first published by AfricanArguments, 26 Jun 2014
Somalia has achieved important progress since the onset of the year of 2014. Most prominent among the positive developments is the push-back of al-Shabaab, realised by a joint military offensive of the Somali Armed Forces (SAF) and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). While security remains precarious, the territorial gains have provided the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) with an opportunity to extend its administrative reach – a crucial precondition for its long-term state-building project and endeavour to hold country-wide elections by 2016.
However, it remains questionable whether the government of Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed will succeed in reaping sufficient benefits in order to be able to propel the country’s state-building process. Although advances against the terrorist organisation are crucial, the fight against al-Shabaab constitutes only part of the equation. Another basic element lies in the process of erecting functional structures of governance in the context of Somalia’s federal agenda. Yet, recent quarrels at the sub-national level raise the fear that Somalia may be heading from fragility to fragmentation.
The EU-ISS policy brief ‘Somalia’s federal agenda: From fragility to fragmentation?’ takes a closer look at this proposition. The paper critically assesses the recent trajectory the country has embarked upon, putting a particular focus on Somalia’s federalism process and its implications for the state’s endeavour to establish lasting peace and stability. The paper shows that the political ‘transition’ that Somalia officially terminated with the formation of the FGS in September 2012 is in full swing, and that this process carries centrifugal tendencies that risk renewed conflict.
A key challenge Somalia faces lies in the ad-hoc nature of the process that underpins the formation of federal member states. While the evolution of regional tensions had to be expected, the resulting tug-of-war among Somali actors has hampered political progress. It also led to increased factionalism, propelling local tensions and clan-related cleavages. Somalia’s history provides ample evidence of the dangers this trajectory entails. Apart from compromising the state-building progress achieved to date, increased fragmentation could also lead to a reinvigoration of al-Shabaab, which has always been effective in exploiting local grievances and national disunity.
In order to prevent Somalia from sliding from fragility to fragmentation, the policy brief proposes that Somalia’s international partners may contemplate strengthening the central administration vis-à-vis the federal member states and supporting a just process by which federal polities are established. In part, this could be done by helping the FGS to institutionalise the process that underpins the formation of federal member states, and bolstering the Boundaries and Federation Commission that the Provisional Constitution tasked the FGS to create. This could be achieved by making it clear that international development funding to regional administrations will hinge on their prior approval by the FGS.
Moreover, the international community needs to ensure that its support towards Somalia’s national process of federalisation does not fuel internal conflict. One possibility lies in adopting a flexible process that provides the FGS with sufficient room for political manoeuvre, and hands ownership over the state-making process to the Somali people. Consequently, all donors should strongly adhere to the Somali Compact, as it continues to be the most suitable framework to assist the FGS in rebuilding basic and durable state functions. Even though the Somali Compact is not the silver bullet that will turn the long-time ‘failed state’ of Somalia into a stellar democracy, its principle tenets constitute an important step in reconstructing Somalia – not least by coordinating its international supporters.
More challenging, but of even greater importance, is the unification of the Somali people. For its part, the EU, in addition to its already significant contribution to the country’s security sector, might also consider the possibility of providing support for the establishment and the promotion of national political parties. Genuine political parties with convincing party programmes and an active followership that extends beyond a handful of Mogadishu-based politicians could prove to be valuable vehicles in attempts to transcend the sub-national purview of political entities, overcome age-old clan-based disputes, and provide viable platforms for national dialogue. Ultimately, a democratic trajectory for Somalia will be hard to achieve in the absence of both a unified national constituency and genuine political parties.
Not entirely unexpectedly, the advancement of Somalia’s federal agenda has proved to be a contentious process. The resulting fragmentation it has experienced, particularly in recent months, risks perpetuating and even exacerbating its fragility. In order to move forward constructively and overcome political instability, the country needs to start building institutions and identities that span regional and clan divides. Only then will Somalia stand a chance of achieving the ‘Vision 2016’ that the FGS devised last September.