Federal, Unitary, or Confederation for Somalia. Which one? Part II

Federal, Unitary, or Confederation for Somalia. Which one?

This is part II of the above topic. In Part I, I gave the definition of each system. In part II, I will try to discuss which system is or is not suitable for Somalia and the reasons why.

Part II

Which System is Suitable for Somalia to Adopt?

Let me start with the confederation system. As I have said in part I of this article, I am not aware of any single country that practices this system today. Historically, confederation has been the steppingstone toward a more permanent union. For example, the modern federal union of Switzerland was preceded by a confederation of Swiss cantons; similarly, the modern German federal system was preceded by the German Confederation. The confederation period provided these countries a period of courtship, of sniffing each other so to speak, of working out their differences before agreeing to a permanent union. For these reasons, confederation could have been an ideal system for Somalia before the union of the North and the South in 1960.  Back then, I wouldn’t worry about either party walking away from the final union because it did not get all or most of what it wanted. Because back then, the sentiment of the Somali people on both sides for national unity was very strong. Today, after nine years of failed unitary system followed by 21 years of dictatorship and 30 years of civil war, that sentiment has eroded immensely and probably is at its lowest level.

As a result, if today a confederation becomes an option, not only Somaliland, but others in the south might follow suit in seceding from the rest of the country.  So, it is not suitable for Somalia unless one’s ultimate goal is secession.

The Unitary system

The unitary systemis not new to the Somali nation. It was the first system that we adopted as a system of governance. We had it from 1960 to 1969. The power of the central government was neither decentralized nor devolved. It was completely centralized. For the regions, there were both economic and political problems with this system.

Economically, Somalia was and still is one of the poorest countries in the world. The British and the Italians have done very little, if any, to develop their respective spheres during colonialization. Unfortunately for the then nascent national government, the expectation of the people was unimaginably high. Being primarily a nomadic society, everyone wanted, figuratively, a share of the “dambar”milk (colostrum) of the she-camel, Maandeeq, that just gave birth. Soon after independence, thousands upon thousands of people flocked into the capital city, Mogadishu, in search of opportunities for their families, such as jobs, schools, healthcare, and so on. This trend was aggravated by the fact that the central government did not have enough resources to develop the regions. And whatever little it was able to raise through taxation and aid from donor countries, it spent around the capital in order to meet the needs of the people who were continuously migrating from the regions and settling in the capital. And this became a vicious cycle. The more the government spent around the capital, the more people it attracted from the regions. The more people that poured into the capital city, the more the government spent there. Whether this created a benign neglect of the regions or not, it was a neglect. And I would not disagree with those who believe that this was one of the reasons the North, from the very beginning, resented the union with the South. But it is equally important to mention that the neglect and de-population of the regions also affected many in the Italian Somaliland areas, specially the central and northeastern regions.

Politically, the impact of the unitary system on our nation back then was anything but benign. The central government had all the levers of power to run the country. There were no opposition parties to speak of. The judiciary system was at infancy stage. There were no checks and balances to guard against abuses of a strong central government. As a result, corruption, nepotism, mismanagement of funds, abuse of power became rampant, especially during the last years of our parliamentary system. 

The government had the sole power of nominating the officials of the regions, such as the governors, district commissioners, and police chiefs. These officials were not representatives of the people of the regions they were running. Rather, they were representatives of the central government to the regions and the people who resided in them. During normal times, these officials had neither the resources nor the power to develop the regions. But during the parliamentary election time, boy-o-boy, they became some of the most powerful officials in the country. The central government officials replaced any regional official who was not with the government 100%, right or wrong, or was suspected of working with any other party. If you were not a parliamentary candidate aligned with the government, these regional officials would either not accept your papers and documents necessary for pre-registration or would accept and then trash them. There were no legal recourses. The people in the judiciary were also appointees of the government not based on their expertise but because of their allegiance to the government in power. Do not forget that this was the time in Africa that the one-party rule was becoming the norm and fashionable.

Many believe that the way the last civilian government run the country in general and the 1969 election in particular was responsible for the assassination of late president Sharmarke and the military take-over that followed shortly after.

Today, there are many Somali scholars who believe that we can adopt the more advanced form of the unitary system. The one that allows more power to be devolved to the regions. But like I said in part I of this writing, these devolved powers are not enshrined in a constitutional document, but rather in parliamentary laws that can be amended or abrogated at sole discretion of the central parliament. 

Therefore, in Somalia of today, the unitary system, in any form, is not a viable system, both economically and politically. Moreover, after twenty years of military rule, followed by over a quarter century of civil war, no Somali community in their right mind would accept a powerful central government, such as unitary system.

For the sake of brevity, I will stop here and discuss the federal system and its impact in a coming and final writing on this topic.

Abdihakim H. Hersi