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The Complex Dance of Democracy in Somalia: Balancing Clan Dynamics and Modern Governance
By Maxamed Dudishe
Tuesday May 30, 2023

Somalia's political landscape is nothing short of complex. With a delicate mix of deeply rooted clan structures and emerging democratic aspirations, crafting an appropriate electoral system is challenging. Some suggest the Proportional Representation (PR) – Closed List system, where voters select a party rather than an individual candidate. On paper, it sounds like a reasonable approach. But for Somalia, it might create more problems than solutions, resulting in a consolidation of power by the larger clans at the expense of smaller ones.

A look at our political history provides a practical illustration of this concern. Somalia has seen a pattern where leaders, once in power, extend their terms beyond what is democratically acceptable. Notable examples include President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, President Hassan Sheikh, President Siilaanyo, President Farmaajo, and President Ahmed Madobe. Currently, President Muse Bixi is also extending his term, and Presidents HSM, Qoorqoor, Deni, Laftagareen, and Madobe seem poised to do the same. This is a worrying trend where those who once defended democratic principles become dismissive of them once in power.

This history suggests that, under the PR - Closed List system, larger clans may not only secure greater representation but also find it easier to maintain it by enabling their leaders to stay in power for longer periods. As a result, this system may not only upset the balance of representation among clans but also risk undermining the democratic principles it aims to uphold. Therefore, while crafting an electoral system for Somalia, it is vital to consider not only the fair representation of clans but also mechanisms to ensure that leaders adhere to democratic norms and term limits.

Unfortunately, we're not alone in these struggles. Other nations with complex sociopolitical structures, such as Iraq and Bosnia-Herzegovina, have also grappled with the misuse of proportional representation systems. In these countries, instead of fostering unity and balanced governance, the system deepened divisions and resulted in political stagnation. These examples serve as a warning for what could happen here in Somalia if we're not careful.

Given these challenges, what Somalia needs is a tailor-made solution. An electoral system that suits its unique context, while ensuring fair representation for all clans, big and small. One possible alternative is the Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) system. Under this system, half the seats could be allocated based on clan representation, maintaining the important cultural tradition and ensuring each clan has a voice. The other half of the seats could be filled through party representation based on proportional representation principles, promoting political pluralism and ensuring broader, policy-based representation.

By combining these two methods, the MMP system could offer a balanced approach that respects Somalia's unique clan structures while also adhering to the principles of democratic representation. It's a potential pathway towards a more inclusive and representative political system. However, the successful implementation of such a system would still require significant commitment to transparency, accountability, and the rule of law.

To prevent larger clans from monopolizing power, Somalia could introduce a 'seat cap' – a limit on the number of seats a single clan can hold. This would promote political diversity and protect the rights of smaller clans. Somalia could also set up quotas to ensure that minority clans aren't just present in the parliament but also in the government and have a real say in the political process.

Creating a new electoral system, however, is just part of the solution. Somalia’s leaders need to understand that leadership is a responsibility, not a privilege. They must prioritize the needs of the nation over their own, promote transparency, and uphold the principles of democracy. While the proposed changes can pave the way for a more democratic, inclusive, and prosperous Somalia, they can only truly succeed with honest, principled leadership at the top of the government.

Governance is not just about managing public resources or enforcing laws. It goes beyond that. Governance in its truest sense is about serving the people, maintaining the rule of law and protecting the most vulnerable sections of the population. It is vital for Somali authorities to understand these principles and incorporate them into their approach to governance. Only by doing so can they truly fulfill their responsibilities and build a fair, just, and inclusive Somalia.

Alongside these institutional reforms, we also need to foster a culture of political inclusion, respect, and tolerance. Education plays a crucial role here. By introducing political education programs that emphasize democratic values and the importance of diversity, Somalia can help create a more inclusive political culture from the ground up. Moreover, public forums should be promoted to encourage open dialogue and cooperation among the different clans, which could help to build trust, reduce conflicts, and promote unity.

The international community can and should lend a helping hand. Technical support in developing and implementing democratic institutions, financial aid, and the presence of international observers during elections can all contribute towards the success of Somalia’s democratic journey.

More importantly, Somalia needs to put safeguards in place to prevent the misuse of power. The trend of leaders extending their terms in office, as we've seen time and again, undermines the very foundation of Somalia’s democracy. To tackle this, Somalia could establish firm constitutional provisions for term limits and ensure strict enforcement to deter future leaders from bending the rules to their advantage.

However, even with all these measures, it's crucial to remember that there's no magic solution for all of Somalia's political challenges. The road to true democracy is long and often rocky, and it requires patience, resilience, and a lot of hard work.

Ultimately, the success of Somalia’s democratic journey hinges on the will of the people and the integrity of its leaders. They carry a heavy responsibility to guide Somalia towards a democratic future that guarantees peace, stability, and prosperity for all its citizens, regardless of their clan affiliations. In their hands lies the opportunity to break free from the cycle of power struggles and pave the way for a truly inclusive and representative Somali democracy.

Democracy is not a singular event that takes place once every few years, but rather a continuous process that takes place every day. It is about more than just elections; it is about ensuring that all citizens are free, protected, and empowered to shape the society in which they live.

In short, while the Proportional Representation – Closed List system presents serious risks, alternatives like the Mixed-Member Proportional system, seat caps, and quotas, coupled with principled leadership, can offer a viable pathway towards a fairer and more democratic Somalia. But these measures alone aren't enough. We need leaders who believe in democracy, not just in words, but in actions. and work together to build a fairer and more representative Somalia, where everyone has a seat at the table, and no one stays beyond their term.

Maxamed Dudishe


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