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Backsliding State-Building in Somalia

Dr. Elshafie Khidir Saeid – Khartoum

On the 16th of last February, The European Council on Foreign Relations examined the situation in Somalia & issued a comprehensive report that I am summarizing here some of its paragraphs which I think are related to the situation in Sudan.


The report concluded that the state building process in the country is not going forward. Between 2012 and 2016, the contours of Somalia’s federal republic began to take shape, and mechanisms for high-level political dialogue were established.


But over the past four years, the Somali president, Farmaajo, has rolled back this modest progress, waging a determined assault against the letter and spirit of Somalia’s provisional constitution, the tenets of its emerging federal system, and the principle of inclusive, consultative politics that is enshrined in the country’s basic law.


Farmaajo and his followers have brought Somalia once again to the brink of institutional collapse and armed conflict.


Somalia’s federal government is still a provisional authority, anchored in an incomplete constitution that requires the nation’s leadership to carry out three core tasks to complete Somalia’s political transition: review the provisional constitution, build out the federal architecture, and develop an appropriate electoral system.


These formidable challenges – and the failure to achieve them – lie at the heart of Somalia’s persistent instability and insecurity. It is important to always remember that Farmaajo’s election was a result of a national bargain anchored in negotiated compromise.


Consequently, his accession to the presidency was met by a surge of goodwill across the Somali nation. But rather than drawing on his inherited political capital to advance the state building project, Farmaajo pivoted aggressively to monopolize power and resources.


Rather than engaging the federal member state leaders as partners, he perceived them as rivals and disbanded the National Leaders Forum.
By the same token, he routinely ignored the upper house of parliament, which represents the interests of the federal member states, establishing key national commissions and signing critical legislation without the consent of the upper house or the political buy-in of the federal member states.


Starting in 2018, emboldened by promises of military and financial support from regional allies, Farmaajo embarked on a campaign of rigging elections in the federal member states in order to install pliant loyalists.


In addition to bribery and patronage, Farmaajo deployed the federal security forces as instruments of political control, all but abandoning the fight against Al-Shabaab in favor of subjugating the federal member states.

Incapable of transcending his squabbles with the federal member states and political opposition, Farmaajo fell back upon the divisive and treacherous machinations of clan politics – a choice that would ultimately prove to be his undoing.


In the federal member state of Jubaland, having failed to prevent its president, Ahmed Madoobe, from being re-elected in 2019, Farmaajo launched a military campaign to delegitimize Madoobe by wresting the south-western region of Gedo – inhabited largely by the president’s Marehan clan – from Jubaland’s control.


By so doing, Farmaajo intended to administer the region directly from Mogadishu and ensure the election of loyalist MPs from his own clan.
Madoobe and other leaders rejected this proposition, not only as arbitrary and unconstitutional, but because it would set an extremely dangerous precedent: What would prevent future presidents from carving up other federal member states and claiming direct federal control over their own clan territories?


Madoobe and a chorus of other opposition leaders demanded that federal troops leave Gedo region and allow Jubaland to administer the election.

By refusing to cede on this point, Farmaajo assumed the role of a Marehan clan politician and effectively forfeited any plausible claim to serve as president of all Somalis.

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