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The much-canvassed clan-federalism as a strategy for state building in Somalia will yield disastrous results for the country. Clan federalism is not supported by the Constitution, which prescribes that Somali territory and sovereignty are inviolable and indivisible

October 6, 2014
Clan Federalism: The worst option for state building in Somalia

The debate among Somalis over clan federalism (clan segregation) hasn’t produced common understanding and consensus for final bargain because it takes place in vacuum, outside formal democratic process. The federal government has shirked its leadership responsibility to organize and lead national debate on federalism for legislation as set forth in the provisional constitution.

For the iniquitous role of clan state units in the Somali politics and development, tensions are growing everywhere. Somaliland is in military offensive against Khatumo and Puntland States; forces of Puntland and Galmudug states are in high alert for confrontation over Galkaio airports; sub-clan Wa-esle (Wacaysle) of Abgal came out strongly against Mudug and Galgudud State; Kismaio and Baidoa reconciliation conferences collapsed on the eve of Marehan clan conference in Garbaharey (Gedo).

State building process is meant to restore Somali sovereignty by fusing the political, military, and economic powers dispersed in different clans. The Somali Constitution prescribes that Somali territory and sovereignty are inviolable and indivisible. It prohibits the claim of sovereignty by a person or group of public for self-interests. National power should be exercised in accordance with rule of law and through institutions, the foundation for human progress. Many renowned former Somali political leaders, religious leaders, traditional leaders, and intellectuals have explained the inherent danger of clan federalism in Somalia because it institutionalizes the dispersion and violation of territorial and sovereignty division and violation.

Clan federalism is far worse than the current 4.5 clans’ power-sharing, former military dictatorship, former clan-based rebel movements and the rule of Islamic Courts. It devalues patriotism and citizenship, venerates clan identity, and multiplies the number of minorities and human rights violations in every district. It emboldens neighboring countries with territorial ambitions. Cartoonist Amin Amir highlights this point in his cartoon. This threat could inspire popular support for nationalistic movements including Islamic rule in Somalia.

Somalia is blessed with all qualities - common language, religion, culture, geography - for a democratic decentralized unitary system of governance to deepen political socialization. The challenge is to demonstrate that common goods from Somali identity outweigh clan identity’s benefits and how to deal with the misuse of clan identity for violence, punishment, discrimination, injustices, division, and abuse of political power. Like any crime, these offenses and sins could be confronted with legitimate means.

In contrast, many scholars have identified and documented complex problems and conflicts associated with clan-based federalism. These problems include (a) the impossibility of making clan and administrative boundaries congruent, (b) tension between majority and minority clans in districts, (c) exacerbation of the plight of minorities, (d) solidification of clan cleavages on political, institutional and territorial basis, and reproducible permanent clan identity for continuing the differentiation of society (e) revenge for the abuse of a kin by others, (f) impossibility to develop countrywide civic citizenship, (g) clan mobilization for secession after each clan forms group identity and cohesion, leadership, government, parliament, and armed forces, and external support, (h) difficulty of countrywide mobility of citizens, (i) turning constitutional conflicts into clan conflicts. These problems and others, like contests between big and small states, handling of foreign affairs, regulation of domestic and foreign trade, are good indicators for the failure of clan federalism.

Ethiopia, the United Nations, and European Union have shaped a number of federal member states in South Central Somalia, while the Federal Parliamentary Committee and the Independent five members Commission on Constitutional Review are yet to start their tasks. In an interview with VOA, Chairman of the Parliamentary committee Hon. Mariam Arif Qassim has appealed to the Somali people to effectively take ownership of the constitutional review process. But, the Federal Parliament and the Attorney General have yet to publish for public engagement the official final version of the Provisional Constitution after the postponement or amendment of certain articles.

The Chairman suggested that at least six issues not covered in the Provisional Constitution need public debate and decision: 1. Definition of federalism; 2. The roles of the president and prime minister; 3. Taxation power and national resource sharing; 4. Right to citizenship; 5. Power allocation between federal government and federal member states; 6. The status of Mogadishu, the capital under federal system based on clan hegemony. The above undefined issues challenge the legitimacy of existing federal government and shaped regional states.

The absence of genuine inter-Somali negotiation on state building has prevented the opportunity to show how clan federalism cannot guarantee the realization of the Bill of Rights and the five constitutional principles for federalism under Article 50. Among the five principles include verification of public confidence and support to various levels of government, delivery of similar levels of services and support from the federal government to every part of the country, fair distribution of resources, allocation of powers and responsibilities to the most effective level of government.

Sometimes the Somali discourse over clan federalism veers to the assertion that clan X (region X) supports federalism while clan Y (region Y) opposes it. For example, one supporter argues that Hawiye clan opposes federalism while Darod clan supports it. Rationally, this perception must have triggered the imperative to halt the implementation of federation process until common consensus is forged. It didn’t happen. Without attempting to disprove the supporter’s argument, a general observation of the current social manifestations on the issue indicate the following tendencies:

1. The positions of majority of Ogaden clan (Darod), Gadabuursi (Gudabiirsi) and Isse (Dir) clans, unclear;
2. Majority of Isaq clan (Dir) want secession from South Somalia (Ex Italian Somalia);
3. Majority of Digil and Mirifle clan (DM) want confederation between DM and the rest of Somalis but oppose clan federalism and secession of Isaq;
4. Majority of Minority clan groups (0.5) oppose clan federalism, confederation, and secession;
5. Majority of Hawiye clan oppose clan federalism, secession of Isaq clan (Dir), and DM clan confederation but support constitutionally decentralized unitary system;
6. Majority of Majerteen clan (Darod) support clan federalism but oppose secession of Isaq clan (Dir) and DM clan confederation;
7. Majority of Marehan clan (Darod) oppose clan federalism, confederation, and secession but support decentralized unitary system;
8. Majority of Dhulbahante and Warsangeli clans (Darod) oppose clan federalism, DM confederation, and secession of Isaq (Dir) and support 4.5 power sharing;

I hope others will investigate further this general observation. However, the truth is that Somalia deserves neither federal nor decentralized unitary system of government if the majority of citizens are not striving to make sure the quick rebuilding of Somalia in which patriotism, rule of law, social justice, fairness, and equality prevail.

The glaring contradictions in the provisional constitution have sullied Statebuilding based on federalism in Somalia. For example, article 142 legitimizes the existence and privileges of anonymous federal member states which are parallel to and independent from the federal government established on the basis of 4.5 clan formula. Then, articles 48 and 49 entrust the federal government to create Federal member states, and finally article 54 denies the existence of federal member states and establishes the exclusive powers of federal government. More unusual, the federal government has been constrained from raising necessary financial resources within its declared components (stakeholders) - Puntland and South Central Somalia- to fulfill its functions. The inclusion of these contradictions in the constitution was a deliberate plan to subvert Statebuilding in Somalia.

Clan federalism sows conflicts and disintegration. Somalia cannot stomach Ethiopia’s ethnic federalism implemented and maintained through security committees and technical controllers from the authoritarian central government. The Somali people yearn for individual liberty, responsibility, and solidarity. Somalia’s future lies in hierarchically decentralized unitary system of governance that upholds Somali identity and unity, and ensures rule of law, democratic political process, and respect of human rights, justice, fairness, and shared prosperity.



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