Sabahi (Washington, DC)

7 March 2014

Somalia: Competing Baidoa Conferences Highlight Pitfalls of Federalism Process

Mogadishu — Tensions continue to rise among various stakeholders in Baidoa over the formation of a new federal state, bringing into question once more Somalia's ability to implement federalism.

On March 3rd, Madobe Nunow Mohamed was elected president of a new regional administration called South-western State comprising Bay, Bakol, Lower Shabelle, Gedo, Lower Jubba and Middle Jubba regions. However, three of those regions -- Gedo, Middle Jubba and Lower Jubba -- had previously united to form the Interim Jubba Administration (IJA) in 2013.

Mohamed dismissed criticism that his election was out of order, saying more than 850 delegates, including politicians and traditional elders representing the territories in question, voted him into office.

Responding to accusations that his election undermines the IJA, he contends that the IJA's mandate was for six months only, making the Kismayo-based administration "illegal" and a non-issue.

"Therefore, we will not concern ourselves with that administration," Mohamed told Sabahi. "We have other major tasks before us, which are to complete what is left of [forming] our administration."

Abdulkadir Abdirahman Ali, a 41-year-old delegate who participated in the South-western State regional conference, said the delegates' vote reflects the will of all the people who live in the regions.

Nonetheless, he said he welcomed residents who oppose the newly formed administration and are interested in dialogue.

"We want to determine the future of our regions and the country's constitution gives us the right [to do so]," Ali told Sabahi. "We support our federal government and similarly we would like the government to recognise the will of the people, whatever region they reside in."

Rival regional conference continues:

But Abdullahi Yahye, a traditional elder from Lower Jubba who helped form the IJA, said the people of the Jubba regions were not involved in the creation of the new Baidoa-based regional government.

The South-western State has "nothing to do with the people of the Jubbas", he said.

"No one consulted with us regarding an administration being built in Baidoa," he told Sabahi. "I would advise our brothers [in Baidoa] to refrain from claiming regions that already have recognised regional administrations."

Meanwhile, a rival regional conference is still under way in Baidoa, with delegates there supporting the formation of a three-region federal state comprising Bay, Bakol and Lower Shabelle.

Siid Ali Mohamed, one of 650 delegates participating in the conference, told Sabahi that the delegates have already completed a state constitution, approved a state flag and nominated members of a new state parliament that will elect the president. An exact date for the vote has not yet been selected, he said.

Mohamed dismissed the legitimacy of the Madobe Nunow Mohamed presidency saying a majority of the people living in the region want a three-region state.

"We have the support of the people living in Bay, Bakol and Lower Shabelle regions. Our [federal] government supports the formation of the three-region administration and we are not concerned about the group that formed the six-region administration, but if they are willing to talk, we welcome it," Mohamed said.

Building federal states with grassroots support:

Dissent over how to split the territory and form a regional administration under Somalia's federal government has been percolating among segments of the population living in the six regions since the formation of the IJA last year, with some taking to the streets to protest reconciliation agreements and formal recognition of the IJA.

The federal government of Somalia (FGS) has reiterated its support of a three-region state, with Minister of Interior and Federalism Abdullahi Godah Barre calling on stakeholders to "avoid unnecessary conflict that may dislocate our efforts to rebuild this country".

"In light of the agreement between the FGS and the Interim Jubba Administration last August in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the federal government of Somalia upholds the outcome of that agreement," Barre told reporters in Mogadishu on March 3rd.

"The FGS is ready to lead the process of federalisation, particularly the formation of a federal state by the people in Bay, Bakol and Lower Shabelle regions," Barre said.

Lawmaker Abdirahman Hosh Jibril, who served as Minister of Constitutional Affairs and Reconciliation under Transitional Federal Government Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, said the crisis in Baidoa was a result of the federal government skipping crucial steps that should have been taken before state administrations were formed.

Before attempting to form a federal state, a committee must be formed to deal with regional borders, followed by the establishment of local governments starting at the village and district level.

The federal government has also failed to implement laws passed by the parliament that deal with how to set up regional administrations, which could have prevented the crisis in Baidoa and others from periodically recurring, he said.

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