Fragmented political elite deteriorates fragile political stability in Somalia
By Mohamed Salah Ahmed
The peace-building process in the federal state of Galmudug in Somalia, which is intended to form an inclusive governance structure that works for everyone in the region, seems to have failed miserably due to the lack of understanding and compromise among the political elites involved in the process. The federal government’s initiative and policy toward the region was to broker peace. As part of it, the formation of an inclusive government was expected to be better than the previous ones, all of which were unsuccessful and caused more chaos and disorder. So far, three elections took place within the state in three different places and three different presidents were elected. This indicates the existence of the causes of the Somali state’s collapse three decades ago – a weak, fragmented and incompetent political elite that has failed to put the Humpy Dumpty state together again.
The elite crisis
The fractured Somali political elite consists of four different groups, all of which have failed to put the common interest ahead of their own and are ready to do everything to stay in power, regardless of the consequences.
Two of them come from the traditional camp, which is the combination of religious clerics and clan elders. Their existence and powers are divine and justified either by the mosque (fatwa) or norms and customary laws. The clan elders camp remains the most dominant and plays a critical role in elections, particularly in parliamentary elections at both the regional and national levels.
Despite continuing efforts to free the election processes from them, they still remain decisive in the process of picking the members of Parliament. This exists partially because of the traditional structure that Somalia continues to rely on, which indeed provides only informal constraints.
Religious clerics gave themselves the roles of moral judges by using their religiously justified powers to make moral judgements about political actions and political agents, whether they parallel the basic principles of the mosque or not. Invalidating and nulling actions of the political and other public figures is how they keep their power and influence. To put it simply, they manipulate religion for their own purposes, which creates fear and uncertainty among the political leadership, and prevents them from making decisive moves and decisions.
Although some of these religious sects have tried to seize power, the most effective group is “Al-Ictisaam,” a faction of Al-Itixaad Al-Islam – a former extremist group that reached its peak between 1991 and 1996. It does not hold any political positions but nevertheless enjoys massive influence over the people.
This ensures they have indirect influence on the political actions and policies of decision-makers at both the regional and national levels. The remaining two are business owners looking for profit and government contracts. And to get that, they invested in the system and made it more corrupt, selecting political leaders to run the daily businesses of the state, including policy and decision-making.
Altogether, they represent the fragmented political elite of the failed state in Somalia. Some may include the international community due to their massive political influence over state businesses and decision-making.
The daily political chaos, disorder and state and societal disintegration showcase the ineffectiveness and fragmentation of the political elite in Somalia. Prior to Galmudug, there was a political misunderstanding that almost turned violent in the state of Jubaland after the federal government declared the election of Ahmed Madoobe, a former member and leader of an Islamic courts union and later Xisbul-Islaam, null and void.
They justified their action by claiming the election process was rigged, and the process was unfair and unjust. However, this political disagreement and the legitimacy of Madoobe’s election remains unresolved. About two years ago, during the election period in the South West State, massive demonstrations that claimed the lives of 12 people erupted after the federal government arrested Mukhtar Robow, a former al-Shabab leader and defector, and banned him from running for the presidency of that state. His candidacy shocked the entire country, nonetheless, despite the displeasure and discontent from the majority of the public. He had what mattered to him most: the support of his kinsmen.
Perhaps Somalis should reflect upon this incident and raise questions regarding the credibility and integrity of such political culture and system – a political culture that allowed a former terrorist allegedly responsible for the deaths of many Somalis to run for the head of a federal state, one of the highest political positions in the country.
How do we have such a system in place and defend it blindly? How would such a system help Somalia overcome its prolonged political instability and development challenges? Would this system give any help to the ordinary Somalis who are the victims of terrorist attacks, the youth who are struggling day and night to find jobs or the ordinary mother who sells fruits and vegetables on the side of the road as she struggles to make a living for her children?
The answers to these questions are crystal clear to anyone who is rational and politically conscious. The truth is, looking at the situation in Somalia and the challenges that lie ahead for such a system, there is no choice but to deal with the prolonged political instability, insecurity and underdevelopment that Somalia faces.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise such a fractured and fragmented political elite like the one in Somalia has failed to succeed. Rather, the elite contributes to the political instability and dysfunctionality of the country.
The curse of the federal system
The fractured and dysfunctional political elite in Somalia exploits the federalist political system of the country. It continues to dismantle, divide and bring more chaos and instability into the country instead of using it to find a broad basis for dialogue among key stakeholders to broker peace and establish inclusive federal states that seek the benefits and welfare of their citizens. Their failure to achieve this puts the country in a harder situation in which trust among the communities of these federal states seems to be fading.
The three different elections that took place in Galmudug provide good examples of this. Their recklessness and unwillingness to compromise have left ordinary citizens suffering from massive poverty, drought, famine and physical and economic insecurities all around the country for more than three decades.
Additionally, their endless corruption and looting deprive the country of both effective central and state governments, keeping it on the list of the world’s worst failed states.
Somalia adopted federalism in 2004 as the outcome of peace talks organized by Kenya under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), known as the Somalia National Reconciliation Conference. Since then, Somalia had seen four federal governments – two transitional and two non-transitional.
Two of the administrations existed during the time Somalia adopted federalism, and the latter was accused of being a prominent campaigner for adopting the political system used by Somaliland, which unilaterally declared its independence from the rest of the country soon after it was formed in 1991, and Puntland, which has claimed to be autonomous since its formation in 1998.
Both were formed and dominated by certain clans or communities, which inspired other clans to lobby for the formation of their own states too. This led to the country down the path of clan federalism, in which the clan becomes the key factor that brings regions together in their efforts to form a federal state. This was the architecture of the corrupt and unambitious political elite that only cared about its individual gains.
However, the fragmented political elite continue to manipulate clan federalism as a strategy to stay in power while knowing its risks and implications. In addition, the lack of awareness and political consciousness of the common masses and unorganized educated people, and civil society has helped the different groups of the political elite exploit the system while using federalism as a tool to create more chaos and division among the clans.
What’s the alternative?
Despite the manipulation and exploitation by the political elites, Somalis and especially civil society organizations continue to contribute greatly to the economic and social development of their country. Therefore, the very responsibility of eradicating the corrupt elite and unifying the others falls on their shoulders.
The reformation of the current political elite is feasible, perhaps with a political elite who cares about the ongoing suffering of Somalis and is capable of building strong government institutions through compromise, reconciliation and peace talks.
Of course, the replacement or reformation of this oligarchy would not happen soon and would need time and many sacrifices, but the revolution of achieving it must start now with the young, educated and sophisticated men and women who ask themselves: Why not something better?
That should be the beginning of the end for our brain-dead and fragmented political elite and inoperable political culture as well.
* Ph.D. student in political science and public administration at Yıldırım Beyazıt University