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Letters from Diaspora: On Pragmatism and the Politics of Jubaland

 The crisis in Kismaayo has the potential to undermine the Somali Federal Government. It also threatens to bring the fragile and recovering nation back to the brink of civil war. Compromise is the only way out” (HIPS Policy Briefing, Kismayo Crisis: options for Compromise, June 4th, 2013)


President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud: Arinta Jubooyinka “dhawaan war ay dhagaha dadka soomaalida oo dhan ay ku farxaan ayaa ka imaan doonta Ilaahay idinkiis.”

(Interview, Universal TV, July 7th, 2013, @ 34:01 mark)

by Dr. Abdi M. Warfa
Saturday, August 24, 2013

The newly reconvened meeting in Addis Ababa between the Somali Federal Government (SFG) and the nascent Jubaland administration is welcome news in what has been otherwise a strained relationship.

For the sake of Somalia, let’s hope, and pray, the two sides hush out enduring political agreement. It is in the good of Somalia, and, if successful, may revive fizzling confidence in SFG’s ability to turn things around.

The alternative isn’t promising. A redux of a sort.

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I do not intend to rehash old news here – SFG’s policy towards Jubaland has the potential to “undermine” our nascent government and more importantly bring us back to “the brink of civil war” (HIPS Policy Brief, June 4th). The events in the past few months bear witness to this dire prediction.

Just three months ago, forces loyal to Ahmed Madobe fought an amalgam of “clan warlords,” presumably aligned with the federal government, seeking to oust him and his forces from Kismayo. While the conflict in Kismayo could be viewed [or should be viewed] as one between aspiring regional administration and a federal government attempting to exercise power, most view the conflict through the prism of clan politics. And there in lies the risk of taking us down a painful memory lane, 1990s circa.

At the risk of disillusioning many, let me say that I do not believe the President is driven by clan politics. I believe he has genuine interest in seeing Somalia stand on its feet and once again be a proud member of the world family.

The trouble is Villa Somalia made one too many fumbles that jeopardize the outcome of the game. Most disheartening, the president acts as if we’re under “normal times,” pursuing strategies that are not fit for fractured nation coming out of tiring three-decade old civil war. Let me briefly shed light on political mishaps that need serious attention in the second quarter.

Perceptions Matter

In the world of politics, one has to deal with perceptions and be able to manage them with speed and clarity. Never mind whether the perceived wrong doings reflect reality or are just such. When President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was elected last year, Somalis rejoiced! People danced on the streets of Mogadishu, in cities across America, and on the parks of Northern London.

A beaming smile and a nation in the brink of finally breaking loose from the chains of its dark past. There was a perception that a new dawn has arrived! Fast forward to a year later and one sees a new perception taking hold: “ma saan moodey mise siday noqotay.” It is easy to dismiss such cynicism on tribal account, the reason d’état on all things Somali. We are good at that, aren’t we?

Let’s assume the disillusionment with the new team is mainly driven by clan politics. That is the more reason why this government needed to pursue politics of reconciliation and inclusion, not arm twisting and re-enforcing fractious perceptions. For the sake of argument, if a whole tribe believes the president is pursuing clan politics in opposition to their political interests, Houston we get a problem.

This SFG needed to earn the trust of all Somalis, not just tribe x or y. Those hopes appear to be dashed now. The early dawn turned into dusk momentarily … the smile not so joyous but deceitful? But there is a wonderful, and hopeful at that, Somali saying: ciyaari waa gelin dambe. The question is can the president recover from his fumbles in the second quarter? The optimist in me hopes so for the sake of Somalia.

The Politics of New Somalia

Somalis are charting new territories post-conflict. In this new post-conflict world, the realities dictate different polities. It is presumptive, for instance, to expect Puntland or Somaliland, to come on board just because there is now a federal government recognized by external powers, be it Washington, Downing Street, or Nairobi. Nor would any newly constituted regional administration give up their newly found powers just because.

The New Somalia is not going to look like the old one. A powerful central government is no longer a viable option. Not after what Somalis went through. No region is going to accept someone sent from Mogadishu voluntarily. Those days are forever gone.

What then? Is this it for Somalia as we knew it? The Somalia of the past can be reconstituted but this requires different governing polities. What is needed, more than anything else, is politics of pragmatism. That is, pursue policies that make sense in light of our recent history, not the idea of pre-civil war Somalia (i.e., pre-1987 Somalia, not 1991 … most folks forget the plight of our brethren in the north, the current Somaliland).

The federal government should strive to establish mechanisms for wealth-sharing so the regions can contribute to the well-being of the entire nation; complete the provisional charter so it becomes the law of the land; and lay the ground for a federal army inclusive of regional actors. It should not be in the business of micromanaging regional administrations or try to appoint administrators from Villa Somalia. But rather lay the ground on what should be the role of the feds and the responsibility of the regions.

This brings me to the Kismayo issue, currently the big elephant in the war room.

Center vs. Periphery

My colleague Faisal Roble recently described the Juba vs. Mogadishu as a collision between center (Mogadishu) and periphery (regions). Jubaland came to an existence as a result of the wishes of its populace, with approximately 500 elders from a conglomerate of ethnic groups residing in the region declaring their destiny as a Member State of the Federal Government of Somalia.

The government, on the other hand, wants to have a complete say on how regions can combine and the selection of the regional administrators. Interpretations matter and the SFG is sticking to one interpretation of the provisional charter, as if it is be all and end all document, forgetting it is an incomplete work! Rhetorically, the key actors may have been saying something else but their actions spoke volumes about their intents.

This is the wrong fight for the federal government to be in, a costly fumble in the first quarter. If the New Somalia isn’t going to resemble the old one, and I think most will agree with me on the premises of this assumption, then the federal government should be working on ways of ensuring resource-sharing, inter-regional commerce, and  ought to be working as a bridge between the regions., not micromanaging them.

What is so frustrating about the whole issue is how politics of pragmatism got lost and we are paying the price for it. Let’s hope there is a wind of change in Addis Ababa or, as the president said, that we hear "waxay dhagaha ummadu ku farxaan."

A. M. Warfa, PhD, is on the faculty of Metropolitan State University in St Paul, MN, and can be reached at [email protected]


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