In Somalia’s nascent democracy, clans could still be needed
GAROWE ONLINE/EDITORIAL - Somalia’s key opposition politicians have fronted a new coalition that they argue could develop ideas to strengthen the federal system of government and extend reach to the ordinary person.
Known as the Forum for National Parties (FNP), the coalition now chaired by former Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed brings together 6 main political parties, making the first such milestone in Somalia.
Ahmed who led Somalia between 2009 and 2012 is the leader of the Himilo-Qaran Party. The coalition also brings together Union for Peace and Development [UPD] Party led by another ex-President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
Other key leaders joining the coalition of “politics with teeth” include Ilays Party leader Abdulkadir Osoble, a legislator in the House of the People and Chairperson of the Committee for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. Former South West President Sharif Hassan and former Defense Minister Mohamed Abdi ‘Gandi’, the first interim president of Jubaland, have also backed the grouping.
Explaining the motivation behind the coalition, Somali Senator Ilyas Ali Hassan said like-minded leaders wanted to create a movement that would guarantee a federal system and prevent possible delays in the electoral calendar.
“This coalition came about after an incident to our party 2020 presidential candidate, His Excellency Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed,” he explained referring to last month when authorities in Mogadishu reportedly barred Ahmed from visiting Jubbaland as the state prepared the inauguration of its president Ahmed Madobe.
Ahmed and other politicians would later be allowed to fly to Kismayo, but his party has since sued the government for what he calls ‘abuse of power.’
“A strong cooperation between the Somali federal government and the federal states, as well as a joint effort by all political stakeholders towards free and fair elections in 2020/21, will be crucial,” he added.
The coalition obviously draws support from veteran politicians who claim to understand the needs of the people. With its leaders announced on the day of raging floods, FNP also presented a cheque to victims of the deluge in Beledweyne, Bardale, pumping $200,000 worth of donations into relief efforts.
Far from humanitarian dealings, however, the key desire is to take control of the government after next elections, observers say.
“To my understanding and the insights, the Forum for National Parties (FNP) is a coalition formed by key opposition parties that are more or less perceived to be some of the main contenders in the next elections,” said Abdimalik Abdullahi, a researcher on Horn of Africa political movements.
“It’s a relatively heavy coalition whose main agendas include first and foremost pressuring the government to deliver a timely election and secondly to make sure that the model of election is decided on a consensus basis where the suggestions of key political stakeholders at both levels of government are taken into consideration.”
Observers say that by trying to build a coalition, a non-existent political phenomenon in Somalia’s post-independent history, the FNP and its campaigners could be trying to break other barriers. First, it could be building trust, not known to exist among Somali politicians.
Moments after the coalition leaders were announced; other politicians who withdrew from the group cited backstabbing.
Former Planning Minister Abdirahman Abdishakur, who leads the Wadajir Party, said his party refused to join after they disagreed on ambitions. He wanted a loose coalition of ideas which could bring together parties to coordinate their agitation, rather than fixing contenders already.
“We had different reasons (in seeking a coalition). We wanted to focus on unity in strategy and vision rather than structures,” he said.
“Some parties have reservations on some critical issues, and others are conducting secret negotiations with Farmaajo,” he added referring to President Mohamed Abdullahi ‘Farmaajo.’
The reference to ‘secret negotiations’ may have targeted President Ahmed who had claimed he was invited for talks in Mogadishu but declined until all coalition members take part.
The coalition’s supporters think it would be a formidable force but admit they face the threat of disunity should some members accept under-the-table dealings with the federal government.
“We hope this will transform the politics from clans to the party system and we hope this will encourage other folks to focus on the parties instead of clan-minded systems,” Osoble argued.
Yet that may not be the immediate problem. Somalia hasn’t had one-person-one-vote elections since 1969 when Mohamed Siad Barre deposed a democratically elected government.
In the last three elections (2009, 2012 and 2017), clan elders ruled the show, determining delegates to elect MPs who in turn elect the President. Now the country wants to move from a clan-based political system to one-person, one-vote elections in 2020, and replace the delegate system.
Since 2016 when Somalia passed the Political Parties Law, some 57 political parties have been registered, according to a listing from National Independent Electoral Commission. Most, however, still operate from outside the country, mostly because of the security situation but also due to Somalia’s prominent Diaspora.
The Somali government attempted to limit clannism in party politics. The 2016 law says parties cannot be accepted if established based on extremism, clan, dialect, family, race, gender and regionalism and “must not encourage hatred within the society.”
According to Article 2 Political parties must also have a national outlook, represent at least two thirds (2/3) of the regions in the country in accordance with article 58, and their leadership and membership be based on regional boundaries of the country that existed in 1991, which had 18 administrative regions.
Yet the four major clans still determine the presidency, premiership, speaker of the parliament and the judiciary, in a system known as 4.5, where 0.5 denotes the share that goes to smaller ethnic groups.
“You cannot separate the influence of clan and politics in Somalia. The country’s politics can move towards a more policy-oriented politics but at the end of the day the influence of clans will still exist,” said Yasin Ahmed Ismail, a risk analyst for East Africa at the Eurasia Group.
Supporters of clan-based politics say it stabilized the government by ensuring consensus determines who takes what. Yet critics say it contradicts democratic values by ensuring continual marginalization of women, youth and smaller ethnic groups.
A paper published by a programme in Somalia known as Bringing Unity, Integrity and Legitimacy to Democracy (BUILD), and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) suggested political parties could eliminate the negative forms of clannism by focusing on universal issues “important to a majority of Somalia’s population while also aligning with cultural and historical norms.”
Ismail thinks there may be hiccups in the meantime but Somalia could set up a law to ensure clan-founded parties must also seek support outside their strongholds.
“Such a law will force some of these clan parties to group together and form a sort of coalition,” he suggested, in a view supported by Abdullahi.
“Clannism cannot be easily divorced from the Somali politics of today since the 4.5 power-sharing system is still in place and deeply rooted in the system,” Abdullahi argued. “But the increasing embrace of party politics and the subsequent strides are taken towards democratization is a good gesture.”