Somalia is a federal state with six elements (States) organized along clan lines: Jubbaland, South West State, Puntland, Galmudug, Hirshabeele including Somaliland, a self-declared independence from the rest of Somalia after the collapse of the Somali Democratic Republic in 1991. The effort to create these clan-federal states within Somalia will test the limits of federalism in the country, and threatens to touch off clan warfare not only within Somalia but also in its neighboring countries (Kenya and Ethiopia). All these clan-based regional governments, dominated by four major clans (4.0), both combined nondemocratic traits with clan-federalism. These regional clan-states have their own paramilitary forces and borders.
Historically, empowering clan/ethnic groups through territorial autonomy has been a double-edged sword: as was seen Yugoslavia, Ethiopia and Somalia. Somalia’s clan-federalism has increased tensions of dominance of particular clans. It places clan belonging at the center of politics, links it to territories, and therefore risks an eventual increase in clan and ethnic tensions.
Somali’s clan-federal states’ authorities are continually making implicit threats of secession and even denying access to their regions for federal officials and law enforcement; as well their critics (journalist, activists and politicians) were even exiled or killed. They stand to lose the most from federal democratic transformation in the country. They have imposed their narratives and branded their critics as “Al-Shabaab collaborators.”
Somalia is settling for Proportional Representation electoral model for its 2020 election (NIEC). In this electoral model, allows political parties gain seats in direct proportion to the number of votes they receive. In addition, in clan federation, Somali political parties reemerged with a clan and religious bases to produce another destruction of the state. When we look into current political parties, every party dominates by one particular clan and its subclans. Political parties and movements along ethnic/clan lines convince their supporters about an existential threat to their group(s) that necessitates them to vote for clan parties. These clan parties thus reinforce their raison d’être. Therefore, it indicates tough turning point when anybody tries to integrate these clans. The Somali nation is absent in favor of the clan. Many clan and/or ethnic conflicts arise and are escalated because of incitement. As in the case of Yugoslavia, such radicalization stems from officials dissatisfied by the transformation, who seek to build public support through the politics of fear, and those who see the ethno-federal units as potential building blocks for political careers based on ethnicity. Subsequently, conflicts between Somaliland-Puntland, Puntland-Galmudug; Puntland-Khatumo and Somaliland-Khatumo stands a warning that the transformation of the clan-federal states with diverse and divided group(s) identities poses particular risks.
The Clan-federalism henchmen might consider this risk illusory, but the reality is clan-federal states with diverse and divided group identities possesses particular risks. Discriminatory practices by regional and federal governments against individuals and groups belonging to other clans and ethnicities are major causes of concern. Worse, the federal and regional states have not yet built the capacity to address those challenges. Minority clans are generally reacting to the past and current rampant injustices by the federal and regional authorities. After all, all marginalized groups remember the common struggle, in terms of political, economic; social and education since the independence of the country in 1960.
Having said the above, and despite all the challenges describes above, I believe there is still a good chance to push things through; but without careful management of the federalism elements, Somalia risks a dangerous fragmentation along clan lines. For a successful peaceful and democratic transition, the federal government needs new and bold reform policies in the bureaucracy with commitment, diligence, and ability to tame and reverse the rampant corruption, inequality, discrimination, mediocrity, and favoritism that were the hallmarks of the current and past governments. Additionally, ensuring fair treatment for everyone by federal and regional administrations, equitable distribution of power and resources, and efficient administration of governmental bureaucracy at all levels would reduce the sense of injustice, exploitation, and deprivation that may have cause clan-members-states to push for secession.
Challenging such divisive politics will require a clear effort by the federal government to mediate and manage conflicts and remain a neutral arbiter. In addition to that, a positive and shared project of transformation can also help counteract ethnic and clan tensions. Such leadership, neutral and legitimate federal structures, and a shared project were all lacking in any attempted reconciliation process in Somali history since the fall of the central government in 1990. It is inevitable to the Federal government’s current and future leadership reconsider its current member clan-states; and should be consulted with experts to find scientific solutions to the increasingly dangerous clan conflicts that have been engulfing the country for nearly three decades.