Somaliland: Federalism in Somalia is at a Crossroads


presidents Madoobe of jubaland and Gas of puntland at a recent bury federal Somalia government meeting in Garowe

Somalilandsun – Relations between the Somali Federal Government and Puntland State is at an all-time low. According to Puntland Parliament the Constitutional Review Commission, Independent National Electoral Board, and Boundary and Federation Commission have been formed in Mogadishu without consultation with federal states in contravention of Article 111 of the Provisional Federal Constitution. The article was included in the draft constitution to promote consensus-building among Somali political leaders at different levels.

Political and structural factors cause the failure of Somali political elite to cooperate. The political factor manifests itself in politicians’ reluctance to avoid accentuation of mistrust among clans and lack of commitment to resolving struggles for land and resources. The structural factor ranges from reluctance on the part of federal leaders to build on existing political capital in peaceful regions, and failure to honour agreements with the international community.

Somalia is like a major corporation with business units ( federal states ) underperforming not because of weak products but because of a wrong corporate strategy. In 2012 a change of leadership at the CEO level (presidency) was seen as conduit for recapitalising business units to recapture lost market share. Somalia’s partners ( investors) organised a conference in 2013 to raise funds for Somalia under the New Deal but its impact has been negligible; only Somaliland administration, praised for durable political processes, has benefited from the New Deal under its Somaliland Compact.

Leaders of federal institutions ( presidency, parliament and the prime minster’s office) have not put their weight behind the Joint Financial Management Board aimed at ensuring “transparency and accountability in the collection and efficient use of public revenues, as well as international development aid.” The United Nations’ role in Somalia has been like that of a credit rating agency, keeping Somalia’s partners updated on progress in security, transparency and elite cooperation in order not to lose gains made since 2012. The UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea has criticised the Somali federal government for corruption. Allegations about corruption within the Somali federal government dented donors’ trust in federal leaders.

This has had implications for donor assistance for Somalia. Donors face accusations from federal leaders for violating Somali sovereignty if they channel resources to federal states; if they channel resources through the federal government they will be accused of condoning corruption. In such a situation it is Somali federal states like Puntland that suffer despite facilitating the end of the transition and committing to the common security framework for Somalia under a federal government.

Dr. Abdiweli Gas, President Hassan Mohamud and Sharif Hassan during happier timesThe rift between the federal government and federal states is yet another example about the difficulty of getting Somali political classes to cooperate on national development and peace. Thefederal government, under President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, is first fully recognised Somali government since 1991 but his leadership has been weakened by inability to leave the comfort zone of a clique to rule as a national leader able to build consensus and prevent unnecessary political setbacks such as Glamudug-Puntland dispute and ongoing clashes in Lower Shabelle between ” Somali Army” and ” local forces” ( ciidaanka deegaanka).

Federal institutions created after August 2012 opened up reconstruction opportunities for Somalia but federal leaders have not been able to make better use of them. Once again Mogadishu is becoming symbol for promoting underdevelopment and insecurity in periphery regions, making Somalia to be judged for failures by leaders in the capital.

Some regions that suffered underdevelopment before 1991 and state collapse after 1991 pulled themselves up and created relatively durable institutions to introduce services for people although elite power struggle has cumulatively set Somalia back for quarter a century. It takes the form of a political rift between people who want to see Mogadishu regain its privilege to subject periphery regions to reliance on resources from institutionally underdeveloped centre, and federal states keen on never being affected by polarising politics in the capital. In his book of essays Rashid Sheikh Abdullahi, the distinguished Somali essayist and literary critic, convincingly argues Somalis have no a tradition of tolerance. Intolerance is at the root of Somali political conflict. To have a viable state again Somalia needs to produce national leaders who do not thrive on inter-clan mistrust. Only then will any form of government- federal or centralised – begin to work for Somalis.

Liban Ahmad