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Somalia is Still in Search of a Unique Governance Model

by Abdisamad Nur Bidar
Wednesday, January 08, 2020

To paraphrase the aptly titled book “Somalia:  Nation in Search of a State” by David D. Laitin, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University and the late Said Sheikh Samatar (RIP) who was a Professor of African History at Rutgers University until 2015, the dismembered nation in the Horn of Africa has remained a thorn in the eyes of global political observers and the general Somali population due to the myriads of excruciatingly unbearable hostilities inflicted on it by outsiders and insiders alike since the collapse of the central government. Once the pride of Africa in terms of military might, cultural values, religious cohesion and tolerance, and economic stability, and generosity to visitors, the current Somali state deserves further human philosophical scrutiny and divine intervention.

It has been almost three decades since the last centralized Somali government collapsed in January 1991. The resilient, hard-nosed good folks of Somalia are still in search of a practical, efficient, durable, and widely-accepted governance model. The journey is or has been a perilous one, fraught with violence, upheavals, shifting forms and alliances, foreign interference, religious extremism, and more. Out of the chaos emerged two political entities in the “physical North,” which achieved a modicum of political stability and peace, which has stubbornly eluded their brethren south of latitude 6.7, that is Galkayo.

Myriad explanations have been advanced for the relative stability of Somaliland and Puntland. Chief among them is that it was the result of a local grassroots effort led by leading members of their political, religious, business, and technocratic people along with their traditional elders. Each had its overarching unifying raison d’être, succession in the Somaliland case.  Many would also eagerly state the dirty open secret that they are one dominant clan entity, which in and of itself is not a negating or determining factor.

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Turbulence and confusion have been the norm for the rest of Somalia. I am not well-versed or knowledgeable enough what “Federalism” means or entails as currently constructed in its “still in draft” constitution; it is way above my pay grade. But on the surface, the rest of the “regional states” are not firmly grounded and are fleeting and wobbly in nature. They are NOT organic or as a result of grassroots efforts initiated or led by cross-sections of its wider population. They were hastily created—with direct and naked foreign influences, especially neighboring countries— for political expediency to enhance further the fortunes of Mogadishu based politicians and their allies, who themselves were in the protection of external forces.  As opposed to bottom-up initiatives, these regional states were imposed from the top with handpicked leaders and form, shape, and composition of governments pre-determined.  The regional names alone are revelatory of their superficiality.

The fact that Mogadishu has been the anchor and the center for everything in Southern Somalis, sans Puntland, may warrant an alternative political model.   Even the one dominant clan theory does not hold water in the South: witness Galmudug. The primary clan cannot get its act together to establish rudimentary consultation processes in its core areas, let alone across the broader region for sustainable local governance.    This is perhaps, in no small part, the result of the power, the intellectual and capital resources, and even traditional elders of the region residing and based in Mogadishu. All the gentlemen competing for the leadership are from Mogadishu. Just as the previous Federal government created Galmudug for its perceived political advantage, not surprisingly, the current Federal government is trying to mold Galmudug to its political benefit. Galmudug was not and is not a grassroots, bottom-up, local concept grounded in overall unifying, historical concepts, and ideas. The same is true for the rest of the regional governments — Southwest, Hirshabelle, and Jubbaland. 

The current regional states can undoubtedly be the bases from which to build and derive a better functioning governance model for southern Somalia. However, the Puntland experience and model could not or perhaps shall not be emulated to construct new governance building blocks for Southern Somalia.  The conditions, history, and facts on the ground during the long process of Puntland formation were unique and specific to Puntland.  Most definitely, Puntland operates virtually independent of Mogadishu based Federal government. It is almost in a constant struggle with the Federal government, even when its favored sons are in the highest political offices in Mogadishu.  With that in mind, some convincingly argue to dispense with the current political set up for the four regional state governments currently anchored toward Mogadishu. In its place, each  region (gobolka) would have its local government based on grassroots needs and requirements, and not for the benefit of political few or some far-away entity with no discernible practical connection to the local demands for a better life.

Somalia is currently in a political stalemate, though in a far better position and relative stability compared to the bloodshed of the previous decades.  But the South is still in a precarious state. At the same time, the “physical North” is juggling along slowly and is in dire need of stable and robust Mogadishu to once for all open the clogged arteries of Somalia to facilitate the final political settlement for the poor people of the Horn. It is to the benefit for all Somalis to help Mogadishu stand on its own feet and be safe from all evil intent on its demise and forever hoping to keep Somalia in perpetual misery and chaos.

Let us pray for a stable, peaceful and prosperous new decade for ALL Somalis.  Keep hope alive!

Abdisamad Nur Bidar
[email protected]

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