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By Dr. Mahamud M. Yahye


I.          Introduction              


            As most of us are well aware, the 14th National Reconciliation Conference held in Nairobi, Kenya, for a period of two years (2002/2004), had resulted in the creation of a Transitional Federal Government (TFG) for Somalia, which was supposed to have a decentralized system of administration based on federalism. According to Article 11 (Chapter 4) of the Transitional Federal Charter, the TFG was expected to set up an independent Federal Constitution Commission within 90 days from the date of assuming office. Furthermore, the TFG was envisaged to ensure “that the process of federating Somalia shall take place within two and a half years from the date that the Commission is established”.[1] To the best of my knowledge, none of these tasks have yet been undertaken despite the fact that the TFG (led by both Mr. Ali Mohamed Gedi and his successor Mr. Nur Hassan Hussein, better known as Nur “Adde”) is about to enter its fourth year. Again, the new Federal Constitution has not yet been completed; nor has it been disseminated and discussed at the popular level; and the internationally supervised referendum that was planned to endorse this new constitution, which would lead to elections in 2009, has not yet been carried out. But I very much doubt whether Nur Adde’s new administration could complete these onerous tasks within the remaining one and a half years of its tenure. That is why I would like today to present my views on Somalia’s new federal system and discuss them with the esteemed readers of this paper/website, particularly my countrymen, the Somalis.  


            By definition, the term federalism is used to describe a system of government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central government and constituent political units, such as states or provinces. In other words, a federal system represents a form of government in which power is distributed between a central authority and a number of constituent territorial units.[2]  At present, very few countries, like Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, and USA apply this federalist system. In our African continent, out of around 53 independent states, only two countries, namely, Ethiopia and Nigeria are currently organized as federal governments, if my memory serves me well. The reason why so few nations today follow the federal system is that, in the view of some experts, it is too expensive and too difficult to apply and manage properly. This is so, because to become a real federal nation, a country needs to have several overlapping layers of government, i.e., a central federal administration and state governments (each having its own three branches of government, namely, the executive, the parliamentary and the judiciary) plus often additional units in the form of regions, provinces and districts.


            In the case of Somalia’s new federal system, the country is planned to be composed of: (a) The transitional Federal Government; (b) State Governments [two or more regions may federate]; (c) Regional Administrations; and (d) District Administrations. In this regard, each state will have its own Governor or President, its own parliament and its own courts (first level, appeal, and supreme courts). Besides, the constituent states will finance and manage separately their own internal affairs (i.e., internal security, education, health, agriculture/animal husbandry, water resources, etc.); and they will basically share, among themselves, foreign relations and defense arrangements only. How can a penniless country, like Somalia, which has been undergoing a seemingly endless civil war in the past 17 years, and whose governmental institutions have all been destroyed, afford to run such a bloated and huge administrative structure? It baffles me even to contemplate its possible occurrence!      


            Another important question is: How would the states that make up the planned federal government of Somalia be constituted? How many would they be? Would they be based on the infamous 4.5 tribal power-sharing formula that, in the opinion of many observers, has caused the stalemate in ending Somalia’s pernicious civil strife? This reminds me about the proposal of an American fellow, who claims to be an expert on Somali affairs. He suggested that the future Somali Republic should comprise five states that are based on the country’s five major clans! Unfortunately, he forgot that Somalia’s current tragedy was essentially caused by the revival of the destructive and politically manipulated clannish system.                                                        


II.        From Somalia’s Recent History


            In his historical and interesting book in Arabic, titled “A Conspiracy in Africa”, the well-known Egyptian journalist/writer, Mr. Ahmed Baha’uddin, had presented a comprehensive investigative reporting on the assassination of the veteran Egyptian diplomat, the late Mr. Kamaluddin Salah, in Mogadishu 50 years ago.[3]  He reported that the day before Kamaluddin’s murder, Mr. Abdulkadir Aden “Zoppe?”, the Secretary General of Digil and Mirifle Party and Mr. Abdullahi Mursal, its Deputy Chairman, took in a car the murderer of Kamaluddin, a fellow by the name of Mohamed Sheikh Omsan (from Baidoa, who was later executed by the then Somali local administration). They said to him the flowing: “We called you for an upper interest of our Party. We want Somalia to become a federation between states – something that would strengthen the tribal system [emphasis added]. But Kamaluddin Salah supports the Somali Youth League [SYL Party] which aims for a unified, independent state. It is, therefore, necessary to wipe out this man, Kamaluddin, from existence, because so long as he is present in Somalia, the project of a federalist union will not materialize.” [4] Baha’uddin asserts that these two gentlemen had given the assassin an advance payment of 200 Somali Shillings and promised him that they would pay him another So. Sh. 30,000 (which was a great future in Somalia at that time) after completing his criminal assignment.  In other words, this decent and very humane gentleman, the late Kamaluddin Salah, was murdered in cold blood simply because he believed that a complex and costly federal system was unsuitable for poor Somalia. 


            Incidentally, the guerrilla warfare which presently rages in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, is believed to be partly fueled by the high level of unemployment now existing in a country that has neither meaningful agriculture nor vibrant industry. The UN’s current Special Representative for the Somali Government, Mr. Ahmedou Ould Abdallah (from Mauritania?) was reported to have recently said, while referring to the depth of the crisis in that unlucky city: “Youth [in Mogadishu] are ready to shoot people and throw a grenade for 3 to 5 US dollars.” “Throwing grenades at neighbors provides employment”, he added.[5]           


            Because of its likelihood to exacerbate the country’s clan division and its very costly application, the great and much wiser Somali leaders of a previous generation, men like the first President of Somali Republic, the late Mr. Aden Abdulle Osman (Allaha u naxariistee) and its ex-Prime Ministers, the late Mr. Mohamed Ibrahim Egal (may his soul rest in eternal peace) and Mr. Abdirizak Haji Hussen, had all rejected the federalist solution for Somalia at independence in July 1960. They opted for a unitary, centralized administration for its nascent state. But since the country is so poor that even this unified central administration, with a single layer of government, was difficult to sustain without significant financial help from friendly foreign governments and other donors. As the American scholar on Somali affairs, Mr. Menkhaus and Mr. Predergast put it: “Economically, there was never in Somalia’s history a sustainable material basis for a viable central state authority. In the past, the Somali state was funded entirely by Cold War-driven foreign aid, leading to a bloated and artificial structure, which collapsed soon after that aid was frozen in the late 1980s. There are no prospects for such large quantities of foreign aid for Somalia in the post-Cold War, post UNOSOM era [that is., UN intervention in Somalia in mid 1990s], which means that a central Somali state will have to subsist primarily off resources extracted through taxes and modest amounts of foreign aid”.[6]   


            Regarding this “bloated and artificial structure’, it is worth noting that when the new Prime Minister of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, Nur Adde  was asked last month to form a new administration, he presented a cabinet of 73 ministers, ministers of state and deputy ministers, whose names were posted on the leading Somali websites (at times with their tribal affiliations also, shamefully, listed)! Can you imagine that? (America, the only superpower in the world today is said to have only 15 federal ministers). Nur Adde had nominated such a huge cabinet, because the most crucial criterion was not the real needs of the country at this very critical stage of its murky history, but to satisfy every clan and even sub-sub-clan. Every politician/clan representative wants to be a minister, not to perform a public service for the needy Somali people, but to get access to the best and fastest road for amassing great wealth – mostly illegally, of course.  Ironically, despite proposing this rather exaggerated cabinet, four of its members submitted their resignations a few days after its announcement. Why? Because, according to them, their clans were humiliated and not given the number of ministerial portfolios they deserve. How incredible the present day mentality of some Somalis is! This attitude also clearly demonstrates that tribalism and running a modern state are quite incompatible. Or as the famous Somali poet, Mr. Abdillahi Suldan “Tima’adde” would have liked to say: “Dugsi ma leh qabyaaladi waxay dumiso mooyaane” (Tribalism has no use except destruction).


 However, as was reported recently by the VOA Somali Service, Nur Adde has changed his mind and now wishes to restructure his government by reducing its number nearly by half to 18 ministers only – half of them to be chosen from the Transitional Federal Parliament and the other half from outside. This is an important step in the right direction, and the new Prime Minister would have committed an enormous blunder had he yielded to the pressure of these tribal-minded, semi-illiterate faction leaders/politicians, and had he augmented the number of ministerial portfolios to satisfy their irrational tribal agenda. I still believe, however, that 18 ministers represent a high figure that a failed state like Somalia can ill afford.    


            In my opinion and in the view of many educated, nationalist Somalis, what our country needs today is a much slimmer cabinet; one that is not bigger than the cabinet we had at the time of gaining our independence in 1960. I would strongly and sincerely argue that Somalia does not honestly require more than a maximum of 14 ministers. And that was the size of our cabinet in early 1960s – a time when, I would also argue, Somalia was in a much better position, relatively speaking, because it was in peace with itself; was not experiencing a devastating civil war; had great hopes for a brighter future; and had a central government -- not perfect but at least a functioning one[7]. I would even go a step further by specifying the kind of line ministries that our unfortunate country needs during its reconstruction – if at all we can embark upon this arduous task earnestly. The 14 line ministries that I would propose are as follows:


(1) Ministry of Interior & National Security

(2) Ministry of Defense

(3) Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries

(4) Ministry of Education

(5) Ministry of Health

(6) Ministry of Finance & National Economy

(7) Ministry of Trade and Industry

(8) Ministry of Foreign Affairs

(9) Ministry of Planning & International Cooperation

(10) Ministry of Justice & Religious Affairs

(11) Ministry of Post & Telecommunications

(12) Ministry of Transport & Public Works

(13) Ministry of Information & Culture, and    

(14) Ministry of Reconciliation & Somali Diaspora



            As such, there is no need for such ridiculous designations as Ministry of Tourism or Ministry of Petroleum. Who in his right mind would go to war-torn Somalia for a nice holiday? What is there to see except death and destruction? And why a country that has never produced a single barrel of oil would need a Minister for petroleum affairs? This absurdity is beyond me. As to the remaining essential functions of state, they could be carried out in the form of general directorates/departments within the above 14 main ministries or through several autonomous public enterprises/agencies, as was the case when we had a fully functioning national government. In this connection, I also wish to suggest that, in terms of qualifications, the proposed ministers – particularly those to be selected from outside the Somali parliament – should possess at least a first university degree and a minimum of 3 years of relevant work experience. 


III.       Difficulty of Applying Federalism


            Let us now go back briefly to the two African countries that are currently applying the federal system, i.e., Ethiopia and Nigeria. In Ethiopia, the country is divided into nine ethnically based states as well as two special city administrations, namely, those of Addis Ababa (the national capital) and Dire Dawa (whose ownership is apparently being disputed over by some ethnic groups). The 9 states are sub-divided into zones, districts and sub-districts. In Nigeria, the country is made up of 36 ethnicity-based states plus the Federal Capital (Abuja) as a separate entity. In both of these two countries, each state is headed by its own elected Governor or President and has a House of Assembly (or State Parliament). On the other hand, all their constituent states are envisaged to fund all their activities through their own internal resources. In reality, however, most of these states cannot afford to achieve this lofty but unrealistic goal and they largely depend on the federal (central) government to bail them out.[8] In other words, putting federalism into proper application is much easier said than done.


            Someone may argue that federalism is a more democratic system, because it is based on a highly decentralized system of government. This may be true, but it also comes at a very high price. He/she may also give the autonomous region of Puntland (in north-eastern Somalia), which was established nearly nine years ago, as a good example for a successful application of federalism in that country. (Unlike the self-declared “Republic of Somaliland”, Puntland had opted for being a state within a federated Somali Republic). But Puntland was created under exceptional, desperate circumstances at the height of Somalia’s disastrous civil war. Furthermore, some of its claimed constituent units, like the regions of Sol and Sanag are seriously contested - at times with fierce militarily clashes - with Somaliland – essentially for clannish reasons.   


 If the above-cited two African countries (Ethiopia and Nigeria) which are much bigger, more stable and much richer than Somalia can not fully implement a federal system, what do you expect of a totally ruined failed state like Somalia that has been undergoing a civil strife in the past 17 years?  Suppose, for the sake of argument, that two of its regions like, say, Galgudud and Hiran or Bay and Bakol decide to form their own federal states. Can they fund all their required state activities alone? The simple answer is no. The other negative aspect of federalism, as I alluded to earlier, is that it will fan the flames of tribal rivalry and its natural consequence of hatred and animosity – something that had heralded the current tragedy in Somalia and had resulted in the total destruction of its state institutions. What will be the most rational criterion for establishing each state? And who will demark the borders between these fledgling states in a country like Somalia where one of its major clans is today claiming that almost three-quarters of the country belongs to its tribesmen? My considered opinion is that the introduction of the federal system in Somalia will make a bad situation more complicated and much worse. As the famous American economist, Mr. Milton Friedman, is reported to have once remarked – referring rather sarcastically to USA, the richest country in the world and its most successful in terms of applying federalism: “If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there will be a shortage of sand.”


IV.       Concluding Remarks


            In conclusion, the federal system may be a more democratic system. It may also be suited to countries that have deep-rooted ethnic problems, like Nigeria. But it is very costly and enormously hard to apply properly. That is why I believe it is not appropriate for a penniless and more homogeneous country, such as Somalia, which is emerging from a very destructive civil war that has been going on for almost two decades. A country whose ministers and members of parliament get their salaries and official travel expenses from the UN as well as other donors. A failed state that has to re-start from scratch. What Somalia really needs is a very undersized government to bring about the reconstruction of all state institution in a very effective and efficient manner. It does not presently require the establishment of a cumbersome and costly federal system, but it could achieve more democracy and decentralization by having a unified central government and by giving more autonomy to its present 18 regions (whose number was, incidentally, enlarged during Siad Barre’s dictatorial regime for tribal reasons). In a nutshell, Somalia now needs a strong executive, an elected legislature and an independent judiciary – all under a centralized form of government, if it wants to end the terrible nightmare it has been living under in the past 20 years or so. We need a strong government, because, as James Madison, the 4th US President and one of its founding fathers is quoted to have once said: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” As we have come to realize by now, Somalis, especially their males, are anything but angels! 


Last but least, I could contemplate accepting federalism for the Somali Republic under one condition only. That is, if the leaders of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland could be persuaded to end their secession and become part of a new “Federal Somali Republic” (consisting of two main states, namely, the ex-British and ex-Italian Somalilands) - just for the sake of preserving the unity of the Somali nation.


Mahamud m. Yahya, PhD

[email protected]


1   See   The National Federal Charter of the Somali Republic” ( Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 2004), pp. 6-7. It can be accessed through Google.


2   Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition (2003). See also Wikipedia online, the free encyclopedia; to be accessed by googling. Note that the word federalism comes from Latin: foedus, meaning: league, compact, treaty or covenant.


[3]  Mr. Kamaluddin Salah was the Representative of Egypt and Africa in the UN Trusteeship Council, which was set up in order to supervise the preparation Somalia for independence, under Italian rule, during the period: 1950-1960. There were, I think, two other representatives from the Philippines (Asia) and Colombia (South America). He was very popular among the Somali public who perceived him as a very honest diplomat who was defending their national interests vigorously vis-à-vis their Italian colonial masters.


[4] Baha’uddin, Ahmed, Mu’amaratun Fi Afriqiya [A Conspiracy in Africa], (published by Issa Al-Halabi & Co., Cairo, 1957), p. 165/6.  Digil & Mirifle Party (DMP) was a political organization sponsored by the two clans who carry these names and who reside mostly in the Bay and Bakol regions of southern Somalia. During his provisional government of the late 1950s, Somalia’s ex-Prime Minister, the great nationalist leader, the late Mr. Abdullahi Isse Mahamud, had banned the formation of political parties with tribal names. So, the leaders of DMP cleverly changed its name to Dustur-Mustaqilli Party  (or Constitution for Independence Party) because, as you can notice, when you abbreviate its new name, it becomes DMPagain -- with its intended hidden clannish connotation, of course. This shows how obstinate and creative Somalis can be when it comes to their vicious tribal politics.  


[5]  “New Somalia Prime Minister Gets Reassurance”, Fortune weekly, No. 8/397, Dec. 9, 2007, p. 2.


[6]  Ken Menkhaus and John Prendergast, “Political Economy of Post-Intervention Somalia”, Somali Task Force Issue Paper No. 3, April 1995, pp. 1-15


[7]  Lewis, I. M. Understanding Somalia: Guide to Culture, History & Social Institutions. (Haan Associates, London, UK, 1993), Part Two.


[8]  See “Country Profile: Ethiopia (April 2005)” and “Country Profile: Nigeria (June 2006)”,  (Library of Congress, Federal Research Division, USA),  pp. 16 and 17/8, respectively.


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