Twenty-three years have passed since the collapse of the Somali federal government in 1991. Since then, multiple regional states constituted as separate states, including Somaliland, have emerged as breakaways with no formal recognition from elsewhere. Other eastern Somali communities built their own administrations. In 1998, in the southeast of Somalia, Puntland was formed. Lately, two communities from the south in Jubbaland and southeast of Baidao declared their quasi-autonomous status within Somalia. Like Mogadishu, all the emerged states are based on a single clan.
Previously, the federal government’s leaders failed to put those states together as non-tribal states (six from the south and two from north) or eighteen regions after the October revolution 1969. Somalis citizens everywhere are hungry for a government that secures its own borders, secures its citizens and their property, delivers services and cares for national business interests. Unfortunately, none of this has been seen for the past two decades. The question to ask would simply be why?
Tribal Extremist and Corrupt Politicians
When one hears the word extremism, we tend to think about religious extremism, but what I will discuss here will be Somali tribal extremism and opportunists. Somalis in the past lived together across tribal lines in many cities. Mogadishu and Kismayo in particular were melting pots for metropolitan cities following them were Baidao and Beletwien. Now many people live in small tribal enclaves after many Somalis lost their lives and property in Mogadishu. They believe the capital city is no longer a city for all. The fact that Somalis from north Somaliland and Puntland are selling their property in Mogadishu and building in Hargeysa, Kismaayo, Boosaaso and elsewhere is a clear indication that separation is a fact on the ground.
In the past, Somali citizens experienced freedom of movement without a fear that a tribe might deny ones rights, property, or otherwise. For example, government workers, civil servants, and military personnel from the north moved to the south to work and vice versa. Southern workers used to work in the north. Unfortunately, now people tend to stay within tribal lines for marriage. Intermarriage between families decreased rapidly and that will widen the ‘diversity’ gap between tribes. Some Somali citizens, who are dedicated to Somali unity are moving across tribal lines. These sorts of narratives are always discussed as talking points by clan leaders and politicians. Can Somalis unite without a discussion of reconciliation, or will we lose our national identity as Somalis and as a community?
During the last presidential election in September of 2012, many Somalis celebrated the new president-elect. Others, though were surprised by how many southern leaders were among the top four contenders for the presidency. In fact, three of the candidates hailed from one of Mogadishu’s dominant clan. It became a wakeup call for many other tribes of north Somaliland, Garowe, Baidoa, Jinaay and Kismaayo. Many communities who live outside of Mogadishu became anxious and skittish with the domination of the Hawiye in Somali society. The Mogadishu power house that is often spoken of is not so far from reality. This includes the alienation of many Somali unionist around the globe.
Controlling Mogadishu, the capital city, and not sharing power and wealth was offensive to many Somalis so they decided to move fast to become independent from Mogadishu’s elite power base and domination by electing the most extreme politicians. Somalis are divided more than ever and foreign jihadists and foreign elements are dividing the country. The main purpose of these meddling foreign powers is so that they can rule them politically and militarily and then ask them at a later date to join their countries as the Haud and Reserve Area did in Ethiopia and NFD in Kenya. Today, both communities in Ethiopia and Kenya are better off today than Somalis in their own country in terms of security.
The number of ethnic Somalis in the world number around 15-20 million, and half of them live within the Somali Republic. The other half reside in Ethiopia’s Somali region, northeastern Kenya, Djibouti, and Yemen. Estimates are that nearly 20 percent of ethnic Somalis live in foreign countries. This means that around 1.5-3 million Somalis live outside Somalia, and this number is growing. In Africa, Somali tribes are also disappearing and losing their identity and languages to other east African communities in Oromia, Harare, Guragu and the Afar. At the same time, many Somalis are integrating and assimilating in some parts of Europe, Africa, Asia and North America.
Can Somalis reconcile with each other?
All too often issues of governance, reform and security are proposed and pursued with little attention given to the aspirations of those for whom they are intended. Society needs leaders whom plan a long-term vision for their nation and move forward with some common interests and values. Somalis blame one another for past failures. Some blame their neighbors, others blame foreign armies and jihadists. However, this is far from reality. Somalis alone are responsible for their miserable circumstances. Somalis need to take responsibility for themselves. In reality, they did not reconcile with each other for past atrocities.
For almost twenty-four years, the international community has attempted to introduce measures to promote democratic governance, security sector reform, and disarmament to a nation rife with conflict, poverty and disharmony. Since the fall of Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, there have been twenty formal initiatives, supported by the United Nations and multilateral and bilateral donors, to introduce stability through various forms of transitional governmental arrangements. The fear that Somalia is becoming a base for radical fundamentalism has prompted further efforts to strengthen government structures and to eliminate those that threaten such efforts.
To date such well‐intentioned efforts by the international community have been notable for their lack of success. It may, therefore be time to take a step back from existing assumptions about Somalia’s lack of governability, and seek different approaches and solutions to the seemingly perpetual crises that has haunted Somalia for more than two decades. There is no doubt that the frustrations that has arisen after the numerous attempts to restore stability and good governance has taken their toll in terms of the international community’s attitudes towards Somalia.
First, the international community’s diverse opinions and interests cause many Somalis leaders to become dependent on foreign interests and thus they do not come to the table and negotiate in good faith. The international community has a choice to make in selecting one country to help Somalis run their affairs and prevent others from directly interfering in Somalia’s governance. Second, Somalis need to take the initiative by choosing reconciliation and their own location (Geed Hoostiis) or ‘under the tree’ as Somalis did in the past for their traditional customary law of justice. For many, foreign donors pay past reconciliation, and a small group of people benefit from it for personal gain. This is not true reconciliation. Instead the price paid for these atrocities should be handled within Somalia, be paid by Somalis, and organized, by Somalis. What is the alternative of not moving in this direction?
Mass Clemency law
First, the Somali parliament needs to pass laws of reconciliation for Somali tribes and Islamists to forgive them and to forgive each other. It will show Somalis are paying a higher price of forgiveness for the crimes committed during the civil war. Secondly, parliament should declare an Act of Return Law for property confiscated during the civil war. The four major tribes of the south should reconcile with each other. When all four tribes agree how to share power, resources and listen to each other’s grievances, they should then move to the next level, national reconciliation. Our delegation from the northern regions should be the leaders who coordinate reconciliation efforts.
Somali communities prefer unity over disunity but leaders who can accomplish this are missing in action. Others are opportunists who only care about power and money. And Somalis are more divided and polarized then ever. Somali nationalism died with the passing of the late Prime Minister Abdirizak Hagi Hussein and too many politicians feel it’s an insult to Somali politics to talk about Somali nationalism. What we are talking about isn’t uniting Somalis everywhere; it’s uniting Somalis within the Republic of Somalia. We also know for sure that Somali democracy is far away since it is difficult to implement in poor nations due to the presence of all the variables that discourage democracy of any nation such as, the absence of a justice system that, fair and impartial, a lack of education, the lack of a middle class, high unemployment, and of course the hemorrhage of tribalism. Somalis tried to use tribal power grabs before and it has not worked. We tried organized religious groups and that did not work either and there were grave consequences from that mistake.
The only options left are separate tribal enclave mini-states with foreign backing as we know it or to organize a national plan that puts tribes together and share power, resources, and build strong justice institutions. What we need is a civic nationalist leader with great vision and wisdom who can lead with virtue, ethics, and integrity. One who understands everyone is obligated to act only in ways that respect human dignity and moral rights of all persons and leaders, one who understands that leading people and making money can’t go together. An organized civic nationalist movement is the only way out so once again we can unite Somalia with a strong federal system, and lay the foundations for future generations.