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From SYL Ideals to Mini Ethno States: How Federalism is tearing Somalia Apart

Satuday July 25, 2015

By Gulled Ali

As I was lurking through the personal archive of a close friend of mine the other day, I couldn’t help but notice an incredible score of files with SYL members portraits. The 20 plus year old I am and being a first generation Somali born into the civil war, I’d heard of the SYL before but little did I know about the struggles and history behind the group’s founding, much less the fact that this year marked the 72nd anniversary of their establishment as a political front. Dumbfounded as I was by my ignorance of such an important event in our history, I was equally motivated to learn more about the legacy of the group which I was never taught about in my history class and whose selflessness and sacrifices led to the birth of the Somalia I dearly call home.

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In the several paragraphs that follow, I will share the principles that’d been the linchpin in terms of the SYL struggle for an independent and united Somalia, discuss how this current generation of leaders have managed to stain the spirit of nationhood the group embodied by more or less balkanizing the country and while I offer no alternative to the Ethio-Kenyan led ambition or rather quest  to federalize Somalia along substandard clan enclaves, I will touch on, briefly, how Somalia is being coerced into playing a game i.e. the federalization Project that is not hers.

Needless to say, when one plays another’s game, one is bound to lose.

Before I get to the heart of it though I’d like to throw in a little caveat – a disclaimer more like it - that under no circumstance should this article be taken as a political argument intended to advocate or rather undermine a certain political enterprise. On the contrary, I write this as a young adult and on behalf of many others like me who, in the eyes of the world, have been deemed refugees and a laughing stock and are seen to be dangerous persons with no value to community and whose own leaders, by means of their bickering and political myopia, have decided to deny them the opportunity to a normal citizenship resolving instead to treat our youth like convicts under sentence of penal servitude. It’s rather bizarre - and you will perhaps agree with me that I resemble neither very much a convict nor a victim and yet I am both.

Not so long ago, I was fortunate enough to have been contacted by a Somali medical physicist and an author who’d been kind enough to share with me a presentation he’d delivered at a youth gathering. Motivating as it was listening to the lecture, equally inspiring was an event the presenter mentioned that took place in the 1940s after Abdullahi Issa, the then chairman of the SYL, during one of his trips to the UN, was informed by the Italian officials that if he was to board his plane, a vaccination was necessary.

Wary of any sinister motives at play on the part of the colonial regime, one of the other members of the SYL who bore resemblance to Abdullahi Issa but was of a different clan volunteered to impersonate him and take the injection instead – come whatever.

I chose to echo this incident because it reveals the essence of what the SYL struggle was all about; one of trust between fellow Somalis, of sacrifice for a greater purpose and for something larger than one’s self but above all else it was based on the understanding, elusive as it may be to this generation of sectarian leaders, that as far as Somalia is concerned we’re all bound by the same fate and that no Somali can do without the other.

Fast forward to our present state of affairs and you’ll see a shattered Somalia and a governance mirage designed, under the pretense of federalism, to manipulate the average Somali along tribal allegiances.

While the need for autonomy at the local level is paramount to the effective and efficient delivery of services to the grassroots, the truth of the matter remains that federalizing Somalia in the context of our current sociopolitical realities has never been about the creation of multi-layer governance or empowerment at the regional level as is often argued. On the contrary, it merely serves as a smokes screen and a rather expedient tool promoted by hostile states to engage rather conveniently with a handful of weaker entities than an established national authority in Somalia.

This has resulted, I am afraid, in the impending disintegration of the Somalia nation state into a handful of clan based fiefdoms in which citizenry in each region is defined in exclusivist clan terms whereby other tribes not belonging to that particular territory or considered minorities are either seen as second class subjects and/or refugees as has been the case time and again.

Even more alarming – and this is something which I suppose most of the so called federalists are either unaware of or simply averse to talk about - is the inevitable emergence of sectarian minds which are trapped in the realm of narrow clan interests and are sadly incapable of thinking beyond selfish populist gains. One only has to look at the Mudug debacle to understand how even men claiming to be of education aren’t exempt from such misfortune. This, sadly, is a national catastrophe and only goes to show how imminent of a threat the current “federalism project” is to Somalia’s national security.

When will this political class and indeed the federalists understand that synergy is key to a stable and prosperous Somalia? When are the people of Somalia going to realize that the whole is much greater than the simple sum of its parts?

Federalism is the last thing Somalia needs right now and to try to impose such a system without the necessary mechanics and a genuine reconciliation among the different segments of the Somali populace for them to just purge out the grievances and suspicions that had been the product of well over 30 years of civil mistrust will only add fuel to a fire that many actors in the region would like to see turn into an inferno.

Gulled Ali can be reached at: [email protected]


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