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How Federalism Can Work in Somalia



Yusuf M. Hassan is a Somali-American journalist, political and media analyst, and communications adviser.

To restore unity, Somali federal and state leaders need to cooperate and work together for the interest of the country as a whole.

The October 14 bombing that killed over 400 people, mostly civilians, near Mogadishu’s busy Zoppe Square was the single worst attack in East Africa since the armed insurgency erupted in Somalia in 2006. The harrowing attack became another agonizing testament to the country’s prolonged and ruthless conflict, the unresolved security vulnerabilities and the weak institutions of the Federal Government of Somalia. It was, also, a passing moment of national unity, as Somalis from all regions and walks of life rushed to aid recovering victims. That momentum of solidarity, however, was short-lived. Within days, infighting within government institutions was underway — business as usual.

In a country where 70% of the population is under 35, entire generations of Somalis have become accustomed to a nation without a government. When the state collapsed in 1991, two decades of lawlessness and conflict followed. Violence became commonplace, social relations were torn and the economy foundered. In 2012, at the end of a 12-year political process, the federal government was formed following the first election held in Somalia since 1969.

By 2017, the country’s first-ever bicameral federal parliament was formed. Then, at parliament’s first joint session in Mogadishu in February, Somali legislators elected a former prime minister, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, also known as Farmajo, as the new president of Somalia.

It was the culmination of a long, arduous procedure. Observers noted that the electoral process was flawed, characterized by corruption allegations and vote buying. However, after Mohamed was declared victor, the widespread jubilation in Mogadishu and other cities surprised many. It was significantly indicative of the electoral outcome’s legitimacy and popular support and of the people’s aspirations for a better future under what many hoped to be a patriotic national leadership.


The new government came to power with a strong mandate to lead; the nation had suffered for far too long, and it was time for change. The incoming government recognized the monumental task that lay ahead: restoring peace and national cohesion in Somalia, after decades of fragmentation. Still, the new government’s pronounced vision decidedly focused on fighting terrorism, corruption and poverty, yet it was not clear how that was to be done.

Like its predecessors, however, the government led by President Mohamed and the political newcomer, Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire, is struggling to regularly pay salaries, adequately manage the federal structure or contain disputes among the political class. This has ensured that the government remains distracted from working on federalization, economic recovery or the much-needed security and justice reforms.

Even more troubling, the new administration seems to have followed the path of its predecessor, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. It wasted time and resources attempting to shape the state formation process through political manipulation and direct interference. In Jubaland, for example, such interference led to armed clashes in Kismayo in June 2013 and, in Galmudug, to the election of Abdikarim Hussein Guled, then-President Mohamud’s close associate.

The Khaire administration should learn from mistakes of its former government. The outcome could be more political tensions exacerbating fragile conditions and derailing the country’s hard-earned political transition. To maintain public support, the administration will depend on whether or not the government enacts sound policies and corrective action without which it remains a weak, self-defeating and underperforming institution, dashing public hopes after election euphoria.


For generations, world and regional powers have vied for power and influence in Somalia due to the country’s strategic location connecting the Indian Ocean region, the Middle East and East Africa. With untapped natural resources, the country is a key regional security pillar and has great potential for investment and economic development.

In June 2017, when the Gulf crisis pitted a Saudi and UAE-led coalition against the state of Qatar, Somalia’s federal government announced its neutral position and called for regional dialogue to resolve the diplomatic crisis. The decision provoked regional states to contradict the federal government’s official position. State leaders argued they had a right to be consulted on major national decisions, and that the federal government violated the draft constitution by alienating regional voices. Needless to say, the regional states’ unilateral decisions bewildered the Somali public.

For the Somali government, the Gulf crisis was an opportunity to articulate its federalism strategy and foreign policy priorities. Such a strategy could help consolidate its domestic authority while augmenting its international stature. Instead, when Mogadishu unilaterally declared its position, it unwittingly instigated a domestic political row. Leading a fragmented and war-ravaged nation, the Somali government’s primary goal should be to build consensus around a national interest and recognition that such a feat requires the cooperation and input of the regional states.


Federal institutions and the regions have not agreed on a model to complete the federal system. The draft constitution is notorious for its vague stipulations, and both the federal government and the regions have misused the constitution to justify policies or frustrate the federalization process.

The constitutional review process has faced delays and is often associated with committees that work in secrecy. State governments have demanded a transparent constitutional process, which builds political trust and is vital to a fragile state rebuilding its democratic foundations. Particularly, roles and responsibilities between the Somali government, parliament and state governments in political negotiations remain undefined, often shrouded in controversy or locked in dispute. For example, will the prime minister and the state presidents negotiate directly, or will federal and state parliament subcommittees have an active role in federal-state negotiations?

Political friction between Mogadishu and the regions continues to be high, sabotaging the federalization process. Most recently, on October 10, five regional presidents issued a 16-point communiqué in Kismayo. Without any federal officials present, it was clear that the meeting was an effort to isolate the federal government. In late October 2017, President Mohamed invited the state presidents to Mogadishu for a week of talks. In theory, the two sides seem to have agreed on key principles. However, without a harmonized federal arrangement and an agreed model for power and resource sharing, similar deadlock cannot be prevented in the near future.


Article 54 of the draft constitution grants the federal government power in matters of foreign affairs, national defense, citizenship and immigration, and monetary policy. But the constitution envisions a form of cooperative federalism (as opposed to dual federalism) where power and institutional balance is harmonized between the center and the periphery. Such a system largely relies on consensus-building leaders at all levels of government.

The Somali government’s unilateral decision and lack of consultation with the states undermines that spirit of cooperation. The constitutional requirement of federal-state consultations forms the basis for preventing a return to the tyranny of centralized rule, while an incomplete federalization process, unaddressed community reconciliation and lagging security and political integration define the constitution’s realpolitik considerations.

Conversely, the regions’ contradicting the federal government’s Gulf crisis policy undermines national unity and reconciliation efforts. There are other political and institutional avenues whereby the states could express their dissenting voices, including through a federal parliament or judicial process.


Somalia’s complex security challenges cannot be addressed solely through police action and military offensives. The Somali government needs security cooperation and coordination with state governments, while ensuring tangible commitment to building the foundations of security: community reconciliation, equality under law and institutional and socioeconomic balance.

Facing the burden of geopolitics, the government’s decision to stay neutral in an international dispute was a positive move. But Somalia should benefit from its foreign policy decisions: think trade deals, investment and economic incentives. The government must balance between its foreign policy interests and local concerns. The practice of consultations and consensus building prior to making decisions affecting specific regional states’ economic interests will create trust and prevent future political crises.

Finally, there must be genuine political will — especially among the federal and state leaders — to cooperate and work together for the interest of the Somali nation. This is, perhaps, the most difficult task. It is also the only way Somalia can restore unity, confront security vulnerabilities and bolster national governance.

This article was previously published on The Fair Observer


Civil strife in Ethiopia has the potential to destabilise the whole region



Ethiopia is experiencing ethnic and political tensions that could have far-reaching implications for its neighbors in the Horn of Africa, and beyond.

Abukar Arman is a writer, a former diplomat and an activist whose work on foreign policy, geopolitics and faith is widely published.

The Horn of Africa is among the most congested, eventful, and most volatile geopolitical intersections on earth. It is where the West meets the East in a highly competitive game of strategic positioning for economic or hegemonic advantage.

China and Turkey who, more or less, employ similar soft-power strategies have tangible investments in various countries in the region, including Ethiopia. However, the widespread discontent with Ethiopia’s repressive impulses and its ethnic favoritism that led to a particular ethnic minority (Tigray) to exclusively operate the state apparatus has inspired Arab Spring-like mass protests. These protests have caused serious rancor within the ruling party. It is only a matter of time before this haemorrhaging government might collapse.

So, who is likely to gain or lose from this imminent shockwave in the region’s balance of power?

The Nile Tsunami

Ethiopia — a country previously considered as a stable regional hegemon, a robust emerging market, and a reliable counter-terrorism partner — is on the verge of meltdown, if not long-term civil strife.

Today, the Ethiopian government is caught between two serious challenges of domestic and foreign nature: the Oromo/Amhara mass protests tacitly supported by the West, and the water rights conflict with Egypt, Sudan and Somalia.

Ethiopia is claiming the lion’s share on the Nile that runs through it and other rivers that flow from its highlands for the Grand Renaissance Dam – thus presenting existential threats to the connected nations.

For the third time in three years, the Shabelle River has dried up, putting millions of Somalis at risk of starvation.

But the current government is not ready for a substantive change of guard. The longer the mass protests continue and the minority-led government continues to offer artificial or symbolic gestures of prisoner releases — while declaring a second ‘state of emergency’ in two years— the faster Ethiopia will become destabilised and the faster foreign investments will fizzle away.

Worse — though seemingly unthinkable — the ‘favorite nation’ status granted to Ethiopia after becoming the US’ main partner in the global ‘War on Terroris’ is slowly corroding.

Despite this week’s visit from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the US State Department is gradually turning its back on Ethiopia for a number of reasons; chief among them, is its double-dealings on the South Sudan issue.

Despite the facade of US/China collaboration to end the South Sudan civil war, the geopolitical rivalry between these two giants has been pressuring Ethiopia to pledge exclusive allegiance to one over the other.

With China’s huge investments on Ethiopia, Sudan and South Sudan’s oil fields – making a choice won’t be too difficult.

The Kenya Factor

Several years ago I wrote an article arguing that the two most stable nations in the Horn (Kenya and Ethiopia) will become more unstable as Somalia becomes more stable.

Today, the Ethiopian government is facing the most serious threat since it took power by the barrel of the gun, and Kenya has a highly polarised population and two presidents ‘elected’ along clan lines.

Kenya — the nerve center of the international humanitarian industry — could just be one major incident away from inter-clan combustion.

The Somalia Factor

The Ethiopian government has launched a clandestine campaign of strategic disinformation intended to fracture or breakup opposition coalitions and recruit or lure potential comrades.

Ethiopian intelligence officers and members of the diplomatic corps together with some ethnic-Somali Ethiopians have been recruiting naive Somali government officials, intellectuals and activists with a Machiavellian disinformation campaign.

Meanwhile, IGAD — Ethiopia’s regional camouflage — calls for an open-borders agreement between member states. Despite broad-based public perception that for a fragile state like Somalia, such an agreement would be tantamount to annexation, some Somali politicians are eagerly carrying its banner.

These kinds of desperate campaigns and the abrupt resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn only underscore the fact that the government’s days are numbered.

The Sudan Factor

Sudan is caught in a loyalty triangle (Ethiopia, Egypt and Turkey) with competing powers. Sudan needs Egypt to address threats faced by the two nations regarding the diminishing access to the Nile by reasserting rights granted through the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty.

It needs Ethiopia to protect China’s economic partnership and to shield President Omar al Bashir from Western harassment through IGAD.

It also needs Turkey for development and for a long-term strategic partnership. Sudan has become the second country in Africa to grant Turkey a military base, with Somalia being the first.

The Eritrea Factor

When neocons dominated US foreign policy and the global ‘War on Terror’ was the order of all orders, Eritrea was slapped with sanctions. It was accused of being the primary funder and weapons supplier to al Shabab.

Today, though neither the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia or Eritrea nor any expert free from Ethiopian influence holds such a view, yet the sanctions have not been lifted.

The Ethiopian lobby and certain influential elements within US foreign policy-making circles continue to label Eritrea as a Marxist rogue state that undermines regional institutions such as IGAD and international ones like the UN Security Council; a closed society that espouses a deep rooted hatred towards the West.

Against that backdrop, the UAE has been investing heavily in Eritrea since 2015 or the beginning of the Yemen war that has created one of the the worst humanitarian disasters. The Emirati military (and its Academi/Blackwater shadow) now operates from a military base in Assab. Whether that’s a Trojan Horse or not, is a different discussion altogether.

Ins And Outs

The current wave of discontent against the Ethiopian government is likely to continue. But, considering how the Tigray has a total control on all levers of power, a transition of power will not be an easy process.

Ethiopia is also rumoured to have created an ethnically Somali counterinsurgency force in the Liyu Police. This ruthless force has already been used against the Oromos as they were used against Somalis of various regions that share a border with Ethiopia.

The extrajudicial killings and human rights violations are well documented. Despite all this, the Oromo and Amhara are set to reach their objectives albeit with bruised and bloody faces.

Will their coalition remain or, due to their historical distrust, will each eventually invoke its constitutional right to secede?

Whatever the outcome, any scenario of civil war or chaos in Ethiopia could put the entire Horn in danger and create a potential humanitarian catastrophe, especially in Somalia.

Meanwhile South Sudan is a lightyear away from sustainable political reconciliation especially since the foreign elements fueling the fire are not likely to stop any time soon. Djibouti remains the host of the most intriguing geopolitical circus. So, that leaves Eritrea as an island of stability in the region.

In the foreseeable future, Turkey could divest her investment out of Ethiopia into Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea. China will diversify her portfolio to include Eritrea. And the US — with no new policy — will continue droning her way through geopolitical schizophrenia.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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Turkey’s foray into Somalia is a huge success, but there are risks



Brendon J. Cannon is an Assistant Professor of International Security, Department of Humanities & Social Science at Khalifa University of Science & Technology (Abu Dhabi, UAE).

THE CONVERSATION –Turkey’s presence in Somalia certainly embodies one of the most interesting regional geopolitical developments in the past decade. It also represents one of the most misunderstood and confusing. Why did Turkey choose Somalia? And, after its initial humanitarian intervention in 2011, what internal and external forces have shaped and expanded that involvement? Furthermore, what explains Turkey’s reported triumphs?

Some have pointed to a shared history and a common Sunni Muslim heritage. This is questionable, at best, and alone cannot explain Turkey’s engagement with Somalia – let alone the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. Others have noted Turkey’s economic clout and its status as a mid-sized country interested in trade rather than extracting resources.

Genuine humanitarian concerns have also, at least initially, driven Turkey’s engagement as well as the prospect of economic gain. Scholar Federico Donelli notes its approach to Somalia

“has made Turkey a regional actor different from the traditional western powers, as well as from the emerging non-western ones.”

Turkey’s approach in Somalia has been largely welcomed inside and outside the African nation. However, a cautionary note is required. Allegations of corruption and bribery have surfaced. Turkey’s recent opening of a military training base in Mogadishu to train the Somali National Army has also raised eyebrows across the wider Horn of Africa region.

Keys to success
Ankara has an understandable and deep seated desire for international recognition as an emerging power and G20 member state. Its status in Somalia is part humanitarian and part financial, but is at its heart about influence and prestige.

Turkish money and aid – delivered directly to key stakeholders in the Somali Federal Government – ingratiated Turkey with local power brokers and provided Ankara with access and power in Mogadishu. What soon followed is Turkish control and management of Somalia’s most lucrative assets, the airport and seaport.

Parallel to these were unilateral rebuilding efforts, offers of scholarships, renovations of hospitals, and the hosting of international conferences about Somalia. These have largely contributed positively to Somalia’s development and yielded the international acclaim and diplomatic clout craved by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his coterie.

For some parties inside and outside Somalia, Turkey is now viewed as indispensable to Somalia. The keys to Turkey’s reported success in Somalia – where so many other established powers have failed before – may revolve around four critical factors.

The first is approach. Most interventions in Somalia have been multilateral affairs by international and regional actors, such as the UN. Turkey’s approach, in contrast, has been largely unilateral and highly coordinated by the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency. In this way, the efforts of business, government and humanitarian staff either do not overlap or do so effectively.

Second is novelty. Turkey’s Ottoman past and Muslim identity have been raised as major variables driving Turkey’s engagement with Somalia. But these assertions ignore or minimise one of its key strengths as a rising power: its distinct lack of a colonial past that devastated so much of the continent.

This approach is not only novel; it also represents Turkey’s first meaningful engagement with the continent. This contrasts sharply with that of the US, France, Russia and China, among others, which have a colonial or Cold War baggage.

The third factor is risk. Somalia has been the scene of thousands of capacity building and self-help experiments funded by a plethora of international organisations and states. Yet it is precisely where these efforts have failed that Turkey has found its niche.

This required a big appetite for risk. Naturally, as the risks rise the potential for significant rewards does too. The economic rationale for risk among Turkish businesses is particularly high, given experiences in difficult environments such as Iraq and Libya. This has contributed to sensible, if risky actions in Somalia.

Fourth is soft power. Turkey has deployed an array of soft power approaches. These include diplomatic support for Somalia and direct flights on the Turkish national airline from Mogadishu to Istanbul. These pragmatic approaches have also led Turkish businesses to reap major financial rewards and lucrative contracts.

Turkey’s interest has shifted from being primarily humanitarian to one that also takes into account the political and security aspects of the country. Doing so, as stated in the Becoming Global Actor: The Turkish Agenda for the Global South has made the country

“a hybrid non-traditional actor because it combines the traditional political-stability perspective of western powers with the economic-trade perspective of emerging ones.”

It also has broken with the traditional development model for Somalia that has characterised the past three decades.

Hybrid approach
Turkey’s hybrid approach may yet lead to mission creep and draw the country into Somalia’s infamous clan politics. Its increasing role could also put it on a collision course with other states, regionally and internationally.

However, its actions have arguably improved the situation in Somalia over the past six years. This is because Ankara has actually attempted to assuage rather than solve Somalia’s long-standing problems outright. Investment is largely driven by profits and assistance is targeted, coordinated and based on needs.

These interventions rarely come with the types of strings attached that characterise other efforts seeking to restructure Somalia. This has been welcomed by many Somalis for whom requirements for political reform or the creation of accountability mechanisms ring hollow.

Brendon J. Cannon, Assistant Professor of International Security, Department of Humanities and Social Science, Khalifa University

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Islamic Hijab Is More Than Sexuality




Mohamed Ibrahim
Chairman of London Somali Youth Forum, a London based, UK, Social Activist

In reference to the article published on the Evening Standard on 24 January 2016 and written by Nimco Ali who claimed that the Hijab sexualises little girls, I take the view this article is misleading and intended to cause further confusion on a subject, which the writer does not fully have knowledge of.

I respect and support the FGM campaign and the pursuit of equal rights for women and girls everywhere. However, it seems Nimco Ali is now moving the goal post to Hijab wearing young girls. This, I believe, is a distorted view that serves no purpose other than to confuse the public discourse. Hijab, Kippah and the Turban are personnel choice for parents intended to serve a religious purpose for modesty, social protection and religious entity. This is a religious freedom of choice for parents as they are the parental guardians for our children. It is my view the writer is right to start a discussion on the issue. However, the writer fails to understand the Hijab serves many other purposes other than modesty. It is a form of religious identity for our Muslim girls intended to encourage them about their values. It is my view the writer is attacking a value she has missed out on at young age and I would encourage her to seek further knowledge on the subject before throwing extreme form of liberalism on our faces.

I would like to encourage the mainstream media to seek people of knowledge on the subject matter other than channelling their own comforting views through people who clearly do not know what they are talking about. It is becoming a common trend in the media to have Muslims being represented by people who are themselves in need of rehabilitation, distorting the facts and confusing the wider public for personnel interests or beliefs. It is a comforting view for right-wing audience, but serves no purpose for community cohesion,mutual understanding and knowledge.

These writers or activists can express their own opinions. However, when their glass is half full, they can hardly contribute to progress on a subject matter they have no knowledge of. It is also ironic to have a freedom fighter for women/girls seeking to limit the religious freedoms of our parents and children. The writer’s views have no logic of reasoning, coherence and knowledge of this subject matter.

Mohamed Ibrahim

Chairman of London Somali Youth Forum, a London based, UK, Social Activist
@Mi_shiine (Twitter) 

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