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President-elect Hassan Sheikh Mohamud - a trailblazer in the second term?

By Omar M. Jama (Xiirey)
Thursday May 26, 2022


Our sincere congratutlations to the President-elect Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the first ever Somali president indirectly elected for a second term. This is quite an achievement by itself. We wish him every success he needs on behalf of our country. I am sure he has the experience he needs from his first term, along with achievements handed to him by his predecessor, but a lot more work needs to be done.

It should also be mentioned that early in his presidency in 2012, Hassan Sheikh was nominated to the world's 100 most influential persons by Time magazine, because of ‘’his ability and willingness to negotiate with four main clans and hundreds of sub-clans’’. We should therefore hope that all those achievements will give him the momentum he needs to bring new and real hope to the nation. In his short concession statement, the outgoing president Farmajo mentioned how difficult the Somali presidency is.

Mr. President-elect, we hope that you will be a trailblazer in your second term and lead the nation to a new direction. The Somali elite has long failed our nation miserably. Corrupt political leaders at every level, as well as vicious members of the academia, and the Somali diaspora - virtually all of them failed our nation.

 Despite progress in many areas in recent years, Somali people remain as divided society as ever in an even more fragmented country. One main challenge, Mr President-elect, will be how to mitigate that fragmentation, which is affecting every aspect in our society. There are many factors to this, but grievances dating back to the civil war after the collapse of the Somali state are among the many. These grievances led ultimately to long lasting and built-up mistrust among Somalis.

 Apart from the effects of the state collapse, the Somali people are unique in the sense that we are paradoxically blessed and cursed at the same time. We are technically one large tribe called Somali, with only clan-relationship at every level of our kinship. That is indeed a blessing Allah bestowed upon us.To put Somalis in perspective, we are for example analogous to the Kikuyu tribe in Kenya, or to Tigrayan people in Ethiopia. Each of these groups consist of a number of clans and subclans just like Somalis. People in Somalia often use tribe loosely to mean clan. Members in a clan have a unilineal descent, i.e. a common father.

Our conflict has thus turned out to become the world's only major conflict between clans and subclans. Our homogeneity has led to a clan-centric mindset, which prolonged and even exacerbated the conflict. No doubt, much of the mistrust comes from the civil war, but we have virtually become a society so proud of clan affiliation that it can almost come at the expense of anything else, even if it means such deep fragmentation in our society.

The holy mosques haven´t been spared either: in many places in the Somali diaspora, conflict along clan lines in the mosque management boards has become a commonplace. For the typical Somali, the notion of injustice is simply the fear or the ultimate ''humiliation'' of one's clan by another ''rival'' clan. We were once the true nation in Africa which still sadly is in search of a functioning state. As a result, we continue to be a fragile, semi-failed state with hundreds of sub-clans vying for power in the already notorious 4.5 formula. Simply put, we have become the sick man in Africa. We hope that will change soon, Mr President-elect.

You also inherited a flawed provisional constitution that needs to be reviewed before being put to a national referendum. Perhaps this will be the single most important task. Before the current provisional constitution was drafted during the period from 2002 until 2004 at the conference in Kenya, Somali groups started discussing some form for decentralization of power after the state collapse in Somalia. Before thoroughly discussing and drafting what type of decentralization which suited Somalia, the conference's conclusion resulted in a Transitional Charter for a federal system, mostly led by the warlords at the time with much influence from neighboring countries. One could wonder, why would our neighbouring countries care about what governing model we would choose.

The inherently flawed articles in the provisional constitution should be reviewed. For example, the provisional constitution’s Article 120 allows member states to have their legislative bodies and their own constitutions. Also, according to Article121, the constitutions of both entities (i.e. Member States and the Federal government) shall be harmonized. Article 121 particularly appears to be both vague and against federalism’s basic principle of dual sovereignty. One of the hallmarks of federalism is states and the federal government being sovereign from each other, with their respective laws. In the provisional constitution, however, what is meant by harmonizing constitutions of both entities is unclear. If those who advocate for federalism in Somalia argue that we can adopt its dual sovereignty, it should then be explored the viability of state and federal laws in the context of the Somali society that I briefly explained above.

Another flaw that should be reviewed is addressing the roles of the President and that of the Prime Minister. When one looks at Somali society, it is difficult to fathom how federalism could suit our nation. Somalis even seem to use federalism loosely to mean that it is the only alternative to the autocratic rule which they had experienced under Siyad Barre. But here is where the country's leaders and the elite at large have failed to clarify by explaining that decentralization simply does not mean federalism. What led to the civil war and the destruction we witnessed was a highly centralized rule at the hands of a brutal dictator. A similar dictator in a federal system probably would do the same. Authoritarian rule is never a natural way to rule a nation.

What type of decentralization options would suit Somalia should have been explored at those conferences. In hindsight, though, it is clear that the reason many Somalis cited a federal system as the solution, was essentially based on a rather poor judgement of the country's governance problems. Federalism solves different governing problems than those existing in Somalia. The vast majority of the world's national states have indeed a decentralization governance model other than a federal one. There are mostly two ways federations come to existence: a) Previously sovereign entities forming a federation (also called coming together). This is how most federations came into being, such as those of the US, Canada. b) Countries with already functioning governments, and with diverse groups seeking recognition, becoming federations (also called holding together), for example Belgium and Ethiopia. Moreover, federalism is one model in a set of multilevel governance models. Perhaps, Mr President-elect, a national commission consisting of inclusive Somali experts on the subject and which explores the provisional constitution should be set up in the lead up to a referendum.

Dimensions of decentralization

For the review of the provisional constitution, different dimensions of decentralization can be considered. These include political, administrative, and fiscal dimensions. Each addresses a specific aspect of decentralization. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance in a report on decentralization for the Middle East and North Africa, concluded several benefits of decentralizing power in this region. Here are some the benefits cited in the report:

• Improving service delivery - decentralization allows local governments tailor services to local needs and make policy choices without central government approval.

• Addressing neglect of marginalized areas by establishing local government structures capable of representing local needs, and ultimately promoting the distribution of public resources to regions that need them, in turn promoting development at local level.

• Promoting citizenship through greater accountability, broadening citizen participation, fragmenting central power, and fostering political competition.

• Preserving national unity and stability.

No doubt the challenges awaiting you, Mr President-elect, are enormous. The first task, though, will be to appoint a prime minister, who in turn selects a competent and selfless cabinet. One of the attributes of a good and visionary leader is building a team that's professional and competent. As the leader of the nation, we hope and expect that you will also build bridges between Somalis. It's time for a new style of leadership as well. You need to tirelessly take to the Somali people the issues mentioned above, in every region of the country, even in town hall meetings format in order to come closer to them. That's a way to build and win the hearts of the people so that they can have the trust needed in their government.

The nation has had enough of leaders who often seem to speak in the abstract, out of touch of reality and only selv-serving. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, you need to challenge Somalis to ask not what their region or their clansmen did not get, to ask what we together can do to re-establish the Somali state. You need also to remind Somalis how unique we are, both as homogenous people and as people with strategically located country. There is more than enough space for everyone.

For the sake of our nation we wish you good luck.

Omar M. Jama (Xiirey)
[email protected]


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