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Federating Banaadir: Restoring political rights, ending 4.5 toxic formula and offering path to unity for all of Somalia

Sunday March 11, 2018
By Ahmed Elmi

No other nation has grappled so deeply to re-establish basic state institutions as Somalia has over the last 25 years. The Somali Civil War that started in the early 1990s has rocked 12 million people of Somalia on all critical levels (politically, socially, economically). The vast human rights violations, constant violence, toxic tribalism and effective statelessness has seen to it that Somalia is synonymous with the ‘failed state’ tag.

However, Somalia has come a long way from the ruins of the Civil War and has begun to gradually re-establish a functional democratic system in order to attain sustainable peace for its people through dialogue and political reconciliation rather than through the barrel of the gun. Although the process has gone through some false starts, in 2012 a permanent federal government emerged and the process of federating Somalia started in earnest with the exception of the Banadir Region which includes the capital city Mogadishu.

The gridlock on settling the status of the capital city has led to the exclusion of 3.5-million Somali citizens from the political process in the legislative branch of the federal government. Even worse, the prolonged reluctance to address and settle the status of the capital city risks the stability of all other Federal Member States of Somalia.

The significance of taking care of this problem immediately is because in less than 3 years Somalis will go to the polls (if a one person, one vote approach is deemed viable) and elect their next Federal representatives and their next (Federal) President.

Under the current status quo, the existing Federal Member States of HirShabelle, GalMudug, Puntland, Somaliland and Jubbaland will be eligible to participate in the next election if a one-person-one-vote approach is deemed viable and voter registration can be carried out in time.

This means that those Somalis living in the capital city of Mogadishu and its region of Banadir will not have the same equal opportunity despite suffering disproportionally from Al Shabab’s campaign of instability.  This is because Banadir residents despite being the sole domestic revenue source of the federal government are excluded from the process due to the political and legal ambiguities surrounding the status of the federal capital city and reluctance of previous governments to tackle the status of the capital city.

In this document, a viable solution is proposed that enfranchises the 3.5-million Banadir residents while doing away with the tribal exclusion model espoused by some, rejecting the toxic 4.5 power-sharing formula and offering unifying model for the rest of Somalia.

The conception of a capital state

Before we can have a serious and meaningful attempt at offering a viable alternative to resolving the vexing issue of what a Federal Capital City should be and how it fits in the overall framework of a Federated Republic, it is important to first define what a capital city is and in particular what it means in a federated configuration.

What is a capital city traditionally or normally?

The capital city of a country is traditionally the largest city and the seat of the government as it normally houses the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the state. Considering the tribal grievances that led to the overthrow of the military dictatorship and subsequent Civil War among Somali clans for territorial supremacy, it is understandable that some wish to the capital city to be tribally neutral. This default setting by non-local tribes who wish to lay claim to Mogadishu’s economic, cultural and political status is however very flawed because the nature of the clan federalism in operation across Somalia means that each region is claimed by a tribe or a group of tribes with Mogadishu being no different. The argument therefore cannot be made that separation should be pursued in the peripheries while attempting to forge a national identity at the center. This is contradiction is not only unsustainable and unrealistic but will unquestionably lead to the outright re-emergence of clan conflicts.

What is a capital city in federated state?

In federated states, the types of capital cities can fall in primarily 3 categories: - Federal districts ‘whose legal status differs from that of the surrounding state and where the power of the federation is often very strong’ (Barani, 2011,p.10) . A good example of this is Washington D.C. but can also be observed elsewhere (from Canberra, Australia to Caracas, Venezuela to New Delhi, India to Abuja, Nigeria).

Almost all federal districts are created from the ground up and are curved from existing regions. In Somalia, there is a growing lobby to curve up certain sections of Mogadishu to form the federal district that will house the federal government. The creation of a federal district is seen as the best way to go beyond the current impasse regarding the status of Banadir. However, as was seen in the example of Mexico City, federal districts eventually grow and ultimately create political challenges in terms of representation. Washington DC is the best example of this. Carved out of the state of Maryland as the home of the United States government, Washington DC is today a major American city and is demanding full statehood.

New Delhi is another example of the risks federal districts inevitably run into. Like Washington DC, there is a growing movement to give the city full statehood rights. Mexico City which was itself carved out of the state of Mexico as a federal district became a federal state in 2016.

In Somalia, the critics of the federal district model reject such an model and instead argue that Somalia should learn from the experiences of other federal districts that have not worked.

The second type is capital cities within a federated entity and a good example is Bern because while it is the capital city of Switzerland, it also ‘falls under the state jurisdiction of the canton of Bern, of which it is also the capital’(Barani, 2011,p.10). Another example is Ottawa, Canada which is the federal capital city of Canada and yet part of Ontario. If Somalia adopts such a model, Banadir will amalgamate with Hiirshabelle State. Under such a model, the nature of the capital city and management will have to be negotiated between Hiirshabelle and the Federal government.

Finally, the third type of capital city in a federated state is the one known as the ‘city-state’. City-states are ‘cities or agglomerations that are themselves constituent units of the federation and have the same (or almost the same) legal status as the other federal states’ (Barani, 2011,p.10). The most-well known of federal city-states are Brussels in Belgium, Berlin in Germany and Vienna in Austria among others.

There are examples of federal capital cities functioning successfully in the larger federal project in both competitive and cooperative environments that could be modelled for Mogadishu so that federalism truly is successful in Somalia. The most compelling examples are those of Berlin and Brussels, Vienna and recently Mexico City and Bueno Aires among others.

Luca Barani in his article titled ‘Fiscal Federalism and Capital Cities:  A Comparative Analysis of Berlin and Brussels’ compares the successful federalisation of the capital cities  in Germany and Belgium. He states that a country has two ways of becoming a federal system; ‘either a number of independent units come together to form a federal state or a centralised state gives more autonomy and independence to its constituent units, in order to hold them together’. In the Somalia experience this is not the case. The civil war and the mutual hatreds and resentments that developed between different groups and clans necessitated the adaptation of federalism. It was borne out of a painful history between communities and their distrust of a strong central government.

Barani (2011) characterises Belgian federalism as ‘a devolutionary type of federalism’. This is because Belgium used to be a unitary nation-state that ‘followed a path of increasing decentralization driven by territorial and cultural/linguistic claims’.  In contrast, Barani observes that Germany ‘has a type of federalism that is characterised, historically at least, by coming together and in which the Bundestreue or ‘federal loyalty’ is an essential part of the constitutional setting’. These different paths to federalism has informed the nature of federalism in each country with Belgium adopting an approach of ‘competitive federalism with ever growing centrifugal forces at work’ leading to ‘Belgian politicians and academics to call anxiously for a more cooperative federalism’. The opposite is the case in Germany where the approach is ‘one of cooperative federalism and centripetal forces, as evidenced by politicians and academics insistently calling for a more competitive federalism’. The key advantages of a capital city in a competitive federalism is that it has more beneficial effects on a real commitment to accountability and transparency. The key appealing factor of a capital city in cooperative federalism is that it is more beneficial for financial autonomy.

City-states like Berlin and Brussels are the political centres of the federations, housing federal parliament, federal government, and most of the federal administration. This is precisely the case with Mogadishu currently under the federal system and before the Civil War under the central government. This is another key reason for making Mogadishu a city-state basing political representation on residency just like Berlin and Brussels.

How should Mogadishu be federated?

Mogadishu has a unique character having been the capital of modern Somalia since 1960 and the seat of political power for centuries before that. It has a rich history that goes back more than millennia and which predates the creation of Somalia. It should logically follow the Berlin and Brussels model of becoming a city-state that is as constituent unit among the federal member states as it has a higher population than all of the other states individually, enough of a distinct historical and cultural character that some Member States in Somalia cannot match and is in a unique position to boldly challenge tribalism through primarily residency-only criteria.

This would mean that Mogadishu would become a standalone Federal Member State on par with Members of Parliament in the Lower House and Senators in the Upper House to represent the over 3.5-million residents. This can be achieved through basing the political representation on residency rather than tribal lineage as is the case with other Federal Member States. This has several inherent advantages for all of Somalia.

Firstly, it removes the toxic 4.5 model that operates across the Federal-level government and which some politicians wrongly think will resolve the quagmire over the status of the capital city. By basing political rights on residency, it is only the people who are actually residents of the city irrespective of tribal background that select who represents them and get a say in how they are governed rather than unelected, highly corrupt tribal leaders from various regions outside and inside Banadir.

Secondly, it is a model that is sustainable as it is inclusive and can be rolled out to other regions so that the aspirations of all Somalis of truly having a unified country can be realised through removing limitations on internal migration and political representation. Thirdly, it reduces the amount of direct power wielded by (highly) toxic tribalists in the political system and weakens identity politics while strengthening consensus politics in which domestic cooperation rather than domestic confrontation is rewarded.

The removal of tribal eligibility ensures that more internal migration takes place across Somalia and communities integrate so that eventually all Somalis are able and incentivised to live outside of their ancestral regions. This ensures that a party-political model will almost always out-perform tribalist movements or coalitions across the country. A key reason why stability and genuine reconciliation has eluded Somalia is because there is still a strong adherence to tribalism and the status of the capital city is the most prominent symbol of it.


The current political quagmire over the status of the capital city of Mogadishu is damaging socially, economically and sets back the long journey of recovery from state collapse the longer it is left unaddressed. In recent months, there has been some suggestions to make Banadir in its entirety a federal district. This is effectively a form of clan gerrymandering designed to strip Banadir’s 3.5-million residents of their fundamental political rights. Banadir was one of the 18 subdivisions of Somalia and is home to 17 districts which constitute the largest population in any region in Somalia. There is no legal, technical or political framework that could legitimize the disfranchisement of 3.5-million residents. It is unsustainable and militates against the core concepts of citizenship and equal rights. The federal leaders have a unique opportunity to correct historical wrongs and create a viable and sustainable model of governance for Banadir and for Somalia.

Ahmed Elmi is a political analyst and the former president of the Wolfson College Student Association at Cambridge University. He can be reached at @elmi11_ahmed where he tweets mostly on politics and technology.


Barani, L., 2011. Fiscal Federalism and Capital Cities: A Comparative Analysis of Berlin and Brussels. Fiscal Federalism and Capital Cities: A Comparative Analysis of Berlin and Brussels, [online] 1(359), pp.p. 21-p.45. Available at: <https://www.cairn.info/revue-l-europe-en-formation-2011-1-page-21.htm> [Accessed 13 Jan. 2018].

Nagel, K.-J.C.B.C. ed., 2013. The problem of the capital city New research on federal capitals and their territory. The problem of the capital city New research on federal capitals and their territory. [online] Available at: <https://www.marcialpons.es/static/pdf/IEA_86.pdf> [Accessed 13 Jan. 2018].


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