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Has Federalism in Somalia Prevented The Rise Of Dictatorship?
Dahir M Mahmoud
Monday, 21, September 2020
The only Somali constitution adopted through a universal vote was the Somali constitution of 1960 which defined the first Somali republic as an independent, sovereign, democratic and unitary republic.
Post-independence Somali leaders viewed the unitary system as an effective tool to maintain national unity, stability and economic growth. The civilian government of 1960 to 1969 was subsequently followed by a totalitarian military regime which dragged the country into a Civil War in 1991. It also created distrust among communities and eliminated Somali nationalism and brotherhood.
To reconcile national unity and the negative outcomes of the Civil War, Somali delegations agreed to establish a federal republic to hold the country together. The federation was defined in the transitional charter 2004, and then in the provisional constitution of 2012 – “ Somalia is a federal, sovereign, and democratic republic founded on the inclusive representation of people, a multiparty system and social justice”.
Somali people today are divided along federalist lines. Supporters argue that the federation ensures the separation of powers and prevents the rise of a dictatorial central government - whereas sceptics claim that the tribal federal system could jeopardize national unity and territorial integrity.
The elected Federal Government of 2012, ensured the expansion of federalism and created the remaining federal member states despite fierce criticism on the formation and the involvement of neighbouring countries. In early 2017, the Somali Federal Parliament (the House of People and the Upper House) elected the Somali federal president. He spearheaded a campaign to implement a strong central government, declared that there was a need to build a strong central government in his speech at the Somali National University graduation ceremony 24 June 2019. The strong central government was an option proposed in the article - The Porcupine Dilemma: Governance and Transition in Somalia 2007.
Strong central government campaign started at federal institutions, the president and his group (NN) took control of all three branches of the federal government (Executive, Legislative and Judiciary). UN report on Somalia 2nd May 2018 stated that a motion of no confidence was filed against the speaker of the House of People due to rejection of attempts by the federal government to arrest and remove sitting parliamentarians. The speaker lost his position defending the immunity of the members of the parliament.
After full control of the three branches of the federal government under the slogan “Strong central government”, the president and his group (NN) started intervention into federal member states. Federal government (FG) employed various tactics to intervene into federal member states (FMS) affairs such as corruption, manipulation of the election, deployment of the federal army without consent, use of Ethiopian AMISOM forces, banning air transport and exploiting the distribution of development funds. FG and FMS meeting in Garowe from 5 – 10 May 2019, FMS reiterated their grievances including the lack of consultation on the key political process and federal legislation and alleged interference in state affairs. Consequently, the central government succeeded in creating dependent federal member states (Hirshabele, Galmudug and Southwest) while the other two (Jubbaland and Puntland) survived as independent regional states.
Participation of FMS in national legislation and policymaking is based on the constitution or conventional practice. For example, in Canada, the PM meets heads of provinces as a conventional practice but in Pakistan, the federal PM is under constitutional obligation to meet chief ministers of provinces to formulate and regulate policies. Similarly, in Somalia, it is a constitutional obligation to convene an annual conference of executive heads of FG and FMS in order to discuss and agree on national unity, security, finance and information sharing- Art.51(3) of the provisional constitution.
In the middle of the FG campaign on building a strong central government, FG term comes to an end and power transfer became inevitable. Despite the FG intending to extend term-limits and manipulate elections, it is time to seek compromise with FMS. The election is not in the single list of FG powers and responsibilities enlisted in Art: 54 of the provisional constitution. Election law enacted by federal parliament and executed FMS so it is a shared responsibility. This responsibility is subject to agreement between FG and FMS. There are several points to be clarified in the agreement such as federal election body, state election body, harmonization of state election law with federal election law and implementation guidance. The Dhusamareb Electoral Consultative Conference affirms that elections are practically a responsibility between the federal government and federal member states. The central government had to reach an agreement with FMS and relinquish its orders to go to the polls. The Mogadishu agreement is evidence that the election is a joint responsibility between the federal government and FMS. The FG president declared that the federal parliament will have the final decision on the election agreement which may create further confusion on election responsibility and cause a delay.
The president knew that if the Dhusamareb conference failed, the regional governments will ensure that the state governments would still function independently due to the federal system. Thus Somali federal member states prevented dictatorial central government and dictatorship is a matter in the past (dead and buried). Somali people realised the benefit of federalism as a shield against the dictatorial central government.
Dahir M. Mahmoud (Dawilow) is a Senior legal advisor based in London, UK.
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