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Opinion

How Federalism Can Work in Somalia

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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.

MANDATE TO LEAD

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.

NEUTRALITY IN REGIONAL CRISIS

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.

FEDERALIZING SOMALIA

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.

COOPERATIVE FEDERALISM

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.

FOUNDATIONS OF SECURITY

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

Opinion

More airstrikes, less aid not enough to secure Somalia

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The end-of-2017 U.S. decision to suspend military aid to the Somali national army until the federal government can demonstrate better accountability and performance of its forces is appropriate.

However, as I saw during my December research in Somalia, even combined with the significant increase in U.S. air strikes against the jihadi group Al Shabab, the U.S. policy is inadequate.

To mitigate terrorism threats and foster stability in the country, the United States must do what the Trump administration explicitly disavows: Focus on internal governance and state-building and insist on far broader accountability of Somalia’s federal and state governments and powerbrokers toward their citizens. Otherwise, the brutal Shabab or its mutation will remain entrenched.

In 2016, Somalia received about $250 million from the international community for its security sector, following years of similar contributions. Yet, its army is not able to engage even in joint patrolling with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces, let alone hold territories nominally cleared of al Shabab.

The Somali National Army (SNA) rosters have some 29,000 individuals on its payroll, of which some 12,000 may actually be soldiers with some capacity to fight. The rest are ghost soldiers, widows and the elderly. Despite the massive international aid, the military’s training remains inadequate, and equipment is siphoned off to clans and al Shabab.

Because of theft and corruption, soldiers’ salaries are not paid regularly, though Somalia’s current president Mohamad Abdullaji “Farmajo” Mohamad managed to cut the salary arrears from six months to two. As with many aspects of Somalia’s social and political life, the soldiers’ primary loyalties are not to the state, but to fractious clans.

Somali national security forces do not take the fight to al Shabab; but neither, any longer, does the supposedly 22,000-strong AMISOM. For some two years, it has remained in static positions, often locked-in garrisons.

It too struggles with effectively holding territory, with various clan and warlord militias and semi-official police forces most frequently performing that function. Often they extort local populations, engage in retaliation against rival and minority clans or steal land and other economic resources.

Still, when AMISOM withdraws from territories, as happened in 2017 and with further “conditions-based” withdrawals slated by 2020, security tends to deteriorate significantly and al Shabab fills the void. Its return exacerbates insecurity as the group punishes collaborators with AMISOM and the government.

Although much weaker than in 2012, al Shabab still controls significant territory and regularly conducts attacks in much of the country, including in Mogadishu. The intensified U.S. air strikes on al Shabab’s massing forces and vehicles significantly complicate its operations.

But they mostly disperse the militants, including to Mogadishu, with the same security vacuum left behind. Reliance on flipped and washed-out Shabab commanders, such as Ahmed Madobe in Kismayo and recently Mukhtar Robow and their militias, may bring immediate tactical gains. But if the politics and governance this unleashes remains predatory, discriminatory and capricious, the gains are ephemeral.

Although only numbering between 2,000 and 3,000 fighters, and despite its brutal and unpopular backward version of Islam, al Shabab remains deeply entrenched. Systematically, it outperforms the national government and local powerbrokers in the provision of order and brutal, although not corrupt, justice.

Meanwhile, official Somali political processes and public institutions remain in the pockets of powerful clans, which discriminate against their rivals and advance narrow parochial interests. They are also pervaded by corruption and usurpation of public resources for private gain.

Thus, even Mogadishu residents often prefer to approach al Shabab for the resolution of land and other disputes: Its decisions are widely seen as swift and not corrupt. Using al Shabab-controlled roads is predictable and safe at least for those who don’t collaborate with the government. Buses, taxis and trucks are charged a flat fee upon arriving at a Shabab checkpoint and given a receipt. Their cargo is safe.

Roads controlled by Somali national forces or militias feature many unpredictable fees and robberies are frequent. Thus Somali businessmen, including those based in Mogadishu, often hire al Shabab for security provision for their businesses.

Al Shabab also adroitly exploits widespread clan discrimination, aligning itself with weaker clans and providing them with protection and resource access. Its domestically-oriented recruitment propaganda emphasizes very specific local grievances and cases of power abuse and resource theft, not ideology.

For the United States to robustly weaken al Shabab, it must induce the Somali government to be accountable to the citizens, to deliver public services and to minimize clan discrimination and the exclusion of minority clans.

Priority must be given to reducing corruption in the justice system and in public and commercial contracts and to expanding access to resources for less powerful clans and individuals.

At the end of the day, al Shabab will need to be integrated into Somali society through accountability and reconciliation processes to which the various clan militias and flipped powerbrokers will also need to be subjected.

Vanda Felbab-Brown is a senior fellow in the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution.

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Opinion

A Trump decree is killing innocent civilians in Somalia

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US President Donald Trump loves signing executive orders. During his first year in office, he has signed dozens of controversial orders on a wide variety of subjects, ranging from national security to trade.

Some of these executive orders, such as the ones on the Muslim travel ban and the Mexican border wall, received a lot of media attention and triggered protests around the world. But many other decisions by the president, causing death and destruction in faraway places like Somalia, went considerably unnoticed.

Only weeks after taking office, Trump signed a directive declaring parts of Somalia an “area of active hostilities”. This declaration relaxed some of the rules aimed at preventing civilian casualties when the US military carries out counterterrorism strikes in Somalia.

The Pentagon claimed that this order expanded its targeting authority “to defeat al-Shabab in Somalia” in partnership with the African Union and Somali forces. But, in practice, what this order did was little more than allow US soldiers to “kill at will” and with impunity within the borders of Somalia.

This is illegal, immoral and counterproductive.

An illegal order
The US aerial bombardment of Somalia started during George Bush’s “war on terror”, but the number of civilian casualties was minimal back then. Since the current US president “relaxed” the rules of engagement, the number and scope of these attacks increased dramatically, leading to many civilian casualties.

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there were 32 to 36 reported US drone strikes in Somalia between 2001 and 2016. In 2017, 34 air and drone strikes were carried out, killing more than 200 people.

Al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda-linked militant group, is the official target of most US drone strikes in Somalia. Its ultimate objective is to overthrow the government in Mogadishu and establish a new state in its place. Several African nations have been battling the armed group for over a decade, but Western nations, including the US, are now overtly leading the fight.

In the process, Washington appears to be relying on backdoor dealings and violating the sovereignty of an independent nation. It is not clear who authorises the air and drone strikes the US is conducting.

Somalia is not the “failed state” it once was – it is no longer a playground for uninvited foreigners. Today, there’s an internationally recognised administration in Mogadishu with functioning judicial, legislative and executive branches, and this administration, not Donald Trump, should be the one “authorising” the measures that can be used in the fight against al-Shabab in the country.

Somalia’s constitution clearly states that the country’s sovereignty is inviolable. Its legislative and executive branches are responsible for the security of the nation and only they can decide on military action. Without their approval, attacks are in violation of the nation’s sovereignty and are therefore illegal.

Immoral attacks on innocent civilians
The US cites its national interests and security as a pretext to conduct attacks on alleged al-Shabab bases in Somalia. No one is denying some of those killed as result of these strikes are indeed al-Shabab fighters, but the vast majority of the victims are civilians.

We know this because al-Shabab usually confirms the deaths of its senior commanders and fighters. We have witnessed this when Sheikh Ali Jabal, a senior al-Shabab commander in Somalia, was killed in a US strike in August last year. “The cowardly American enemy planes tried to strike him,” the group said in a statement circulated on social media. “The first missed him and the second hit, making him a martyr.”

Al-Shabab leaders do not try to hide the deaths of the group’s commanders and members, because they know that this would be a hard and futile task. Information about these deaths can easily surface through the clans and communities their fighters hail from.

So, when we see statements by US forces declaring that they killed dozens of “terrorists” in Somalia and hear no confirmation from al-Shabab leadership about these deaths, we question the validity of US claims about the identities of the victims.

Most civilian deaths do not get global attention because the attacks take place in al-Shabab-controlled areas. This makes it impossible for journalists and international human rights groups to investigate.

Sometimes local media publish photos and names of the civilian victims of US attacks. But even this depends on the victim’s clan. If a victim belongs to a minority clan that holds no political power, the government will easily dismiss them as “terrorist sympathisers”.

On August 17, 2017, the US launched three precision air strikes in the southern town of Jilib. US Africa Command released a statement claiming to have “killed terrorists”. However, the victims, seven of them, were civilians from the same family. Photos of their bodies and the remnants of their house were widely published in Somali media. But the victims belonged to a minority clan that has no power and influence in Somalia, and their relatives’ desperate plea for justice perished soon after they buried their loved ones.

A few days later, another US-led military raid took place in Bariire village, 45km from Mogadishu, killing 10 people, including children. Again, the Somali government and the US claimed that they only “killed terrorists”. This time, however, the victims hailed from an influential clan. Survivors and relatives challenged the false official claims about the attack.

To prove their case, family members took an unprecedented step and transported the victims’ bodies to the capital city to put them on display. Due to the pressure, government officials met relevant clan elders, apologised and agreed to pay compensation.

Despite the solid evidence and a confirmation from the Somali government, the US administration still insists that victims of this attack were not civilians. By denying facts, the Trump administration is damaging US reputation as a nation that respects human rights and the rule of law.

A counterproductive campaign
The US military campaign in Somalia will not yield any results.

Bombs dropped from the sky will certainly take out a few al-Shabab commanders; two of their former leaders were already killed by the US. They may also force their operatives into hiding or restrict their movements. But killing a few commanders and fighters isn’t going to bring the demise of the group.

After all, al-Shabab’s success is not based on individuals – it’s based on an ideology and you cannot defeat an ideology with bombs.

Somalis won’t be outraged over the fight against al-Shabab and the killing of the group’s fighters. People in the country understand these men have signed up to kill or be killed.

But the indiscriminate killings of civilians is antagonising Somalis. This gives legitimacy to the militant group as a resistance movement, especially within communities living under its rule. Every innocent person killed by the US is a gain for al-Shabab. Victims’ family members and fellow clansmen will seek retaliation. To them, revenge is an act of justice.

Most of the victims of US military operations in Somalia are farmers and nomads who have no animosity towards the American people. US bombardment is forcing many to flee their homes. In recent months, we have seen “drone refugees” arriving in Mogadishu’s overcrowded camps for the internally displaced. Children are traumatised by the constant fear of bombs falling from the sky.

Mr Trump, your bombs are breeding the next generation of suicide bombers in Somalia. Fight al-Shabab but stop terrorising innocent Somalis. To achieve any success, you must respect international and Somali law, reverse your immoral actions and rethink your strategy in Somalia.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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Briefing Room

Why grassroot reconciliation can speed up rebuilding of Kenya’s neigbour Somalia

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I was at a restaurant in Mogadishu in 2014 when a man approached me and unexpectedly confessed to having been part of the gang that attacked my home in Mogadishu in 1992 in which my 18-month-old daughter, Yasmin, was brutally killed.

The man then fervently and remorsefully begged for my forgiveness, saying the matter had troubled him for many years. Initially, I felt so much anger with memories of my lifeless daughter flooding back to my mind. I felt like killing him on the spot to revenge my daughter’s death.

But after some moments of silence, I felt some calm return to my heart. I then told him I had forgiven him. The man hugged me and we both couldn’t hold back tears. Immediately after the incident, I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt whole again. This personal incident, if nothing else, strengthened my conviction about the need for reconciliation to heal Somalia.

No doubt, Somalia is making modest progress in rebuilding itself from the destruction wrought by decades of catastrophic civil war but the crucial agenda of grassroots truth, justice and reconciliation is not receiving the attention it desperately deserves.

The civil war not only precipitated the meltdown of state institutions and destruction of infrastructure and the economy, but also the unravelling of the social and cultural fabric of the country. Without deliberate efforts to rebuild the shattered trust and goodwill and address deep-seated grievances between individuals, families and communities at the grassroots level, reconstruction efforts will not be sustainable and durable.

Somalia is one of the few countries in Africa with a homogenous population that shares language, religion, bloodlines and culture but the widespread violence, human rights violations and injustices during the civil war exacerbated social divisions and disharmony mainly along clan lines.

Until now, not much has been done to repair those relationships, build bridges and address underlying grievances thus eliminating common spaces for dialogue, accommodation and coexistence. There have been many conferences since the early 1990s ostensibly to bring about reconciliation between various segments of the Somali population but they have hardly had any impact in the grassroots.

This is partly because the initiatives have largely been dominated by politicians and clan leaders, including warlords, without much involvement of the people in the grassroots who should be the main drivers of such initiatives in a bottom-up way. In fact, the conferences have been more about power-sharing between clan leaders than fostering genuine grassroots truth, justice and reconciliation.

Searing

The searing impact of the Somali civil war has been so widespread that it is difficult to find a Somali national who is not nursing deep-seated grievance and trauma due to the killing of loved ones or loss of property or dignity. That’s why the time for Somalia to have its own indigenous process of truth, justice and reconciliation is long overdue.

The process will give space to the people to explore the full extent of the crimes and violations that occurred in the civil war and continue to occur; come to terms with the pain, anger and grief as well as look into appropriate avenues of justice, compensation, forgiveness and reconciliation.

‘When the incident was reported by local media, similar incidences also emerged in various parts of the country. That’s why since then I have been keen to use that personal story with a hope of promoting grassroots reconciliation in Somalia. However, there is a pressing need for a more structured process so that the Somali nationals can explore the dark past together and come to terms to it.

Somalia can benefit from the experiences of countries such as Rwanda which deployed traditional methods of justice and reconciliation to address the aftermath of the 1994 genocide. Somalia too has rich traditional and religious systems that can be tapped to successfully address to rebuild the shattered social fabric in the war-torn country.

Before Somalia can take its rightful place in the community of nations, it must bravely face and address the horrors and dark corners of its history during the civil war through a grassroots truth, justice and reconciliation process.

By Ambassador Mohamed Ali Nur

Ambassador Nur (Americo) is a former Presidential candidate in Somalia (2017) and former Somalia envoy to Kenya (2007-2015) nabad1012@gmail.com

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