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Somalia’s Federalism must be saved from dictatorship

Friday April 29, 2022
By Hassan Sheikh Mohamud
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud served as President of Somalia from 2012 to 2017 and a candidate for the President of the Federal Republic of Somalia

For far too long, Somalia was at a crossroads in which it was always hoped that it would follow the path of good governance and democracy based on consent by its people. Somalia has also been at crossroads regarding reorganizing its security to defend itself from Al-Shabaab, which has directly affiliated with the global terrorism network of Al-Qaeda, which is a significant threat to global peace and security and created mayhem, misery, and instability in Somalia. 

When I became the president in 2012, security was central to our six-pillar plan- that we first confront the evil of terrorism that blighted our people and held our country's development hostage. While at the same time establishing the mechanisms for the government to function effectively, including the establishment of functioning government institutions. It was also clear that Somalia would not be defended by force alone. Key to our new social contract between the Somali people and the government in 2012 was trust and delivery of public services. Security was an essential component in implementing the proposed social contract. This had to be executed in parallel with finalizing an equitable federal government system representing all the Somali people. When I handed over power in 2017, the government was operating at full capacity. The political aspect of the federalism process was completed by creating four federal member states. 

The Somali national army had become an army with a standard uniform governed by the principles of national defense after decades of clan-affiliated militias controlling the national army, leading to mistrust and violence within the command control structure. For the first time, policies and strategies were put together to directly confront, degrade, and annihilate Al-Shabaab from Somalia and our regional partners' territories.  

Despite substantial financial and capacity-building injection investment by the international community since 2017, the Somali National Army is still unable to take complete control of its security responsibility from AMISOM. This is partly due to the lack of battle enablers and professional leadership in the command control hierarchy, and partly due to the politicization of the army by the Farmajo administration. 

Farmajo promised to eradicate Al-Shabaab from Somalia in just two years when he took office in 2017. He also promised victims of terrorism his government would swiftly compensate them. Nevertheless, this has proven another broken promise. A new transition plan agreement was signed with the African Union in March 2022, with its implementation scheduled from April 1, 2022, until the end of 2024. This agreement indicates the government's monumental failure of developing a national security strategy to combat and defeat Al-Shabaab. It also reflects the resurgence of Al-Shabaab and the heightened threat it poses to the Somali government and AMISOM. The extension and re-hatting of AMISOM under the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) could have been avoided had Farmajo collaborated on security matters with the sub-national governments and not committed himself to undermining the federalism process. A genuine national security transition to the Somali national army from the African Union forces cannot be implemented without the Federal member states' full cooperation, consent, and participation. 

My argument is not that everything was perfect during my tenure but that Somalia in 2022 should be better secured against Al-Shabaab and better integrated and governed as a federal state. The great tragedy is that from 2017 to 2022 Somalia has lost many opportunities at its disposal, such as finalizing the integration of the Somali army, weakening Al-Shabaab, and creating domestic political harmony for the country, and a failure to capitalize on the opportunities that the economic reforms which my government initiated have provided. 

Today, it is evident that the ambitions we started in 2012 as the first internationally recognized government since the beginning of the civil war in 1991 are yet to be finalized by this outgoing government which has had four years of international assistance on an unprecedented scale. 

The Farmajo administration was skilled in misrepresentation and disinformation through social media manipulation. Furthermore, there was a lack of substance and commitment to addressing the root causes of Somalia's social, economic, and political fragility. The key to a stable, functioning, and effective Somali administration is harmonizing governance through the finalization of the provisional constitution. Finalizing is necessary because, despite the country's federal structure, Farmajo has worked very hard to undermine the very notion of federalism with his ambitions of a unitary system. As a result, the relationship between the federal government and the federal member states has deteriorated where meaningful cooperation and dialogue have not been possible for the last three years. This approach to state-building has resulted in the fragmentation of trust at all political levels. 

Farmajo's legally mandated term in office ended on February 8, 2021. His failed attempt to illegally extend his term by two years was eventually defeated after strong opposition from the Somali people and the international community. Subsequently, this was followed by Farmajo's attempt to illegally oust Prime Minister Roble from his offices in what the Somali Cabinet called was an attempted illegal coup. It is clear that this uncompromising dictatorial approach delayed the electoral process and is also poisoning the democratic culture and practice of Somalia, which has always led to a peaceful transition of power in the previous successive elections. 

More concerningly, Somalia's agreed-upon federal governance model is at risk from Farmajo's destructive unilateral actions, which have, in many cases, politicized and utilized foreign-trained Somali troops for his political ends. I firmly believe a sense of political fairness and people's understanding that they can change their leadership every four years unconditionally will strengthen democracy in Somalia and force out those with dictatorial ambitions. Somalia can only be governed by consent, and this is what Farmajo arrogantly ignored. 

Somalia's challenges are stark; while some progress has been made on the economic reform program my government initiated in 2015, we have a situation where according to the most credible security intelligence and the independent media point out that Al-Shabaab collects more taxation and revenue from the Somali population than the federal government. We are also seeing Al-Shabaab and ISIS competing for new territories in major urban cities to access and control taxation markets to increase their domestic revenue generation. Only recently, the dispute forced traders in one of the biggest markets in the capital Mogadishu and among the highest generators of domestic resources markets to close their businesses to protest against the failure of the government to protect them from these illegal taxations.

Moreover, we have experienced an upsurge of politically motivated violence due to the delayed elections. Subsequently, leading to disruption of the electoral process and the death of many civilians, as in the case of the terrorist attack in the city of Beletwein on March 23, 2022, including the suicide attack that killed an outspoken prominent opposition MP Amina Mohamed Abdi, who was a human rights advocate and a vocal opponent against state violence under the Farmajo administration. Moreover, only recently, the first Al-Shabaab attack inside the secure international compound in the airport took place with the terrorist group claiming responsibility. The Al-Shabab attack at Mogadishu airport’s base camp is the embodiment of the security failures that the Farmajo administration tried to paint over unsuccessfully. 

Another concerning incident inside the secure airport hotel has been what is credibly believed to be an attempted assassination of the interim Speaker of parliament Abdisalan Dhabancad who was robustly fulfilling his mandate to expedite the election process of the House of the People. 

I am concerned that Somalia, with the great global economic crisis brought about by COVID 19, the recurrent regional climatic shocks, the Ukraine war, and the dwindling available resources to support fragile countries, Somalia risks becoming a victim of compassion fatigue. While everything is not the fault of the Somali government, it is evident that better policy choices would be required to ensure that the Somali people benefit from the development opportunities available to them. 

Somalia needs an integrated approach to policymaking that includes the active participation and engagement of the federal member states to effectively implement a national security strategy that clearly defines roles and responsibilities while delivering a killer blow to the stubborn domestic terrorism problem. Somalia is also strategically located and can be an international trade hub while also benefiting from the various other available resources, but this would again require a shift away from confrontation to collaboration with the federal member states by the central government. 

Within the next few weeks, Somalia expects to have a president with a new mandate, and his plate will be full of urgent priority matters spanning all areas of public policy. However, most importantly, the new president must understand that he is part of an elaborate and complex orchestra that must work together for the national interest. There will be no way to address Somalia's crippling socio-economic and security situation without understanding the importance of creating a conducive environment for collaboration. 

I have been greatly encouraged by the capacity and the resilience of the Somali people who have shown the patience and maturity to absorb the damaging political crisis created by the outgoing administration.

Somalia is still a recovering fragile state in which trust building is essential. Therefore, the responsibility of any incoming government is to keep the nation together and heal the divisions and scars inflicted by the outgoing administration in the last five years.

Now, Somalia has to go forward together to shape an inclusive future which promotes the development of its people.

HASSAN SHEIKH MOHAMUD was President of Somalia from 2012 to 2017 and is a contender for the presidency in 2022.


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