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Temporal Inefficacy Due to Pastoral Democracy

A Closer Examination at the Hiiraan-Middle Shabelle Project Stalemate

by Zaki Harare
April 12, 2016

As one of the major milestones to be achieved before 2016 elections, the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) is racing against time to complete the formation of federal member states (FMS). This milestone, initially set to be concluded by 2015, a year the government named to be that of state formations, is already in arrears. With only three months to scheduled presidential and parliamentary selections, the last FMS in the row, that which is to unite Hiiraan and Middle Shabelle regions, is proving difficult to be constituted due to unbending and prolonged impasse between the FGS and traditional leaders of the regions. Frequent visits to Beledweyne, the capital of Hiiraan, by top government leadership, including the President, Prime Minister, cabinet ministers and parliament members did not alter the stalemate thus far. The government is indicating confidence that a deal will eventually be finalized with elders, however. But even if the elders are convinced to participate the state formation convention in Jowhar, the profound intricacy of the contentious issues at hand indicate that the conception of a member state with any reasonable legitimacy is too far from materialization.

State Building and States Formation in the Somalia Context

newsinsidSince the collapse of the state and disappearance of its basic institutions in early 1990s, the term ‘state-building’ has conspicuously surfaced in the discourse on restoring order to Somalia.  In reality, however, restoration of order and state-building have never gone beyond cross roads together. In fact, they often chose to go opposite ways as most state-building projects had triggered fresh conflicts and, often times, violence of mass proportions. To clear any questions regarding the truthfulness of my above statement from the way, ponder over what happened in the aftermath of both the first and the last initiatives aimed at building back the blocks of the shattered state in order to restore order: The 1991 Djibouti conference which selected Ali Mahdi Mohamed as a president and the Mbagathi project which laid the foundations for the current FGS in 2004. Both conferences and the new realities they introduced have become the main factors for major conflicts with high scale violence. Neither the four month-long war in 1992 that turned the White Pearl of Indian Ocean the dark hole the world avoids, nor the atrocities committed in the aftermath of the Ethiopian invasion of Mogadishu and South-Central Somalia is minor in terms of scale of violence.

Beside the common effect to human security, the Djibouti I and Mbagathi conferences provide contrastive political clues portraying an evolutionary trajectory of contextual conceptualization of state-building in Somalia. The selection of Ali Mahdi, whose USC group took control of Mogadishu and most parts of South-Central Somalia after the flight of former president Siad Barre, as the head of state indicated that the way contemporary politicians went about state-building was more of a top-down approach where the control of the capital city represented a greater deal of state legitimacy, particularly in the eyes of international community and systems. The selection of the-then president of Puntland state of Somalia Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed as the president in Mbagathi in 2004, on the other hand, marked a paradigm shift in terms of the concept of state-building. Instead of the strongest group in the capital -who presumably was the fittest to project power on the peripheries-  the group with the most capacity to lead a pacification project and restore order in a subnational territorial unit -who would presumably be the most capable to guide other subnational units achieve the same- was chosen. Federalism became the instrument and the concept of state-building was then twinned with that of states formation. Building the state would not mainly concentrate on the pacification and restoration of order in the capital, but also more or less equally exerting effort to form subnational units throughout the country by means of emerging two or more regions of the pre-1991 administrative divisions as prescribed by a federal provisional constitution in place.

Pastoral Democracy and Sates Formation

In the traditional pastoral Somali society, and prior to the introduction of modern systems of governance and statehood, there were no administrative or legal processes and procedures regulating social functions. Individual pride and self-esteem were that high that a typical pastoralist Somali defied any sort of authority other than that of Allah. Before anyone else, a pastoralist Somali appreciated own worth and virtue. Class system was practically unknown and theoretically unacceptable. Claims of superiority in any political sense had no audience to comprehend, let alone society to allow. Yet, as I.M Lewis, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at London School of Economics, discussed in his book, Pastoral Democracy, the Somalis were not traditionally without government. Two main factors which analysis are essential to understanding the Somali pastoralist system of government are clan and age. Political affiliation and loyalty is determined by agnatic descent and age increased with more respect from the younger population, higher status and place in society, and, most relevantly, greater political voice. Elders, as the sole natural and legitimate political leaders, had the mandate to guide important political decision making. It is this rule of elders that Professor Lewis observed to be based on many democratic values and called ‘Pastoral Democracy’.

Although colonial powers introduced modern systems of governance, they did not bother much to make radical changes to traditional systems and, in some ways, actually reinforced them. After independence, three decades of statehood and unclear but significant role of the traditional clan system in the state affairs culminated in a disastrous state collapse precipitated by clan-based, large scale conflicts over power and resources. The absence of the state then virtually fully restored the role of the clan in society to its pre-colonial height. Against this context, it becomes clearer how the recent history of state-building or state formation in Somalia did not mean much more than clans reconciliations and admissions to an accepted multi-clan commission through pastoral democracy.

Gerontocratic Reality Vs Bureaucratic Assembly

At the current national level state-building mission, traditional elders occupy major roles. The fact that the privilege of selecting federal parliament members is exclusively theirs, establishes their position as the main source of legitimacy. Nonetheless, on anything political, the role of elders typically disappears and selected officials rarely remember the gerontocratic reality that positioned them in the bureaucratic assembly they represent. In addition to many other factors, the hypocritical approach of conveniently accommodating clan elders when there are little alternatives for building state mechanisms and denying them any further participation in the longer process is, perhaps, one factor contributing to the confidence deficiency and lack of trust and popular support for the system.  

In the subnational state formation level, traditional elders as well as the agnatic social units they represent tend to be less tolerant to perceived injustices and lack of proper representation in the state apparatus. This is perhaps due to the fact that subnational authorities are more proximate to impacting the territories clans identify with as agnatic heritage. To the elders, who spent their formative years in unstable, uncertain environments characterized by the fierce defense of clan territory, resource, and interests, cynicism towards state-building increases as the impact and stakes seem closer to home. In this sense, subnational state formation projects have to be more sensitive to the full accommodation of clan elders to gain legitimacy. And, as I will write about the only couple of relatively success stories of subnational state formation projects in the coming paragraphs, more sensitive they were.

Somaliland, Puntland, Others, and State Formation

The idea of pacifying a subnational territorial unit to restore peace and order was born in the far North -Somaliland. After declaring break-up from the rest of the country, Somaliland laid the foundations of effective reconciliation mechanisms lead by clan elders that transformed the armed rebel factions into a single army under a civilian rule; built institutional capabilities, functioning state management systems, and lead to widely accepted social contract and positive attitude towards the governance system. In short, the Somaliland project created an oasis of stability and democracy. Along with the Puntland project, the duo effectively influenced the dynamics in the South and pushed further the notion of states formation through similar procedures. In both projects, the role of traditional elders (Guurti in Somaliland and Issimo in Puntland) was central to the state formation stages. And in Somaliland, exceptionally, and to a large degree Puntland, Elders have always been permanently essential to power sharing and supportive to peace and order sustainability throughout their organizational political trajectories.

The other three FMS, for which interim administrations have been made and recognized by the FGS as well as International Community (IC), are struggling with far less legitimacy in the eyes of their respective constituent communities and more elusive potential for reconciliation, pacification, and state-building. All the three are yet to exert authority of any significance beyond their respective capital cities; according to current FMS configurational arrangements in Somalia, various clan-based local authorities within the jurisdictional territories under these three FMS are operating without any sort of cooperation with, or even recognition of, their respective FMS capitals, all along with the more bellicose Alshabab group. From Ahlusuna Waljama’a in Galgaduud; to a secessionist, clan-based mission to cut three districts in Bakool region from South West Administration (SWA) and paste it, may be, to Jubbaland; to the also-clan-based but more intricate and violent case of Lower Shabelle region; to the prolonged stalemate between the Jubbaland Administration (JA) and Gedo region clan elders, mainly on power sharing, one can easily visualize a huge room for more genuine reconciliations and commitment to compromise and concession.

 Discontent of some major clan elders with these administrations and their strong feeling of state structural injustices can be adequately addressed only by unbuilding the state before building it on terms with reasonable consensus. Such reasonable consensus was achieved in Somaliland and Puntland during their respective state formation conventions. For Hiiraan and Middle Shabelle regions, instead of having to build, unbuild, and then rebuild a state, it is at this current stage that rectifications are most effective, constructive, and worthwhile.

Hiiraan and Middle Shabelle Project

The seemingly early failure of the Jowhar process for the formation of the supposedly last FMS could be explained by using diachronic analysis of recent history of state-building or state formation in Somalia as a benchmark. The objection of well-respected traditional leaders of major clans to the FGS-led Jowhar conference and the extent of fundamental disagreements between the sides covered by local media provide little more than outside scoop information about deeper underlying challenges ahead of this endeavor.

One way this this project is different from the others we have seen recently is that the current President of the FGS Hassan Sheikh Mohamud hails from one of those two regions. The president was born in Hiiraan. In a pastoral democracy, however, since he has little agnatic relatives in this region, he politically belongs to Middle Shabelle region, where his clan maintains controlling political interest. Against that sensitive context, a presidential decree has determined the host town of the state formation convention to be Jowhar and the capital city of the upcoming FMS to be Bulo Burte, without any sort of consultations with local Elders or even government-appointed administrations, and despite a six-month-long reconciliation conference in Beledweyn funded by Hiiraan diaspora community and local businesses and set to move to a state formation phase.

One of three propositions from Hiiraan traditional elders (all of which had been quietly rejected or ignored by FGS) demands the return of the state formation conference to Beledweyn. The perception that the results of any conference in Jowhar will be easily prearranged in Villa Somalia is widespread in Hiiraan. Questioning the impartiality of the FGS, especially in terms of clan-based economic and power rivalry, boosts the legitimacy of clan Elders to stand up in defense of pastoral democracy.

Along with the return of the state formation conference to Beledweyn, Hiiraan Elders proposed to hold a regional reconciliation conference for three months and to engage in a deeper dialogue with the FGS and Somali people on the status of this region that marks to be the only one remaining from a pool of 8 administrative divisions established in 1960 as the other 7 regions have been divided into 2 or more to make their total number 17. Of all the three proposals, the FGS has nothing to give but the cold-shoulder; while in fact seeming to be going ahead with its mission, regardless. Hiiraan Elders, on the other hand, have managed to hold their reconciliation conference which gained more momentum as it moved to its second week, leaving the FGS-led Jowhar process up a creek without a paddle. 

Hiiraan State or Merger Stake?

Article 49, (6) of Somalia’s Provisional Constitution states that “based on voluntary decision, two or more regions may merge to form” an FMS. Although the people of Hiiraan, and Elders as their legitimate leadership, have not public declined to the merger project, they have neither offered, nor been asked of, such voluntary decision. Moreover, Elders have presented the unique case of Hiiraan as being one of the 8 original regions of the country and the unjust nature of equalizing it with Middle Shabelle, an off-shoot district of Banadir region. In 2012, representatives of Hiiraan region at the 825-member National Constituent Assembly strongly objected the articles 48 (2) and 49 (6) of the Provisional Constitution on grounds of “discriminatory nature towards Hiiraan region vis a vis the other 17 regions” in forming the Federal State. To make the case for Hiiraan even stronger, in 2012 former president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed issued a presidential decree that partitioned the region into: Hiiraan and Upper Shabelle, a document unrecognized or respected by the current FGS but viewed by Hiiraan Elders as a solution to the constitutional puzzle of having at least two regions to form an FMS, in case the FGS-led Jowhar process remains unacceptable. The fact that Galmudug Administration enjoys FGS and IC recognition without meeting the two or more regions criteria is one more precedent favorable to the Hiiraan-alone case.

The Jowhar process and the FGS handling of it are in a direct collision course with Hiiraan and Elders so far. Attempts of the government to expedite the process, eying the ever-shrinking room before deadline on mid this year, are actually an expedition and intensification of inevitable political clashes that might quite easily find violent outlets. Through the leadership of clan Elders, pastoral democracy stood in the way of government-to-be implemented but internationally-funded state formation project. Turn in violent, pastoral democracy is empirically tested to linger long before kicking the bucket. State formation in this case will be a cause of hostilities and conflict rather than a driver of peace and stability. The only window of opportunity for a safe conception of an FMS with any reasonable legitimacy is the recognition of all sides particularly the FGS that, rather than an event, state formation is a political process involving reconciliations, the creation of effective mechanisms for political settlement, and a sincere effort to address the complex struggles over balancing power, rules of engagement, and distribution of resources.

Zaki Harare can be reached at: [email protected]

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