Somaliland: Political Consequences Of a Dysfunctional Elders Chamber of Guurti


Guurti ChambersBy: Magan Ibrahim

Somalilandsun – The London Conference on Somalia in February 2012 has been success for Somaliland. It may well be the groundwork for the single most important goal Somaliland has been pursuing over two decades; an opportunity to finally become a recognized country with its flag flying among the nations.

At that time, the notion has become a glimpse of hope or what seemed a golden opportunity within reach. To accomplish the same objective a year or so later, as an independent nation, Somaliland encounters different realities.

For instance there is a new Somalia government that has both the backing of the world powers which have been primarily the force behind its creation and a momentum produced by the hype of a desperate Somali people yearning for anything that may resemble government, anyone that could offer hope in their miserable security situation.

Establishing some sort of sympathetic government would give the West the premise to wage a proxy war against the extreme elements fighting to rule Somalia. In this case, the world powers are afraid for Somalia to continue to be a safe haven for international Jihadists. So they threw their diplomatic weight and financial and military support behind the new team ruling Mogadishu.

Dealing with new bolstered Mogadishu team is not the only challenge for Somaliland. The grim condition Somaliland is unintentionally facing is not emanating from Somalia, but rather it is brewing within its borders. It is not security threats as most of the country’s armed militias were neutralized, pacified or weakened. However, the current political system seems to betray the cohesion and consensus approach that has so far served Somaliland steer from internal conflict. Thus have the potential to diminish Somaliland’s unified position to respond to Somalia agenda or may even harm the survival of the nation’s essence.

The stability the country enjoys along with the economic expansion followed, with streams of investment by confident wealthy families and Diaspora communities, are the results of a bold, unique and creative political decisions made by the founders of the new republic.

Since its reclaim of its independence, Somaliland has established a hybrid system that ensured political participation which sought to balance the real national demand for growth, security and prosperity with the wish list of all special interest groups, including clan concerns.

The creation of the House of Guurti, the House of Elders, which consists of unelected traditional clan leaders, was the most important institution that became the nation’s political mediation body. Followed by elected house of representative that actually drafts most of the laws a modern nation requires in order to operate and provide services to its citizens. Elected president with his executive branch which runs nation’s affairs is another pillar of the system of governance Somaliland has chosen over two decades ago.

This new governing model was mostly seemed successful, until recently. Unfortunately, there are growing and alarming signs that the system is showing cracks and may collapse at anytime soon. .

Mainly because the Guurti is no longer the ideal house that had been set up to be the center of Somaliland’s political gravity. Most of the influential and important members have either passed away or are not able to participate due to an old age. The Somaliland constitution doesn’t explicitly say how to replace a member. Since the members are not elected and the fact that the Somaliland constitution entrusts them with tremendous powers, how the succession of Guurti is managed is open to a potential abuse.

Given the fact that membership of Guurti was intended to represent the clan interest, it is the mirror of the society where the new members are automatically related to the old members. Therefore, the new members should most likely be a member of the clan but not necessarily family members.

Over the past years, young, inexperienced and uneducated (that neither have the knowledge of traditional customs nor a modern education) family members have replaced the deceased elders. This sort of replacement had robbed the House from the skilled clan leaders that earned the respect of the public. Instead of looking for an experienced elder that is familiar with the traditional reconciliation method, a family member automatically inherits the seat. As a result, it had made difficult for the House to undertake the single most important issues of mediating political quarrel and voicing the concerns of the people.

This dire consequence has been exasperated by the fact that the current leadership of the House of Guurti is not up to the task because they are also consist of a burned out politician with pair of just old, tired and out of touch individuals.

Furthermore, oppositions accuse the Guurti leadership for having a close and questionable relationship with the current administration. They claim this relationship coupled with their incompetence makes the Guurti to mostly be content with keeping the status quo, which mainly is to rubber stamp the administration’s agenda. They assert that this House has so far shown no objections to whatever they are presented and usually accept government plans in face value. Worse, the mucarid (opposition) insist that Guurti defends government policies even though this is supposed to be where the balance of power is checked to ensure fairness application of policies with even distribution of resources.

Recently, a new self proclaimed group that is dissatisfied with the government’s handling of multiple critical national issues and further discontented with the Guurti’s lack of ability to intervene, have announced their existence.

This natural phenomenon born out of necessity according to their claim is dangerous because it lacks the legal framework that may open the doors for chaos that could lead to an unexpected peril. On the other hand, it is clear that the group may have somewhat shed light on the current House of Guurti’s futility.

In the past when there is a dispute between the government and others, the Guurti used to step in to arbitrate. There is so much power the Guurti can exert under the constitution including the ability to topple the government if necessary to save the republic. The likelihood that this sort of thing happens is remote, but their power alone as a deterrent, makes all sides listen and respect their influence.

Consequently the new self declared group called the “The National Consultative Body” is seem to be filling a political vacuum in the absence of Guurti’s role, except to exist in name only.

Yet, there is much debate about the motive of this new group. Some accuse the members of the group to be failed political aspirants that are grasping their last breath to be relevant, barely hanging on to their almost faded glories. In contrary, some considers them to be a genuine voice of an opposition missing from the country’s political discourse. Some even go further to think the group is the freedom fighters that have once again risen to stand up for the government’s tight lips engagement with Somalia.

Never the less, what gives this group legitimacy are the combined impressive experience and their place in Somaliland society. Among the members of the group are former vice presidents, head of official opposition party, former government ministers, freedom fighters, founders of SNM, businessmen and clan elders.

It is than understandable the government’s reaction when this group with their notable resume come together and announced their goal to “salvage the freedom and the independence of the country”. The media campaign to discredit their legitimacy by the government have radicalized the group, angered their supporters and minimized chances for direct dialogue. But efforts to reach out to them for the sake of the nation must not stop. Emotions aside, Somaliland can’t afford to antagonize this kind of group, especially now that the House of Elders is dysfunctional to engage.

Whatever people think of this group, it is obvious that the problem is in the current system where the Guurti has lost the legitimacy to be independent power broker that has actually failed to distinguish itself from the political mudslinging. In that case, one wonders how Somaliland would survive, politically, if the most important institution is disarray, at least now that it’s badly needed to get involved in the current political impasse.

In another dimension, the Guurti was designed to deter the creeping shir beeleed or clan meetings that are silently consuming the country. The basic idea that held the Guurti House together is that if all tribes are represented, their voices should be heard loud and clear through their representatives. Hence, there is no need to call on clan meetings to “discuss (danaha) the interest of the clan”. If not stopped, this is where the shir beeleed trend will lead to damage the citizens’ unity by further segregating their common interest, their common destiny and their need to rely on each other. Again, the Guurti has failed to live up to its expectations to prevent this sort of divisiveness.

Similarly there are growing signs of tribal animosity and vengeance killing. We are currently witnessing two clans engaging revenge killing on each other in Sanaag region. It is commendable that the country showed spirit of unity to stop this madness. However, one of the roles of the Guurti as originally designed was to predict and foresee potential conflicts and should immediately dispatch their regional representatives. This could only happen if we have a well organized and well managed House of Elders, regrettably this institution doesn’t yet have that capacity.

Considering the said facts, can we simply question the need to have the House of Guurti, as it is today? Is a reform necessary? Has Guurti served its purpose and became obsolete that Somaliland needs to debate the creation of the “Third Republic”?

Rationally examining for what is happening to the harmony of our people, is it absurd to even bring it up the Guurti issue? If we rightly question the current Guurti’s legitimacy, what alternative do we suggest replacing this important but ineffective political institution, keeping in mind that clan system still plays role in the heart of our political system?

Let us just assume that we are willing to talk about this sensitive issue. Can one suggest that the House of Elders that is no longer filled only with elders should be dissolved? In it is place, can we set up a Senatorial system, similar to what the Americans have?

If we say YES, we can simply allow every region to choose two or three senators and send them to the House of Guurti. In this case, regions would have the freedom to either elect their representative or give individual clan elder a seat to represent their interest. This way, all the clans in that region would be represented.

We are talking about the general tribal representation. Without worrying to account sub clan or sub-sub clan representation. If we don’t attempt to appease every sub-clan and avoid any consideration of diving tribes into their mini sub clans, we can use this formula otherwise we would overwhelm the system.

To harmonize the different tribal communities that live in the same region, it may be better to have equal number of senators representing all regions. For example, Hargeisa or Maroodi Jeex region would have three senators where Saaxil, Sool, Sanaag, Awdal and Togdheer would have similar numbers.

For practical purposes and the fact that the regions created by Rayaale Administration is not yet ratified by the parliament, I wouldn’t enter them the equation as their existence has already complicated the management of the internal affairs of the country. Maybe Gabiley deserves to be seen as a special case giving the size and the economy of that district.

The above proposition is only one of many we can solicit if and when we are ready to have serious debate about the future political institutions of Somaliland. Logically, translating ideas into reality takes time, but the truth is the country can’t wait. The discussion to address the issue is the first step that has to start.

The Current Administration must lead the way and invite all stakeholders as equal partners. If the President takes action, the history would reward Mr. Silanyo not only as the statesman that led his people in the time of struggle to fight for their freedom, but also as a brave man who changed the political course in difficult times. It is not easy to master the courage needed to stay above the noise evidently generated by the current negative political climate, however, the alternative of not taking any action is far worse and could be more damaging in the long run.

The truth is the current constitutional crises would have been avoided if the country had strong Guurti which are able to independently exercise its powers. The country will continue to have political crises that endanger the nation’s unity if the underlying problems of this fundamental pillar of our political system are not addressed. So, as painful and as controversial as it sounds, House of Elders must be fixed.

The benefits of making this House work are enormous. Instantly, we would be able to manage any internal political and social eruptions far better than we have done lately and would likely avoid shir beeleeds. But most importantly, we will be stronger, together, to deal with whatever emboldened Somalia regimes bring it to the negotiating table or in front lines, if they compelled to use force.

Finally, this piece is merely an opinion intended to provoke sound discussion about the glooming nature of the Guurti’ status. It is about the future political health of the country and you are welcome to join the debate!

Magan Ibrahim

Hargeisa, Somaliland

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