30 March 2013

Somalia: Political Disconnect Breeding Discontent in Somalia [editorial]


Hassan Sheikh Mohamud wants a new Somalia that is centralized, with power and resources concentrated in Mogadishu, and he thinks he can manipulate the meaning and constitutional principle of federalism.

Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon visited the country's southern port city of Kismayo during the last week of March 2013, to assess local conditions and to hold discussions with the local administration regarding the Jubaland state formation process. This was a significant visit in particular since the new leaders of the Somali Federal Government (SFG) have been overtly obsessive about Kismayo, even as criminal and inhumane acts of rape, hostage taking and other human rights abuses took place in Mogadishu's IDP camps, perpetrated by Somali "government forces" or militias allied to government forces. This is, of course, according to a new damaging 80-page report published by Human Rights Watch on March 28, 2013.

Since 2011, local communities in Lower Jubba, Middle Jubba and Gedo regions, have been self-organizing, signing agreements and establishing an interim charter, with the long-term goal of establishing a state administration for the three regions in Somalia's deep south. As such, the 'Jubaland process' initiated in Nairobi as Kismayo and its environs remained in the hands of Al Shabaab militants at the time; by September 2012, after Somali local forces aided by Kenyan-AMISOM troops seized Kismayo, the 'Jubaland process' moved from Nairobi to Kismayo.

The Jubaland process has been inclusive, insofar as concerns local communities who have traditionally inhabited the three regions of Jubaland - Lower Jubba, Middle Jubba and Gedo regions. Jubaland's top leaders, most notably Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed Islam (Ahmed Madobe), have been vocally clear about their intentions and have invited local communities to partake in the community-led state formation process. As over 400 delegates from a wide range of local clans are currently in Kismayo for the Jubaland convention, it has become increasingly clear that local communities are not expecting any miracles from Mogadishu, and are increasingly relying on their own manpower and resources to manage local affairs and to establish Jubaland, adopting a community-led process similarly used in Somaliland in 1993 and Puntland in 1998.

Enter Hassan Sheikh

Coincidentally, around the same time as the recapture of Kismayo, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was elected as the first president of the Federal Republic of Somalia. By February 2013, President Hassan travelled to Washington, London and Brussels, and was heralded by Western powers as the new leader of Somalia's first "permanent government" in over 22 years.

From the onset, President Hassan has publicly rejected the Jubaland process, but his reasoning and his evidence has been weak and self-damaging. The President has repeatedly argued that Somalia "is not ready for federalism yet" and, as such, Mogadishu should appoint "governors" to the administrative regions for an interim period, followed by a state formation process led by the Somali Federal Government. Naturally, this argument runs contrary to exactly what President Hassan swore to lead - the Federal Republic of Somalia, with a Federal Constitution that permits the voluntary merger of two or more of Somalia's former 18 administrative regions. Not to mention that the Jubaland process began prior to President Hassan's election, in the days when he was an NGO man in Mogadishu.

But President Hassan is not the only leader to oppose Jubaland. Prior to him, former President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed opposed the Jubaland political process that was underway in Nairobi, and he vehemently opposed Somali local forces trained by neighboring Kenya, with the aim of liberating Kismayo from Al Shabaab militants. In 2011, former President Sharif demanded that the Kenya-trained forces be deployed in Mogadishu to fight Al Shabaab - in essence, the forces trained to liberate Jubaland should fight for Mogadishu, which was teeming with Somali forces and AMISOM troops, and the liberation of Kismayo should be either postponed or neglected completely. Of course, Somali local forces and the Jubaland communities rejected former President Sharif's demands and the Jubaland process continued to build up.

So what exactly does the policy of President Hassan have in common with the policy of former President Sharif?

The two men come from vastly different backgrounds. Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was a schoolteacher, who rose to become a leader in the Islamic Courts Union of 2006, and emerged as the TFG President in 2009. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was a relatively unknown politician, formerly tied to the late Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed, Mogadishu's genocidal warlord of 1991-1996 who also fought American troops in 1993. In the later years, Hassan Sheikh was an academic tied to SIMAD and worked closely with NGOs in Somalia. He was not as evidently involved with the bloodshed in Somalia, but his ties to Gen. Aideed and the USC genocidal militia must raise eyebrows many corners of Somalia.

Political discontent

Hassan Sheikh Mohamud wants a new Somalia that is centralized, with power and resources concentrated in Mogadishu, and he thinks he can manipulate the meaning and constitutional principle of federalism. This is clear when one views President Hassan's policy of nominating "governors" in Bay and Hiran regions; in Bay region, there is growing discontent regarding President Hassan's interference in local affairs, and the sudden withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Huddur, capital of Bakool region, is a sign with a dual meaning: 1) Ethiopian troops cannot stay in Somalia indefinitely and Ethiopia, which is not a member of AMISOM, is free to make its decisions based on its own national security interests; and 2) Al Shabaab militant group, which seized Huddur less than a day after Ethiopian pullout, is a potent force throughout south-central Somalia, as Al Shabaab still controls rural areas outside of provincial capitals seized by Ethiopian troops or AMISOM forces.

President Hassan's political cards are limited. Within seven months of his election, he has managed to politically alienate constituencies in different parts of Somalia, including growing political discontent amongst Mogadishu's dominant community. While single-mindedly focusing on Kismayo, President Hassan neglected his own Mogadishu backyard, where government troops participated in human rights abuses of IDP communities.

Imagine, a President criticizing local communities in Kismayo for marshaling their forces to expel Al Shabaab militants and for self-organizing a community convention to establish Jubaland state, while he neglects to give adequate attention to the IDP communities in need, suffering in the camps around Mogadishu? Does President Hassan have his priority list in correct order, or has Somalia's clearly partisan President been suffocated by clan power struggles to the point of incompetency?

Somalia adopted federalism. To be precise, the Somali National Constituent Assembly adopted the country's Provisional Federal Constitution in Mogadishu, on August 1, 2012. President Hassan swore on this constitution and he will be judged on his adherence to the constitution. The constitution is the only thing that symbolizes whatever unity is left in Somalia. If President Hassan tramples on the constitution himself, what does he expect other political actors in Somalia to do?

The Jubaland people, and all other communities of Somalia, have the right to self-determination, similarly to the people of Beledweyne and the people of Baidoa. Mogadishu cannot dictate to Jubaland and, unless power and resources is balanced between the federal government and the states, the political and security nightmares of Somalia will continue to evolve - with or without a permanent government.

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