Today from Hiiraan Online:  _
Ads By Google
The Enigma of Federalism in Somalia

by Ali S. Hassan
Saturday, April 8, 2017

After delays in the swearing in of the new government due to political wrangling, the cabinet is finally in place.   Many people including myself were expecting a leaner government of technocrats that tackles the many challenges the country is facing, but reality dictates different.  I agree that we should reserve judgment and let the government implement its programme.  The success or failure (god forbid) of this government, could have an everlasting impact on the renaissance of our nation.   There was, and still is, a strong goodwill for the government.  Translating it into action to address the fundamental challenges facing our country will be the real challenge.  Time is of the essence.  The government should take concrete actions on the insecurity, the political paralysis, mismanagement and usher the country into a new era of optimism. 

One such major challenge facing the country, is what I call, The Enigma of Federalism in Somalia.  How it has evolved over the years, perceived, debated and implemented by the different regions.  Could this lead to the breaking down of the country into many unruly and feuding small tribal fiefdoms and enclaves?   

Since our independence, Somalia had a centralized system of government (in Mogadishu) to the detriment of the regions outside the capital.  This has resulted in dismal development records in the provision of social services, job opportunities as well as other services that could have been easily delegated to the regions such as local policing, revenue collection, etc.   

As a result of the civil war, population movements and displacement have occurred that necessitated a revamped local governance structures in all parts of Somalia to satisfy the demands of the increasing local population in the delivery of better services.  The formation of these local structures varied with the culmination of the unilateral secession of “Somaliland”, followed by the establishment of Puntland regional authority.  The idea of the “building blocks” which has been entirely financed and supported by foreign governments and institutions was intended to, as we were made to believe to, lead to the establishment of a national government.  Unfortunately, things haven’t turned out as we thought and the whole project was hijacked by interest groups, Somalis and foreigners, bent on to weakening a future strong national government.  

From historical perspective, the debate of the balkanization of the country has been taking place outside Somalia and at different forums funded and sponsored by foreign governments and entities including the United Nations and None Governmental Organizations (NGOs) using national reconciliation, and political accommodation, as a cover.  It took a painful three decades to reach where we find ourselves today and the future is still as bleak as before.  However, many Somalis remain hopeful and believe that there is no contradiction in strengthening local governance structures, while at the same time rebuilding a strong and unified Somalia. 

With this brief introduction, let me further elaborate on what I call, The Enigma of Federalism in Somalia, the subject of this note.    

The discourse and debate of the federalism in Somalia carries emotions, hysteria and political hegemony by a small group of elites that dominate the local and national politics in each of the regions of Somalia.  Some, rightly, believe that it responds to the will of the local population to govern themselves and decide ownership of their local issues without much interference from the center. This is supposed  to provide guarantees of protection from past abuses of the center and that it is a good vehicle for local development and provision of services. 

While there are some benefits that could be attributed with the decentralization of power to the regions, nonetheless, successive regional administrations have not done much in terms of providing adequate social services to the population in these regions, compared to substantial funding received from the United Nations, NGOs and other international donors.  Given the lessons of the past 25 years, one could rightly argue that the disadvantages of federalism, far outweigh its advantages.  Some of these drawbacks include;

1.     Different regions competing into entering international agreements with foreign countries without reference to the federal parliament and national government.

2.     Federal governments are expensive to maintain and spend resources needed for development in establishing (parliaments, ministry’s, senior appointments and other structures that have no value added).

3.     Overlapping positions with the national government in many areas such as economic policies, management of national assets, security structures, border control, taxation, etc.).

4.     The current weak federal system could lead to political instability, blockage of national policies, and paralysis in all aspects of governance.  

5.     Encourages tribalism and regional hegemony and may lead to secession and colluding with foreign powers.

6.     Lack of accountability, good governance and upholding rule of law that could lead to internal conflicts and breakdown of law and order.

7.     Lack of uniformity of laws that could lead in the application of different and conflicting laws in the country including different system of education.

The above few illustrations, some of which already happening, could lead the county back to slide into anarchy.   

Differences between parliamentary and presidential systems

In Somalia today, we have a hybrid political systems that is not working as it should have.  Chapter 7, Article 87 and 90 of the Provisional Constitution of the Federal Republic of Somalia gives institutional and state powers to the president, while the powers of the Executive are enumerated in Chapter 8, Articles 97, 99 and 100 which are basically limited to the running of the government.  In the presidential system, the assembly is separate from the executive and the president is both the head of government and head of state.  Unlike the parliamentary system, the president is elected directly by the people and has no authority to dissolve parliament.   

However, in the parliamentary system, the Prime Minister (PM) is the head of the government and the leader of the largest political party in the assembly.  Ministers are usually member of the assembly and parliament can force the government, including the prime minister to resign by withholding support.  In such case, another PM is appointed from within the ruling party.  The PM can also dissolve the assembly to coerce its members to fall in line and support the government’s policy or face election.  In parliamentary system, the president is the head of state with no executive authority.   

This mixture of intertwining power structures leaves many ambiguities that led to political paralysis in the country.  The system can only work if the president and prime minister work in harmony.  That was not the case in the past, but there are early indications that it would be different this time, and for the better.   

The brief description above shows the fragility of our system of government (federal, presidential, parliamentary) that mixes different systems of government at a time when we need a strong unified country.       

Where is Somalia Heading to and Is the country for Sale?

The analysis above shows that the current hybrid federal system is unsustainable and is tantamount to dividing Somalia along tribal enclaves.  Due to the weakness of the federal structures and institutions, the regional governments have become mini national governments that enter agreements with foreign governments, institutions and private entities in total disregard of the laws of the country.   Some of these regional states have leased national assets, granted licenses for exploration of natural resources including oil, fishing rights, while others are in the process of selling whatever national assets in their area of control.     


The Somali people have endured decades of civil strife, destruction, lawlessness, displacement, migration and death at high seas.  We became the laughing stock of the world, with researchers, and so-called experts attributing every malfeasance in the world to Somalis.  Efforts made by previous governments need to be strengthened.   Usually, incoming administrations enjoy robust public support across the country.  The enthusiasm and goodwill shown by the people should empower the new administration to do the heavy lifting necessary to move the country forward.        

Finally, if the painful election cycles in the past is of anything to go by, it shows that no community has monopoly to power.  It is, therefore, time that those leaders who are propagating for the current system of government to realize that if Somalia must survive, something has to change. 

All political leaders have to join hands to establish proper forums where these issues can be discussed frankly, sincerely and openly, with the aim of charting out a system of government that is suitable for the country during this difficult period in our history.   All Somalis have a role to play their part in rebuilding a strong, peaceful, prosperous and democratic Somalia.  

Ali S. Hassan
Former Senior United Nations Official and an Independent Researcher.
[email protected]

Click here