative leaders have commenced. Although the Galmudug crisis has been ongoing for a while, these motions seem to be the beginning of a new political crisis in the regional states, in which the federal government is not a dormant spectator.

Sources of the rift

The squabbling between the federal government and regional states is not a new phenomenon in Somalia. It has been an ongoing occurrence since 2013 when the first interim regional administration was established. The constant power struggle between the center and the periphery emanates from institutional and practical predicaments.

Firstly, the very notion of federalism in Somalia is contested. Adopted in 2004 by clan factions and warlords in Kenya, the federal system of governance was not debated and consented prior to its implementation. Many Somalis still believe that federalism is not a viable governance model for Somalia. And the federal leadership, like many others, may have a different view of the operationalization of federalism and its suitability in Somalia.

Secondly, the mandates, roles, and responsibilities of the federal government and the regional states are not clear in the provisional federal constitution. The states were formed while the constitution remained provisional. The federal parliament and the constitutional review committees failed to deliberate, clarify and agree on the responsibility sharing between the center and the periphery. As a result, the two levels of government continue to vie for securing the maximum de facto powers and authority possible.

Thirdly, some of the states were initially formed in haste and for political gain in the 2016 election by the former federal government. Similarly, the incumbent federal government leaders who have been in office close to two years may also want their own loyal partners in the regions. This could have triggered the friction between the center and the periphery.

Finally, the terms of office of three regional presidents – Sharif Hassan, Abdiwali Gaas and Ahmed Madobe – are coming to an end in 2018 and 2019. All are seeking re-election. They may be concerned that the federal government is campaigning to replace them with its allies. This may have created the current synergy and unity of regional presidents against the center.

Implications for the nation

Somalia has no strong public institutions. In the past, ‘no confidence’ motions and political infighting have frequently suspended government functions. The ongoing friction between the federal government and regional states is no different. It will have a negative implication on a number of ongoing national efforts.

The political crisis will have a negative impact on security. The security transition plan, the national security architecture, the comprehensive approach to security and the other national security efforts require cooperation and coordination between the federal government and the federal states. Under the current circumstances, this is not possible. The political differences between the two levels of government will not serve to build the national security institutions, and it will prolong the reliance on AMISOM forces.

The other consequence of the political squabbling will be a diversion of significant public financial resources to unnecessary motions and counter-motions. The pockets of some politicians will be full at the expense of the delivery of basic and vital public services, reviving the economy, and strengthening public institutions.

Furthermore, the current political crisis will derail the ongoing constitutional review process, which regional states are important stakeholders in. Without their cooperation and consent, many political issues such as fiscal resource sharing, the clarification of federal and state executive mandates, the judiciary model, and others that are hitherto outstanding and require political agreements will not be able to be finalized.

Another implication of the ongoing unhealthy relationship between the center and the periphery is that the chances of the 2020/21 ‘one person one vote’ election are diminishing. The fact that the regional states questioned the already agreed electoral model in Baidoa this year is an indication that the 2020/21 political transition faces serious political challenges. The draft and approval of the electoral law, permanent registration of political parties, security, finalization of the constitutional review, voter registration, and civic education, which all require the collaboration of many stakeholders including the regional authorities, are also outstanding queries that have to be answered in the next two short years.

Options for political reconciliation

In post-conflict environments, inclusive politics is crucial for political stability. In the case of Somalia, both the federal and state leadership have important roles in the framing of politics. The incumbent federal president, the prime minister, and council of ministers were elected and/or approved by parliamentarians, many of whom were given help to get (s)elected by the regional presidents. The incumbent leaders must understand that it is essential for them to reconcile their differences if they want to move the nation forward.

To reconcile the political differences, opportunities remain. In the short term, the political infighting can be eased by implementing the following three-step proposal.

First, both the federal and regional leaders must acknowledge and respect each other’s responsibility and role in the political process, and the ongoing motions in the regions must be stopped. This will be the first step in reconciling the current political differences between the center and the periphery.

Second, under the leadership of the Ministry of Interior, Federal Affairs and Reconciliation, the federal government must embark on a regional tour aimed at understanding and acknowledging the grievances of each regional state. Joining forces with the Upper House members would also strengthen the reconciliation efforts.

These two first steps will indicate the federal government’s commitment to end the ongoing political crisis. Encouraging preliminary results of the federal government’s negotiations with the Hirshabelle leadership supports this conciliatory approach.

Third, the Ministry of Interior, Federal Affairs and Reconciliation should organize a meeting between the federal government and the regional states that would aim to end the political differences. In the conference, core pertinent issues that could instigate the clash between the center and the periphery should be negotiated and resolved. There has to be some reassurance that both levels of government will follow through on the agreed terms.

If this scenario – which depends much on the actions of the federal government – doesn’t work, Somali intellectuals, traditional elders and businesspersons who can be seen as credible and impartial arbiters should come together and start reconciling the two levels of government.

Failure to take the above steps will ultimately and sadly only demonstrate that squabbling politicians are still reliant on the international community to resolve their differences. If this happens, it will only serve to demonstrate that the incumbent politicians have consigned Somalia to a prolonged and indefinite ‘transitional’ period.

In the long term, the power struggle between the federal and state authorities could be avoided through the building and empowering of key public institutions that are still missing.

First, an inclusive constitutional review process that can clearly articulate the federal exclusive, state exclusive and concurrent executive powers will help significantly diminish the relentless power rift between the federal and state executive institutions in the long term.

The second and equally important step would be the establishment of a Constitutional Court that would have the mandate to resolve disputes that emanate from constitutional powers and responsibilities. The establishment of the Judicial Service Commission should be expedited first as it is a prerequisite for the establishment of a Constitutional Court.

Acknowledging and respecting each institution’s role and willingness to resolve the ongoing power rift and create stable politics will help reconcile the current differences between the center and the periphery. However, the actions and approaches of the incumbent authorities will determine the end result of this conflict. It is a critical time and a test for the vision and competence of the Somali leaders.

How the current leaders handle the matter will give Somalis a glimpse of the direction the nation will travel in the coming years.

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