opinionBy Abdul Ghelleh
There have been numerous failed attempts to restore collapsed Somalia over the past two decades. A nation-building model that takes into account the society's nomadic culture and the deeply embedded historical narratives that shape the people's worldviews stands a chance.
Finding the right framework for a workable governance system for Somalia has been problematic for both governments in the West and academics from around the world for more than two decades. To this day, the need to reconstruct the Somali state is being merely considered as a means to counter Terrorism and Piracy, with little urgency for the highly important issue of what to do with the overall nature of state failure. It's also seen, albeit with less importance, as having the potential to destabilise the East Africa region. But the response to the conflict has so far been inadequate, because the policy-makers continuously misunderstand the Somali social structures and cultural narratives. Therefore, the issue of state building has become an endless academic discourse, and the actual resolution to the conflict eluding everyone involved for so long. Since 1991, every attempt to find some sort of a centralised governance system for Somalia - the latest one being the blurred and poorly defined federal system - has so far failed.
In fact inadequate knowledge and skills can prolong conflicts (as we now see in Somalia and Afghanistan) and are a major problem when it comes to reaching trust building levels. And a cognitive cultural misunderstanding can create deficiency in policy making processes and can mislead those trying to find solutions to the conflicts.
Firstly, this paper aims to measure how local actors - the federal government, the regional governments and the civil society - can come together as a team able to work through their differences and build cohesiveness among them to create the necessary environment to develop their conflict resolution skills. And secondly, it will provide an alternative approach of block by block state building mechanisms to external stakeholders, namely the United Nations agencies, interested individual countries and non-governmental organisation; and to lay down the road map for their future cooperation in order to achieve successful stabilisation of the country.
I have closely observed from my vantage point in Nairobi at the latest United Nations supported government in Mogadishu and compared it to a number of federal systems and self-governing states within states in different continents, including the devolved system in the unitary state of the United Kingdom, the federal Directorial Switzerland, the federal Ethiopia, the federal United States of America, the federal Germany and the United Arab Emirates, and I have concluded that none of these governance systems can be identified with the Somali society (in a separate paper, I will go into detail on the ways in which all the world's functioning federal systems of governance can be incompatible with traditional societies, with particular focus on the Somali society). But without some components of traditional order - something that traditional societies can immediately identify themselves with - modern governance system would be very difficult, almost impossible, to transfer to them.
At this stage, I set out to shed some light on the urgent need for an alternative system governance for Somalia which can combine 'federalism and clan-ism' in a future Somali state structure, and will vigorously investigate the dynamics of societal relationship with modern statehood, the rule of law and identity, in order to establish the legitimacy of a functioning state.
A historical prospective would be central to this approach, starting with the society's nomadic culture from the middle ages to the present day and colonial period; and the deeply imbedded historical narratives that shape worldviews, opinions and norms of the Somali society.
This paper together with an upcoming second part will make a theoretical contribution and recommendations to a workable solution to the Somalia conflict and to provide a richness of a case study scenario to underpin the reconstruction of a fragmented social order in the Horn of Africa country.
An organic Somali governance process is currently underway whereby individual regions are currently building internationally supported institutional foundations for self-governance. After concluding my study, I will be recommending that Somalia should be assisted in establishing and strengthening five regional governments with Equal Powers. And it's envisaged that the heads of these regions will eventually sit down together and appoint their chairman, who will then act as the president and the head of state. This process would be implemented through elections by the five regional government's elected assemblies or would be based on a pre-agreed rotating presidency, where one region takes the chairmanship for a certain period of time. In fact this removes the grievances held by the other regions as the power and resources are currently concentrated in Mogadishu, where overwhelmingly one clan dominates the national political landscape, and leaves little room for members from the other clans to be elected to the presidency.
The international community may not have realised this but the lack of a tangible political progress since 2008 can be largely linked to the semi-centralised system in Mogadishu, as the ownership of the federal government is left unchecked with a single clan.
A noticeable activity of the organic Somali governance process is already in motion in most areas of the country and can be utilised rather than ignored. Somaliland and Puntland, for example, had been relatively functioning for nearly two decades, and Jubbaland has joined the process in 2013 when the Kenya army helped pacify the Shabab in the regional capital, Kismayo. And earlier this year, a forth process which vowed to establish a South-Western State, has strengthened the position of this approach.
At this early stage of the proposed Somali 'Regional and Clan Federalism', only one fifth of the country remains without a name, and has yet to establish boundaries for regional governance. Individual regions will inevitably contain various clan components in it and, although one or two clans or sub-clans may dominate the regional state legislature, they will not, necessarily, acquire an unfettered power, as all the other clans within the region are expected to make at least fifty per cent of the region's population.
Once all the five regional administrative systems have been completed, the customary cultural similarities and/or variations within the Somali society (those in the midlands, for example, share a common denominator among themselves than with those in the deep south) will eventually act as a guarantor for the smooth running of the regional administrations, and their future relationships with the central government. And Mogadishu and its immediate environs would be - as most Somalis agree upon - recognised as federal territory.
This initiative is intended to utilize the available international conflict reduction and institution building programmes while at the same time enhancing the current support systems for Somalia. But first and foremost, the federal system should be redefined and internal territorial boundaries appropriately marked. Collaborative working relationships would be established with international partners that are active on the ground, including the United Nations, the Africa Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the individual countries like Britain and Turkey.
Under this initiative, comparative studies of the Sierra Leone and Afghanistan cases will be carried out, and the operations of the current Somalia Stabilisation programme will be revisited to underpin the achievements of the past five years. This includes both the on-going military campaign against the Shabab and a new 'Regional Social Stabilisation' programme (RSSP) - I will discuss this further on a follow up paper. The international military stabilisation aspect could stand alone or work closely with a revamped local security force which will provide support to the new regional social stabilisation programme.
This new RSSP will have a cultural revival branch, which would help restore the Somali social norms to pre-1990s levels. At this stage, we would be in sensitive area which also required substantial funding, but it would be achieved through mass education of the country's youth population and would involve a major reform of the media, which is constantly under intimidation and largely controlled by those with extremist tendencies.
In fact the current international efforts on the ground in Somalia are depressingly fragmented, with the individual countries and the countless NGOs delivering their assistance separately. This will have negative impact on the whole process as it lacks direction and coordination, together with the undefined federal system confusing the successive Somali governments and the country's general population since 1991.
Building on clan-based traditional system of conflict resolution and supplementing it with a dimension of delicately removing discriminatory social and gender imbalances through peaceful social change are an important part of this approach. Hardening Islamic attitudes and the Arabisation of the Somali society were taken to a new level immediately after the state institutions failed in 1991, adding a religious dimension to a conflict which was originally driven by clan-based and power hungry armed warlords. The regional social stabilisation programme would exclusively work towards addressing and delivering bespoke programmes for the general civilian population while the international military efforts continue its campaign in dealing with armed extremist groups throughout the country.
As Richard Dowden, the veteran Africa news correspondent who is now the president of the Royal Africa Society, summed up in one of his last articles to the Independent in the early 1990s: 'the Somali Taliban was born soon after the overthrow of the secular dictator'. This could be true but Somalia's misfortunes can be reversed if the right support systems and policies were put in place and effectively implemented throughout the country.
Knowledge-based and skilfully applied policy making processes serve as a framework to set a successful road map for countries that are emerging from conflicts, statelessness, political violence and terrorism. In fact an inclusive, blended approach (and this should include the civil society) enables owners of the conflict and those trying to assist them to collaborate to form improved trust and understanding that meets the identified goals of all parties involved.
Policies that focus on partnership, flexibility and inclusion (unfortunately, we see very little of these in Somalia at this stage) can safe time, costs and, most importantly, live. Only when all parties do their part and understand the processes involved, can we achieve the required results in the world's most troublesome country.
THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR/S AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM