Monday March 5, 2018
By Waheid Siraach
Somalia would benefit substantially from
police reform, especially one that adopts a civil policing system where
officers work for the people rather than the state, and perform their job
duties in an impartial, ethical, and professional manner.
The nation’s inherited military-style policing
system is flawed, and efforts to restore the old system have derailed, as the
current police force is markedly disorganized. The system is outdated and
simply out of touch with what the Somali population needs. Not only do members
of the Somali Police Force (SPF) lack transparency, but they are also paid
little and given minimal educational and training opportunities. In addition,
the SPF works regularly with international agencies when it ought to be
self-sufficient. The system is in dire need of reform.
History of the Somali Police Force
To truly understand the complexity of the
Somali policing system, one must examine its history. The Police Corps of
Somalia was the product of forces the British and Italians employed during the
colonial period. When Somalia gained independence in 1960, SPF was created as a
national law enforcement entity jointly run by the Police Corps of Somalia and
the British Somaliland Scouts. Officials also organized a mobile group called
the Daraawiishta Booliska, which was meant to keep order in the nation’s
rural areas. The group is now defunct.
The SPF was an official branch of the Somali
National Armed Forces (SNAF) until 1991, when Mohamed Siad Barre, former
president of Somalia and SNAF commander-in-chief, was overthrown. (Today, the
SPF is still part of the armed forces.) Barre, like many other military rulers
of the past and present, wanted to consolidate power throughout the nation; to
this day the SPF answers to the state rather than the public.
In short, Somalia is grappling with a centralized, top-down,
government-controlled military policing style that does little to benefit the
public. While with the help of generous international donors and the new Somali
civilian governments—there have been four in the past 10 years— have begun the
process of rebuilding the nation’s police force, the SPF is still dysfunctional
and in many ways invisible.
Where the SPF Falls Short
The SPF hasn’t undergone reform to the degree
Somalis had hoped. As Somalia’s main law enforcement body, the SPF has a
limited presence outside Mogadishu, the nation’s capital city of about 3
million people—and even in Mogadishu, it has minimal control because the National
Intelligence Service Agency (NISA) executes various policing functions.
The SPF struggles with insufficient policies and procedures, resources
and infrastructure, as well as oversight and transparency. As such, the force
must aim for better-trained officers, specialized and ethical police, and
greater accountability. Sixty-percent of SPF’s 6,800 officers are above the
rank of officer, and there is no structure or hierarchy in place to protect
public interest and safety. In addition, low salaries and inconsistent pay
leave members of the SPF
dependent on the government politicians; and
as a result, less inclined to serve the public. Indeed, some police officers
are paid less than Somali housemaids. The force also relies heavily on international
support to supply equipment, training, and salaries; to be truly effective,
however, the SPF ought to be self-sufficient.
In his “Peelian Principles,” Sir Robert Peel
dictated that an ethical police force must consist of neutral civilians,
cooperate with the public and remain impartial to the government. And yet, in
Somalia, the police force is in large part a military force simply performing
certain police duties. The SPF is entirely lacking in structure, authority,
education, and leadership—areas where reform is needed most.
But for reform to be successful, Somalis need
to take charge and decide what they want their law enforcement system to look
like. Do the citizens of Somalia want to go back to the old military system,
which they fought against, and resulted nearly three decades of civil war? Or
would they prefer something better—something new and transformative, customized
to accommodate their needs and the welfare of future generations? Somalia,
after consulting with experts from nations with effective policing systems,
must develop and implement a policing plan that reflects its needs and budget.
The force needs to change in a number of ways,
some of which may prove challenging in the short term. Between 3,500 and 4,000
law enforcement officials—approximately 50 percent of the SPF—have no formal
education; many Somalis do not view policing as a professional job that
requires an advanced degree and training. But law enforcement work is so much
more than putting people in a training facility and teaching them to march and
salute. Police officers do not simply carry AK-47s and sit on the backs of
pickup trucks, providing security to important people; the process is much more
Like any professional field, a career in law
enforcement requires extensive education and rigorous training. Officers deal
with both street and white-collar criminals—and they cannot allow the latter to
outsmart them. They are required to write detailed legal reports, communicate
with prosecuting attorneys and courts, and conduct preliminary and advanced
investigations. The job is complex, and as a result, effective law enforcement
agencies require a bachelor’s degree of their police officers.
To drive reform, and to ensure effectiveness
and efficiency within the SPF, those who are unequipped to fulfill their job
duties should be released (gradually and with effective exit strategy) so the
force can mobilize its resources and serve others more consistently—by ensuring
a living wage and consistent salary payments, for instance, and by investing in
better training and equipment. Twenty percent of those in the SPF are of
retirement age or disabled, but still on the force because there is no pension
plan or other source of income at their disposal. While a painful decision,
strategic layoffs would prove beneficial in the long term by increasing
revenue, jobs, and resources.
The threat of the al-Shabab terrorist group further highlights those
places where the SPF falls short. The group presents a major barrier to Somalia
and international security, and while the police force is responsible for
protecting people from al-Shabab in the cities, the SPF does not even have the
resources to protect itself. In December 2017, an al-Shabab suicide bomber
killed 18 police officers and wounded 15 others at Somalia’s main police
Correspondingly, in October 2017, an al-Shabab
truck bombing killed nearly 500 Somali citizens in Mogadishu. Crime runs
rampant in the city: murder, assignation, robbery, corruption, extortion, and
money laundering are far from uncommon. It is the SPF’s responsibility to deal
with these crimes, and yet the force lacks the technical capacity and skills to
address them. (As is, few citizens take the time to file police reports.) The
SPF must therefore undergo an extensive transformation.
International Capacity-Building Initiatives
While the international partners assisting
Somalia have been successful in reducing the presence of al-Shabab—and in
addressing Somali politicians’ erratic behavior and in-fighting— their
capacity-building initiatives have fallen short. Designed to strengthen Somali
institutions (particularly those in the criminal justice sector), the flawed
Somali law enforcement system— and the lack of technical capacity, experience, and
skills of the NGOs spearheading these programs—have hindered any sort of
progress. Many NGOs design projects that look good on paper, but deliver
Not only that, most capacity-building initiatives offer no real value
to Somalia; they simply create job security for the NGOs. The employees of NGOs
are typically internationals who make lavish salaries, and they don't
necessarily want to help Somalia because doing so would translate to a loss of
grants for their organizations. Locally, NGOs are known for driving minimum
impact and maximum profits, which leaves the Somali people feeling hopeless and
the generous donor countries frustrated. Some of these countries are even
pulling their support due to lack of progress.
however, are not fully responsible for this lack of progress. Somalia is
responsible for its own shortcomings, and the nation cannot thrive until it
stops relying on others and starts reforming its institutions using its own
resources. While it is acceptable in some cases to let other countries fill the
gaps, the SPF and other Somali institutions for that matter cannot depend on
foreign nations’ tax dollars. Besides, Somalis have more resources at their
disposal than they and others think. Somalia, after all, is the only nation in
history to have survived without a government—for nearly 25 years, at
that—while receiving limited international assistance.
Somalia has a thriving public sector; a wealth
of natural resources; and resilient, entrepreneurial people. The Somali people
can undoubtedly take the reins and build a strong, effective policing system.
To this end, improvements are within reach, and the New Policing Model—endorsed
by the Somali government and international donor countries—is a step in the
right direction. The model was discussed in detail at a 2017 United Nations
Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) conference in
London, and divides the Somali policing system into two levels: federal and
state, with a total of 32,000 trained officers.
While decentralization is a positive sign that
will encourage local communities to take ownership of their police departments,
there are many unanswered questions that could lead to another failure. For
instance, there was no needs assessment conducted (taking factors like State
population, crime rate, and sustainability into account) to justify the
specifics of the New Policing Model and its proposed 32000 officers. These
unanswered questions include but are not limited to the following:
How will the 32,000 police officers be
distributed at the federal and the state level?
these police agencies respond to—state governors at the state level and the
president at the federal level? How independent will they be from these
will these agencies enforce? Will the federal penal code be enforced throughout
the country? Most states don't have their own penal code—how will this be
responsible for providing local police services to the nation’s Capital—Federal
or Mogadishu’s local government?
Where, how, and by whom will police officers
the specifics regarding pay, pension, and sustainability? How about
prosecutors, courts, and prisons? Has the criminal justice system been
evaluated as a whole?
What about civilian support staff, like
accounts, human resource managers, IT, etc?
These questions must be explored before the
New Policing Model is implemented. Without addressing them, the system may be
destined to fail.
Solutions for a Better Policing System
In summary, an effective police force will come with a complete
overhaul of the SPF. The Somali government must take responsibility and begin
to prioritize public safety by allocating funds responsibly. Police officers
also need to be paid consistently to work effectively and ward off corruption,
and the SPF ought to focus on increasing transparency and training
opportunities to ensure a well-structured organization.
Above all, the Somali people must be willing
to change where change is necessary. A complete systemic analysis must be
conducted, taking the above-mentioned factors into account, by all parties
involved in the overhaul of the SPF: independent criminal justice experts and
anyone else accountable to them. New state police systems must be based on
ethical policing principles; officers must work for the public and enforce the
law with strong civilian oversight, all while remaining free from corruption
and political influence.
To create a culture of trust, transparency,
and accountability, decentralization is key—there must be an obvious separation
between the police and the armed forces. Agencies that will
continue working together, such as the various
law enforcement agencies divided by jurisdiction and authority, should have
specific guidelines detailing how they will collaborate. Similarly, legislators
must create new laws and update existing ones at both the federal and the state
level. And, in order to attract young, honest people with university degrees,
law enforcement agencies must offer decent salaries and make the profession
fulfilling for everyone involved.
The overhaul is not going to be easy, and
tough decisions will have to be made. But it can be done. To promote a stronger
policing system, the SPF (the nation’s top law enforcement body) must:
field capability of police forces, providing the tools and resources
officers need to succeed on the job.
police capacity throughout Somalia, releasing NISA and the military from
their role of policing these areas.
Develop the skills capability of police
forces so officers can perform a full range of tasks.
Ultimately, ethical law enforcement agencies
are the backbone of every advanced nation. Not only do these forces ensure
citizens’ physical safety, but a sound police force can also help promote
constituents’ emotional and economic welfare. Improved security and stability
will lead to more jobs, more revenue, and a greater investment in Somalia.
Waheid Siraach is a police officer in Minnesota. In 2015, he travelled to Somalia for a year to assist the Somali Police Force (SPF). He continues to engage with Somali leaders from all levels and closely follows the development of the Somali police.