Why Federalism Is Wrong For Somalia

Posted on 14/06/2010


by Abdullahi Dool
Wednesday, June 02, 2010

It is one thing to devolve power so that people in the regions may have more say and power over their destiny and the day-to-day running of their affairs. However, it is quite another to embrace a system such as federalism without basis.

Federalism is embraced to minimize tension and smooth things over in a country inhabited by different peoples (nationalities). The idea behind federalism is to devolve power from the central government to the regions so that different groups (nationalities) in a nation may practice their separate language, culture or religion without looking over their shoulder. In Somalia there are only one people who speak one language, practice one religion and share one culture with minor variations in coastal and agricultural areas.

Federalism is alien to Somalia which is entirely populated by Somalis. So how did one people Somalis end up in federalism? History shall record that at a time when ravaging war brought out the worst in our people’s character where division and pettiness got the better of our nation — it was at Mbegathi conference in 20004 in Kenya which saw the introduction of federalism to Somalia and the birth of a government which calls itself the ‘Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

Since the formation of the first TFG in 2004, we have observed how not only federalism has been wrongly imposed on one-people Somalis but how it has been bandied by individuals perhaps unaware of its unsuitability for Somalia. So the question is: Who embraces federalism?

Federalism is embraced by a nation where there are groups (nationalities) different in ethnicity, language, culture or religion. Federal nations include the United States which has fifty states with a population representative of almost every race, creed and culture on the planet. Nigeria, India and Ethiopia are also federal states where there are multi-ethnic groups different in language, culture, religion etc. Switzerland too is a federal state where there are three nationalities: French, Italian and German.

Federalism stems from the need for clear demographic separation along ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious lines. Even though, federalism is, as touched on earlier, embraced to quell things in a nation with different groups (nationalities), there are nations which did not go down the federal route. For instance, Kenya which has multi-nationalities did not wish federalism. Turkey which has a large Kurdish population did not see the need to go federal. If Turkey was to embrace federalism, it would have allowed the Kurds who feel marginalized the autonomy to practise their own culture and language.

Another nation which did not go the federal route but where there are groups different mainly in religion is Lebanon. Even after 17 years of war fought along sectarian lines, Lebanon did not see federalism an answer to its woes. In Lebanon there are two main religions: adherents of Islam who comprise of Sunnis, Shia and Druze and the Christian Lebanese too who are divided along different churches. 1 The question is: How did transitional Somalia end up calling itself federal?

Nobody knows exactly what possessed those who suggested federalism for Somalia. However, it is one’s government which should know what is applicable and what is not. For that reason, a government which knows what it is doing will not embrace federalism willy-nilly. Unfortunately, Somalia has become a testing ground for all sorts of things. One such experiment has been federalism.

It is possible federalism has been prescribed as a panacea to mitigate the conflict in Somalia even though the civil war has never been about differences of Somalis on race, religion, language or culture. The conflict in Somalia has been about individuals who saw the road to power was by magnifying and cashing on petty rivalry within the Somali people.

It is obvious that federalism is not right for Somalia. The question is: What could be the most suitable system for Somalia? Firstly, any nation which went through war such as the one Somalia had to suffer requires a period of nation and state building. Nevertheless, the most suitable system for Somalia could be: Self-administering Regions within a Democratic Union.

Once the state has been re-built, Somalis in the regions should be allowed to have a say about their affairs and elect their own administrators. And the central government would have to oversee and invest in the development of local government. Unlike transitional Somalia, governance should be based on competence and not clan! That can only mean Somalis from different communities working together for the good of the nation. Politics too should be what it should be: the profession to serve, deliver and prosper a nation

What do we mean by a democratic union? We are aware that some individuals will make a lot of hoo-haa about the very mention of the word democracy. This is the nature of things of a nation what had to suffer anarchy. However, by democracy we mean a system which elects its leaders and representatives. It needs to be said that there is nowhere in the Holy Qur’an which says Muslims should not use the ballot box or elect their own leaders or representatives.

In Somalia some individuals may have taken federalism to heart as a panacea for marginalization. Marginalization is an evil which can create insecurity. In Somalia there are a number of factors which should make marginalization unlikely. One of the root causes of marginalization is the squabble over resources. Somalia, a nation of small population which was blessed with land should have no such problem. Nevertheless, the fear of marginalization continues to haunt many Somalis.

We have to remind ourselves that in 1959, on the cusp of independence, Somalia had the potential to become one of the success stories in Africa. Unlike in many parts in Africa, a major ingredient of its potential centered on the homogeneity of the Somali people.

In some parts of Africa, marginalization has become a survival tool or a necessary evil. For example, in Ethiopia, marginalization has history and part of the political fabric. For that reason, in Ethiopia, federalism is the only solution. However, in Somalia, the solution for marginalization is not federalism but the achievement of a good government which makes evils such as marginalization redundant. The need is for the establishment of a new nation where our people have the freedom and the help they need to develop and prosper regardless of their background, clan or region.

Posted in: African papers