Editorial: Acting PM is wrong on Galkayo and federalism
EDITORIAL | Somalia does not need to “revisit” the federal system. Somalia needs to spend its time and meager resources to build public confidence in government.
Somalia’s outgoing Prime Minsiter, Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmake, is simply wrong when he made an erroneous and misleading remark linking the Galkayo conflict to Somali federalism.
Mr Sharmake was speaking in Galkayo on November 12th, at the signing ceremony for another “ceasefire agreement” between the leaders of Puntland and Galmudug administrations – Abdiweli Mohamed Ali ‘Gaas’ and Abdikarim Hussein Guled, respectively.
He did not mince words when associating the renewed instability and violence in Galkayo to challenges facing the federalization of Somalia.
Mr Sharmake said: “We [government leaders] are responsible to the nation and the people [of Somalia]. That people die each day under our watch is dangerous and the nation will hold us to account. Today, two things are fundamental: Firstly, a ceasefire agreement is signed to ensure that the violence stops. Secondly, we believed that the [Somali] people will settle down under a federal system, but if the federal system is bringing bullets and trouble, then we have to revisit it [federalism]”.
Galkayo conflict pre-dates federalism
Any student of history knows that the instability and violence in Galkayo has a long history that predates Somali federalism, a form of government that Somali political factions chose in 2004 and a National Constituent Assembly adopted in 2012. Galkayo is home to a multitude of Somali clans and sub-clans, and its history is punctured by violent disputes over grazing lands and the warring clans’ fanatical defence of territory.
Also, as a legacy of the Somali civil war, Galkayo became among the “fault line cities” – joining Mogadishu, Kismayo and Baidoa, among others. The impact of the civil war was greatly experienced in these regions after the state collapse of 1991, where rival clans fought violently for power and resources. Thus, the need for reconciliation and justice is most needed in these regions, which suffered a comparatively worse fate over the course of the civil war, political fragmentation, extremism, and the resulting economic despair.
This history of clan-based fighting began with disputes over grazing lands and was eventually politicized. The International Crisis Group (ICG) wrote: “Italian colonial administrators divided Galkayo and its environs into clearly demarcated clan-based zones – via the “Tomaselli” line – as a solution to inter-clan conflict over land”.
This “Tomaselli” line was a short-term solution to an age-old problem: how to convince rival nomadic clans with a history of violence to live in peace?
The ICG report continued: “Even the nationalist and declared enemy of clannism President Siad Barre could not overcome this divide”.
If the Galkayo conflict was a major challenge to Italian colonial rulers and former Somali dictator Gen. Barre, then why is acting Prime Minister Sharmake attempting to rewrite history and lay the blame squarely on federalism? If Somali clans were fighting in Galkayo during the 19th century, was it Puntland and Galmudug regional states vying for power in a federal arrangement back then?
Somalia does not need to “revisit” the federal system. Somalia needs to spend its time and meager resources to build public confidence in government, by implementing effective social reconciliation policies, strengthening security and justice institutions, empowering accountability, improving federal-state cooperation, and restoring the nation’s sovereignty.
The acting Prime Minister’s misleading words undermine the entire government project – underway since 2004. Remarkably, Mr Sharmake is the only Somali politician to ever serve as Prime Minister for two terms, both under a federal system.
Surely, the federalization of Somalia faces many challenges. But the imperfect Provisional Federal Constitution provides a number of options. However, the outgoing administration led by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and Prime Minister Sharmake failed to advance the constitutional review process towards a finalized constitution negotiated between the federal and state governments. This state of affairs fed into existing political divisions and politicians used clan sentiments to advance their own agendas.
On the surface, the Puntland-Galmudug dispute is a clan power struggle, but a question over access to economic opportunities sits at its heart. The two sides have not prioritized continued reconciliation among the communities and failed to negotiate a satisfactory arrangement, with respect to city administration, security and revenue management.
Indeed, Galkayo is a test case for Somali federalism and a number of options have been floated around, including nominating a Puntland-Galmudug “joint administration” or making Galkayo a “federal city”.
The matter of revenue management in Galkayo, however, is linked directly to a larger national question: how will the federal and state governments share ports, airports and other national infrastructure, including properties seized illegally in Mogadishu after the civil war?
What Somalia has is not a federal system: it’s the idea of a federal system. The federal constitution remains incomplete; powers and resources are not explicitly divided among federal and state-levels of government; state boundaries are not clearly demarcated; and the nation still relies on the archaic and divisive 4.5 clan formula to distribute federal parliamentary seats, instead of political parties and elections as require by the federal constitution.
Somali federalism does not need to be revisited. But the Somali people should – through their clan-based parliamentary representatives – send a clear message to caretaker President Mohamud and Prime Minister Sharmake by not electing either official to lead the next Federal Government of Somalia.