Clan Federalism and Somalia’s Future
February 5, 2013
Secession. Clan-based federalism. Unitary decentralized politics. These independent natures that permeate clan rivalries inside Somalia have ruined the trust and moral principles among its people. Creating a formidable obstacle to recovery of the lost nation, the separation of clans on key issues threatens to divide Somalis who share a common culture, territory, and religion. African federalism has shown to fail due to a lack of commitment to democratic values and obstruction of the central government authority. The signs of many problems associated with clan federalism like violent minority dissent against a dominant clan are now visible in territories such as Puntland. Rather than solving the problems of bad governance, clan federalism expands the state’s flaws, frustrates national reconciliation, and annuls citizenship rights and obligations.
Federalism is not a new concept to Somalia. One can find a case example through the Hizbia Dighil and Mirifle (HDM) Party, composed of the Dighil and Mirifle clans which proposed a clan-based federal system in 1947. In his paper titled “The Emergence and Role of Political Parties in the Inter-River Region,” Prof Mohamed H. Mukhtar noted that HDM divided the Somali-Italian territory into two areas north and south of the Shabelle River. Sheikh Abdullahi Sheikh Mohamed, founder of HDM, told the Four Power Commission sent to Somalia in 1947 that “the other people who are not part of Dighil and Mirifle may live and stay with us, but we want them to recognize that the land as belongs to us and not them.” As a result, the HDM wanted federalism to be established for land ownership (not clan federalism), and intended to draw a line between the Dighil and Mirifle clans and others in the vicinity. However, the proposal was eventually rejected by the 1957 parliament.
An example of clan federalism can be found in May 1998, when sub-clan Harti Darod decided to form the “Puntland State” composed of five regions –Mudug, Nugal, Bari, Sol and Sanag (two of which are claimed by Somaliland) and to establish “clan federalism” as the national form of government. In order to clarify why Puntland decided to use a federal system for Somalia, Mohamed Abshir Waldo published a paper, “Federalism: Birth of Puntland,” on October 9, 2010 and put forth three reasons: to heal and overcome the fear, hatred and distrust of the bloody civil war; to take a middle solution between an autocratic, centralized system of government and the outright secession of Somaliland and to emphasize district level socio economic development. As a result, Somalis living in Puntland became divided into two categories: Puntland citizens and Somali refugees. There has never been an economic, social, political or legal study about the feasibility of a federal system for Somalia or preliminary discussion among Somalis.
The danger of Puntland federalism in particular is the clan’s objective to control the central government under a Federal Member State identity, and deal with past and future “clan cleansing,” which takes place as a result of wars between clans.
Now, Puntland is confronting the federal government over the formation of a new Jubbaland State, which will comprise three regions – Lower Jubba, Middle Jubba and Gedo. The goal is that Jubbaland will be under the rule of Harti, Ogaden, and Marehan as the majority group out of 38 clans in the area. If Puntland receives Federal Member State status, Mogadishu, the capital and seat of Government as well as other regions will be under the rule of one dominant clan.
It is wrong to claim that the Provisional Constitution has created a federal government delegated to represent and administer Somalia; the stakeholders are the 4.5 clans represented by the 275 members of the Federal Parliament, not the Federal Member States (FMS) or other factions. The root of the clan federalism problem lies in the clans’ ambition to have their territory recognized as Federal Member State. In order to establish a Federal Member State, the Federal Parliament must enact a law establishing the parameters and conditions in accordance with articles 48 and 49 of the Constitution. Article 49 (6) sets only one parameter: The voluntary merger of two or more regions based on the 1991 boundaries can form a FMS. Then, the Federal Parliament will appoint a commission to study whether or not the regions can become a FMS. The findings of the commission will determine the options. However, clan-based federalism contradicts the preamble as well as the articles of Constitution on citizenship, equality and discrimination, freedom of movement and residence, and the power of self-governance.
Although the Provisional Constitution rejects secession, it suggests voluntary federalism of regions while it establishes a decentralized democratic unitary government. Respect of human rights, political and civil rights for all citizens, a free market economic system, political pluralism, and promotion of peace are hailed to be the basic foundation of the new constitution. The United States’ recognition of the government of Somalia also gives impetus to the implementation of these lofty goals, and offers encouragement for internal unity and dialogue.
Led by farsighted and legitimate leaders, the people of Somalia have a responsibility to engage in a national dialogue, which aims to respond to the sentiments and anxieties brought about by clan-based federalism so that a united and strong Somalia can bargain with the international community. Somalia can be saved only with good faith in internal political negotiations, and a decentralized democratic unitary system may be the best option.