The word “federalism” or the phrase “federal government system” is, for many Somalis, something that perhaps fell into their ears just some five years back while to some others, it is something that they have always dreamed of before and after the Somali independence in 1960.
By definition, federalism is the distribution of power in an organization (such as a government) between a central authority and the constituent units. It is a system of governance whereby there is a central leadership and semi-autonomous local governments which exercise some levels of power but share the key resources and assets with a central government.
For the first time, the federal system was decidedly introduced in Somalia in 2012 during the formation of the Federal Government of Somalia led by Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud. It came about when the federal system had been considered the best political option for resolving the quarter-a-century conflict in Somalia, which split the Somali communities along tribal and clan lines and got them bogged down with bloody hostilities.
The move has led further to the creation of federal regional states in Somalia divided, as of now, amongst five local administrations despite they are far from being fully fledged given the setbacks and disputes related to the communal and territorial representation and boundaries amongst the Somali clans and communities.
However, the so-called international community of which the main entities were the UN, EU and some regional bodies pushed hard and brokered the realization of the system in Somalia notwithstanding challenges.
Somalia is now said to be a federal nation with a central federal government and five federal regional states: Puntland, Jubbaland, Southwest State, Galmudug, HirShabelle.
FEDERALISM: New or Old Phenomena?
This may be a question which many Somali people or perhaps foreigners ponder.
However, to shed light on the query, it can be said that the adoption of the federal system is practically new in Somalia but the notion of introducing it in the country has been theoretically held long-time by some Somali political parties and leaders since late 1940s and independence era.
Somalia was colonized by Italy and Britain; thus divided into Italian Somaliland in the south and centre and British Somaliland in the north.
Both colonies gained their independence in 1960.
Prior to the independence, the Somali nationalist political independence parties had been fighting to free the homeland from the colonizers, which they finally succeeded in their liberation efforts.
In British Somaliland, the Somali National League (SNL) and the United Somali Party (USP) were the main political nationalist movements that sought independence for Northwest regions while in the South, Centre and Northeast of the country, the Somali Youth League (SYL) commonly known as “Leego” and the Hizbia Dastur Mustaqli Somali (HDMS)* were the dominant parties.
All these political parties were patriotic entities in strong pursuit of Somali independence from the British and Italian colonization.
However, although the common nationalistic feelings and fight for independence, the various parties had different political ambitions and agenda with regards to Somalia’s independence and the type of government system that could be applied to Somalia following independence.
Hizbia Dastur Mustaqli Somali (HDMS), then dominant in the Upper Jubba region (now Bay, Bakool and Gedo), Lower Shabelle and parts of Middle and Lower Jubba regions was uniquely different and by then had a political vision that would be later implemented inevitably in Somalia after five decades.
From late 1940s, HDMS advocated for the introduction of the federal system in Somalia soon after both Italian and British Somaliland would gain their independences.
In 1947, the HDM held a rally in which it publicized its political desire and ambitions of federal Somalia State following independence.
HDMS also held the belief that Somalia be put further under the supervision of the Trusteeship Council of the United Nations for ten years until its citizens were to be well trained on good governance, public administration and federalism. Therefore, they could run their country effectively and were mature enough in political administration after grant of independence.
In 1958, at the UN Security Council on Somalia Independence in New York, the HDMS representatives proposed the federal system and the extension of ten years trusteeship that would have seen Somalis trained on government systems before they fully took control of the nation independently.
Unfortunately, the outspoken members of the other Somali political nationalistic parties at the Security Council Summit then boycotted the proposal because the affection for independence was high on Somali politicians and people than the subsequent political events which could follow the emancipation from the colonial powers.
These other parties may have also feared the federal system because most of their supporters hailed from the arid to the semi-arid regions of the country and it could possibly put them at a disadvantageous position, as they may have believed by then.
As a political party, HDMS was initially associated with Digil & Mirifle communities in the south of the country, who dwell in the agriculturally productive regions in between the two rivers of Jubba and Shabelle. Taking advantage of the political atmosphere at the time, some politicians referred HDMS as Hizbiyya Digil Mirifle Somali to demean the party and portray it a predominantly one-community party.
However, notably some of the Digil & Mirifle communities were also members of the SYL and therefore the party was not open only to supporters from this community.
It can be inferred that the current federal system in Somalia is just not a new concept but only the implementation of the proposed federalism made 55 years ago by Hizbia Dastur Mustaqli Somali (HDMS), which has now been dusted off after realizing that the best solution to the Somali crises is the federal system and each region controls its territory semi-autonomously under the central state.
It is apparent that Somalia has taken the path of the long proposed but recently introduced system of the federal government.
However, it is only the beginning of the long way home and the tip of the iceberg.
Many barricades lie ahead the system given the fact that some communities feel to have been marginalized and underrepresented in the power-sharing formula or that their opportunistic rights have been grabbed unlawfully.
Politically and socio-economically, Somalis are inter-communal people who share one culture, religion and language and they have been intermingled for centuries. So it poses difficult to set boundaries of the local federal regions while defining them [the borders] could be a “nightmare.”
A valid consolidated census of the Somali population of the different regions of the country does not exist; thus some large communities may end up being submerged ironically in minority but powerful clans and underrepresented on the political stages.
Reconciliation of the Somali communities who got paranoid against one another in prolonged communal hostilities and feuds during the 27 years of the instability is yet to happen fully and this is an important component for a federal system to survive.
Author: Mohamed Sheikh Yerow
Student of A.B. in Development Studies
College Graduate: Business Studies
P.S. *The name Hizbia Dasturi Mustaqli Somali (HDMS) is Arabic and literally means “the Somali Independent Constitutional Party