by Ahmed “Nabaddoon” Abdurahman Abdullahi
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
It’s no secret that Somalia has been struggling with governance and the establishment of rule of law since its independence in 1960. Somalia has transitioned from colonialism (1880s-1960) to independence (1960-1969) to dictatorship (1969-91) and the complete collapse of government in 1991. As public institutions disintegrated, the country was constantly plagued by inter-clan violence followed by the emergence of warlordism, religious extremism and other local and foreign proxies filling the vacuum left from the absence of governance. Twenty years of dictatorship coupled with a quarter of a century of civil conflict has seriously obstructed the development of good governance practices within the state and civil society.
The crisis of governance in the post-colonial period created a contradiction between a centralized authority, a kinship patronage system and a Somali pastoral culture that not only diffuses power but historically is anti-authority. From 1960 to 1969, Somalia produced two democratically elected civilian governments, while most of African states were still under colonial administrations. As democratic principles were being enacted at the electoral level, corruption, nepotism and clan competition was practiced in governance. This dual approach hampered the maturation of administrative institutions and undermined Somalia’s evolving democratic system.
The armed forces were becoming increasingly appalled by the double standards and corruption in the highest level of government. As a result, General Mohamed Sayid Barre and company engineered a bloodless coup in 1969. Ironically, president Barre renamed the country “The Somali Democratic Republic” in attempt to solicit western financial and military support. As the cold war was drawing to a close in the late 1980’s, the strategic importance of Somalia diminished and the government became increasingly totalitarian, as factions were threatening to topple the government. Consequently, the long-standing regime collapsed under the constant pressure of rebels in 1991.
From that brief backdrop, it is clear that Somalia had very little practice and understanding as to what good governance entails. Post-conflict Somali leadership continue to struggle with implementing basic governance policies even when it is framed for them and international technical experts are available to support the state building process.
Currently, petty and grand forms of corruption have become the norm and permeate the already weak government institutions and sectors of the economy as well as the security force. According to a recent UN monitoring group report Somalia’s political and business elites are more interested in "the capture and securing of State resources in urban centers of power ... over the consolidation of an effective form of governance and the expansion of public services". The report also stressed, "Corruption continues to undermine efforts to rebuild effective institutions throughout Somalia”. The actions of the current leadership demonstrate the extent to which they impede the fragile process of state building.
The focus on policy prescriptions alone in post-conflict reconstruction continue to fail the test of implementation because of the absence of dynamic national leadership that can inspire not only trust and hope but can deliver tangible change. The current batch of Somali leadership has proven to be incapable of leading and changing the countries post conflict prospect. There are few qualified and patriotic leaders within the parliament, in key government institutions and in civil society but they are not empowered or in position to have serious impact in governance. So no matter what support is lent to the current leadership they will continue to under-deliver and underachieve in all institutional reform indicators as they have demonstrated in the past three years.
There is no doubt that the demand of restoring governance is extremely challenging but it becomes impossible when local leadership are more focused on short term personal gain over the expansion of public service and good governance practice. The international partners were already aware of these challenges and so the Somali “Peace and State building Goals (PSG)” working groups have been created to support and coordinate political, economic, security and development efforts. Unfortunately, despite these well-intended efforts, very little has been achieved in the targeted outcomes and priorities of the Compact Partnership Principles due to the development of bad governance culture amongst Somali leadership (see ‘The Somali Compact’).
Experts in statebuilding and peacebuilding contend that there is no reliable formula for transforming post-conflict environments. There are, however, three separate processes that demand synchronized approaches and each transition comes with tremendous challenge. First, a social transition that requires a process of social healing through national reconciliation and peace efforts. Truth and reconciliation initiatives will create the moral and political conditions for a just and peaceful society. Second, a political transition that is able to transform the culture of totalitarianism and the history of bad governance (or absence of governance) into a new culture of accountability, transparency and respect for the rule of law. Lastly, an economic transition that is able to create business and investment opportunity and a system that distributes national wealth in an equitable and efficient manner. These transitions are beautifully expressed on paper in the “New Somalia Deal Compact” established in the Brussels conference in 2013 and President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s own “Six Pillar plan”. Unfortunately they have mainly remained on paper as very little has been accomplished in the past three years despite the rosy assessments to satisfy external donors and partner governments.
The lack of historical precedence of good governance practices makes it more challenging to restore a culture of governance. However, it is not impossible and a new culture can be constructed with a new way of thinking and strong national leadership. The potential to transform the challenges into opportunities exists within the Somali people and they are a ready for change and stability. It is vital that public awareness of government’s role and responsibility is elevated so that constructive debate and criticism can be a normal practice within Somali society.
Though from 1960-69, Somalia was on the right direction of developing a healthy democratic system, unfortunately it abruptly came to an end by a coup and than followed by a devastating civil war. The question now is how does a kinship patronage nomadic society with only nine years of decent governance practice - out of a half-century of dictatorship and civil conflict - develop a culture of good governance? Part two will attempt to answer that question - InshaAllah.
Ahmed “Nabaddoon” Abdurahman Abdullahi is a Somali-Canadian commentator and peace activist. He can be reached at [email protected]