You are on page 1of 10

ABDISALAM M.

ISSA -SALWE

SOMALIA’S DEGENERATED AUTHORITY:


WHICH WAY OUT?

MARCH 2000
1. Introduction
Since the breakdown of the Somali state in early 1991, there have been many efforts by the
international community to revitalise the Somali state. Instead they were unsuccessful and,
generally, counter-productive. The failure lies, first, in the approach as it aimed at the
resuscitation of an externally driven state structure where the local people’s say, contribution
and involvement were rarely sought. Second, the memories of the dreadful fratricidal war still
linger on in the minds of the Somalis, thus, creating major obstacles to peace. Third, none of
previous peace processes were based on the reality of today's Somalia and the background of
the tragedy. They were all relying on collaboration with the warlords in the attempt to form a
‘government’ based on power sharing between/among the power-thirsty warlords, rather than
on confidence building among the people concerned. Fourth, none of these conferences was
based on any well-though-of programme or any clear vision for rebuilding from the rubble of
the shattered statehood and country.
Is there a way out from the current Somalia’s nightmare? What is the basis for the
rehabilitation of a central authority in Somalia?

2. Undermining the Traditional Authority


In spite of the fact, that Somalia’s nightmare came in focus in this decade, it is believed that it
had begun in the closing decade of the nineteenth century. This had not only resulted in the
partition of Somali territory, but also had left behind a centralised system of government alien
to the Somalis.
Traditionally, Somali political authority was spread throughout the community, as there
was no centre for political control. Clan leaders dealt with people politically on a face-to-face
basis, and were responsible for all affairs concerning the clan and its relations with other
clans. They claimed no rights as rulers over their people. The clan-leader had a little
executive power. "He presided over the assembly of elders (shir), but did not himself make
the decisions" (Ugaaska wuu guddoonshaaye, ma gooyo) (Kapteijns, 1993). Somali
egalitarianism is encapsulated in the right of every man to have a say in the communal affairs.
After lengthy discussion and analysis of the matter concerned, a decision in the shir is
decided by consensus.
During the late 1930s to 1960s lineage politics were manipulated to serve the political
needs of the colonisers. A new form of hierarchy was introduced, and chiefs, called caaqils,
were appointed by the colonial administration to represent and speak for the clan lineages.
This process was to undermine the local authority (Sadia, 1994).
These subordinate caaqils were used as political representatives of colonial authorities as
they were paid a stipend by the colonial administration, and given other concessions. These
spokesmen were generally, for obvious reasons of convenience and availability, drawn from
the urban areas. Although they were in theory representative of clan local interests, they were
not necessarily in touch with grass roots issues; they were 'townies', and more concerned with
personal interest (ibid.). As they were paid by the colonial masters, this undermined the
traditional source of authority (Lewis, 1980). It weakened the integrity of the clan, and
diminished the caaqil's accountability to the clan. Moreover, groups whose caaqils
collaborated with the colonial government were favoured, “in order to tempt other groups to
acquiesce under the colonial authority” (Sadia, 1994). Thus, the lineages were politicised by
the colonisers for 'divide and rule' purposes, and the system was successful in corroding the
local institution of shir (assembly) and traditional leadership (Samatar, 1988). Traditional
chiefs thus became marginalized. Such social changes, which saw the shifting of influence
from traditional (rural) leaders to a new urban leadership was to have an impact on the
modern Somali leadership.
Here we see the beginnings of the influence of hitherto unfamiliar modern westernised
politics - which was to have far reaching consequences on the later-to-be-constituted Somali
state. This imposed an alien system and eroded the power of grassroots communal
associations. Harmonising relations and enforcement of peace for “the common good among
local groups was replaced by a high public political profile of a socio-economic nature”
(Sadia, 1994).
The civilian government, which ruled Somalia in 1960s, did not change much of what
they had inherited from their colonial predecessors. They gave priority and sometimes paid
salaries to the “townie” clan representatives.
The centralisation of the system of government following independence brought a new
type of leadership. The ability of the traditional assemblies to influence decisions grew
steadily weaker and power shifted to leaders who were elected to parliament. These new
leaders, living away from the communities who had elected them, were free of the traditional
pattern of constraints, and became less and less accountable for their actions.
This new political culture created a type of leader who was more concerned with personal
power and aggrandisement. Such a person, physically and socially removed from the
traditional power base, felt free to operate unchecked by the clan, and this lack of
responsibility to his constituents was not compensated for by a more general, though essential,
sense of responsibility to society that should accompany public service. This degeneration in
standards of responsibility would help pave the way for the subsequent leadership crises
during the military era, and in the period of disintegration of the Somali nation state.
The military regime, which came to power in 1969, followed a similar policy. In addition
to that, it created their clan representatives called nabaddoon and samadoon (peace-seekers).
Clan manipulation was also a mark of the regime; the policy became a political instrument
whose effect on the Somali public was to build up resentment among other clan groupings.
The regime set a two-tier system, one which rewarded some sub-clans for their loyalty to the
Kacaanka Barakaysan (the Blessed Revolution), and the other to persecute and repress those
sub-clans "for their recalcitrance or reluctance to be enthusiastic about the new order imposed
upon them." (Siciid, 1993). To create fear among the social groupings, family members and
neighbours were encouraged to spy on each other and report to the Guulwadayaal, the Para-
military force established which acted as the regime's watchdog at neighbourhood level (Issa-
Salwe, 1996). The song “harkaaga laguu diray” (your shadow is watching you) was meant to
intimidate people from drifting from the revolutionary path.
After the power vacuum created by the downfall of the military regime, the leadership of
so called "warlords" which emerged, changed the course of events into widespread clan-
based factional warfare of a primitive feudal nature.

2.1 The Breakdown of the Sense of Authority


After over a century of colonial defamation of Somali traditional authority and culture,
followed by a decade of feeble governing by the civilian government, two decades of
repressive centralised state control involving the manipulation of clan mentality, the
exploitation of traditional rivalry and suppression and collective punishment of any form of
rebellion, a destructive instinct was created in society against the fabric of the Somali
nationhood.
Not only has the Somali state failed to replace the clan with a feeling of security for the
individual Somali, but it has also become a threat to his/her being. It was a natural regression
therefore for the Somali to go to his/her roots, i.e. the clan, which was eroded by the tides of
social change and political exploitation. These phenomena created resentment amongst the
Somalis, which turned into an instinct for destruction towards the state and its institutions.
The destructiveness was assumed to be derived from "the unbearable feeling of
powerlessness, since it aims at the removal of all objects with which the individual has to
compare himself" (Fromm, 1980). Life has an inner dynamism of its own and if it is curbed
it decomposes and transforms into energies directed towards destructiveness. The systematic
repression of the last two decades by the dictatorial military regime has thereby accelerated
the process of destructiveness in Somali society. Destructive political culture has been
introduced into the political thinking of the Somalis, changing the positive cultural values of
the nationhood (Afrah, 1994).

3. The Trend of Decentralisation


The civil war, which ensued after the ousting of the military regime, created a situation that
forced people to return to their clan "areas". Once in their safe area, these people began to
feel the need for some other essential requirements or services. Thus, these requirements and
the underpinning social intercourse could not be possible without a regulating body or
institute. It was this need which brought the creation of some administrative bodies in some
part/parts of the country. It is this same feeling which has pushed Somalis towards
decentralisation.
Adding to the above reason, there are other motives which strengthens this course: (a)
The memory of the dreadful fratricidal war, which is still lingering on in the minds of the
Somalis, and (b) the failure of previous peace processes, which advocated the top-down
approach, and consequently the centralisation of the Somali state is another. The nightmare,
which ensued as result of this, created the loss of confidence by the Somali population in
their political leaders. This last influence has awakened in the Somalis the need to take part in
the political life of their country.

4. The Essence For the Regeneration of Authority


What collapsed in Somalia was not only the central authority, but also “the moral fabric of the
society” (Issa-Salwe 1996). The change, which was supposed to come with modernity, never
happened as they did not get the support to flourish.
How can the Somalis’ political drive be achieved? How can the authority be
restored? To revive the Somali authority, which would be the source of social and political
stability in Somalia, an environment of confidence building must be created. This course of
action is related to issues such as (a) relation between state and people, (c) public institute
building, (d) accountability and transparency, (e) rule of law, and (f) separation of powers.
A decentralisation mechanism is possible when there is a system based on regional
autonomy or state (canton). The principal based on this system is a bottom-up approach,
which maintains procedures built from the grass roots.
In late 1992, the United Nations sponsored a national reconciliation conference between
the Somali warlords which was held in Addis Ababa. In March 1994 of the following year,
another one was held in Nairobi. Although peace talks could be considered a welcome
breakthrough at that period, the Nairobi peace accord was a complete turnabout from the
previous peace process in Addis Ababa. While the former had adopted a grass-roots approach,
by creating district councils before setting up the top levels of administration, the latter one
advocated the top-bottom approach (Issa-Salwe, 1996).
Since the outbreak of the civil war, the Somali nation has been moving towards a radical
decentralised state system. This drive is not only the consequence of the civil strife, but also
Somalis’ traditional way of life. To meet and achieve this political course, there must be a
state based on a federal system of government (see Issa-Salwe, 1997).
The stimulation of political attitudes as a basis for political participation is of special
importance in a fragmented society. Political socialisation is a continuous and cumulative
process of learning.
Peoples’ participation in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Somali nation-state is
essential and crucial. To apply a "pure democracy" a system of bottom-up approach must be
applied.

4.1 The State


5.2.2 State Structure: The country is currently divided into 4 or 5 parts which in
turn could be transformed into cantons (waax) or mini-states. The current reality
presents an opportunity to create a federal state. It is unrealistic to reconstruct
Somalia on the old system (a unitary system of government) which was a factor in
the creation of the current crisis.
5.2.3 Separation of Powers: The separation of the three powers of government,
namely legislative, executive and judiciary at both levels, i.e. canton/state and
national should be clearly defined. Independence of the judiciary is also highly
recommended. This may avoid powers falling into one hand which could lead to
dictatorship.
5.2.4 The Executive (Presidential Council): The issue of who will be the
president of the country is a thorny issue in the process of the reconciliation of
Somalia. Shifting to regional setting and away from who is going to be the
president is a solution to current impasse of the Somali crisis. Therefore, a way
out of this dilemma is to create a national executive (or national council or
presidential collegiate) whose presidency rotates each year and becomes
President of the Federation. This collegiate may be composed of elected
members from the canton/state (e.g. one person from each canton or waax).
5.2.5 Assembly: Each autonomous canton/state has to have its own bi-cameral
assembly. Chambers must give both the regions and the district electorate the
chance to be represented. At the national level (federal), there should be a national
assembly which is composed of two chambers: (a) the Chamber of Elders and (b)
The Chamber of the Canton/State Council. The main purpose of the bi-cameral
pattern is to ensure that the cantons and the lineages or clans are properly
represented in the law making "factory" of the nation. On the other hand, it can be
helpful in solving regional differences of interest. Regional interests which might
object to a central government are to some extent pacified by the knowledge that
they are formally represented at the centre. At this stage is it essential to consider
the re-emerging powers of the traditional authority, which still has an influence on
the Somalis.

State Relations
5.2.6 People’s Participation and Consensus: People’s participation is essential in
the process of the revival of authority and nation building in the Somali nation.
Recently, new administrations have emerged in Somalia where stable local
administrations/states have been established. Some of these are Puntland,
Somaliland, etc. These areas have experimented with some local governance
based on consensus. These positively adapted ideas should be encouraged,
nurtured and applied to the rest of the country.
5.2.7 Public Institute Building and Rehabilitation of Authority: As mentioned
above, one of the main causes of Somalis’ present dilemma is the degeneration of
authority. The rehabilitation of authority can come about only with the
participation of the people. The aim of this process should be to create an
environment of confidence building which can ensure a smooth transformation of
the socio-cultural and political norms.
5.2.8 Accountability and representation: There must be a way for people to
choose their representatives in the government. This will give the people an
opportunity to supervise and control their representatives. It will also make their
leaders accountable for their actions. This practice would also stimulate a
positive political culture which could change the destructive instincts which have
affected the people in the last two decades and which caused the erosion of the
foundations of the Somali nationhood.
5.2.9 Rule of Law: At all levels, the government should apply the rule of law. The
law should be the official principle or order which guides the behaviour of the
government.
5. What the International Community Can Do
The international community’s help to institute building process in the existing local
administrations is essential. However, if this help is mismanaged or routed to the wrong hands,
not only may it hamper the peace in the country, but also may perpetuate the conflict. In fact, it
has been proven that some of the humanitarian aid has been used to fuel the fighting in
Somalia.

5.1 Awareness of alternative Approach


The Djibouti initiative on resolving the Somali crisis proposed by President Guelleh in his
historic UN address, last September, is a groundbreaking step of a historical significance. The
proposal has shaken the conscience of the international community to their ‘indifference’ to the
Somali tragedy.

Consciousness of an alternative approach to the Somali crisis is of utmost importance to the


Somali case as it is very complex and thorny. Lessons must be learned from previous peace
failures because (a) they were not based on the reality of today's Somalia and the background of
the tragedy, (b) they were relied on collaboration with the warlords’, in the attempt to form a
‘government’ based on power sharing between the power-thirsty warlords, rather than on
confidence building among the people concerned, (c) none of them was based on any pre-
prepared programme or any clear vision for rebuilding from the rubble of the shattered
statehood and country.

The time needed to process such a bold initiative is an important factor in its success. Too short
a time for careful planning was an important factor leading to the breakdown of the previous
so-called peace processes.
As the Djibouti initiative is at the crossroads between proposal and implementation, care
must be given to its practicality, as it lies poised between failure and success.
What should and what should not be done
What Previous conferences Solution/reality
Process period Quick-fix for solution Reasonable process time
needed; minimum 2-3 or more
years; process should not be
an end, but a means to an end.
Local people’s involvement None Local people’s involvement is
essential
Restoring civil society None Civil society is essential
Type of government Warlord government Establishment of a national
operational body in the
transitional stage;
Representative federal
government at later stage;
State structure Unitary system; centralised Decentralised; preferable
federal based on waaxo
(cantons); waax made of
groups of regions.

Institute building None Institute is essential to revival


of governance.
Recovery/rehabilitation plan Vague Recovery/rehabilitation fund
essential, similar to Marshal
Plan;

5.2 Other tasks which the international community should undertake for Somalia.
5.2.2 Aid: Help in rehabilitation and reconstruction should be given to any area
where there is stable administration or a community willing to help themselves.
This helps local administration/community to rehabilitate the local life.
5.2.3 Local Administration Performance: Help should be conditional on the
performance of the respective local administration or community heads. This
should influence the local authority to distance itself from being myopic and self-
centred.
5.2.4 Mandate: Dealing with individuals/groups who do not have clear mandate
from their given area has frustrated any attempt towards building local
administrations/institutes. It has also created the view that NGOs are simply
enriching themselves or individuals/groups. This will contradict the charitable
purpose NGOs were created for.
5.2.5 Reconciliation/Compensation Fund: One of the effects of the civil war is the
expropriating of properties such as building, farmlands, etc. Some of these
properties might have been ruined or their value might have been deteriorated
over the years. Likewise, returning these properties to their original owners may
be difficult as some of the occupiers may not have anywhere to go or may not go
back to their area because of fear of persecution. In addition, for the original
owners it is a tormenting experience to have someone, whom he/she has never met
before, occupying one’s property.
This problem proves to be one of the main obstacles to peace in Somalia.
However, to overcome this obstacle, there should be a
Reconciliation/Compensation Fund which helps the present occupiers of land to
give up the property they are occupying or holding and set up their own properties
in different area of the country. Moreover, the Fund should give opportunity to the
original owners to get back their original property or to set up their properties in
their preferred areas if they wish to do so.

6. The Contribution of the Somali Diaspora


During the last twenty years, Somalia has been experiencing a brain drain. This began with the
advent of the repressive rules of military regimes in the early 1980s. However, with the
outbreak of the civil war in 1991 the exodus of the Somali intellectual class reached its peak.
To refill the gap in the country, efforts should be given to the development of human
resources. However, this process should go concomitantly with the other developments such as
that of setting up public institutions or helping communities across the country.

6.1 Injecting the Know-how: The Diaspora should return to their respective area and inject
their expertise and intellectual prowess to the rehabilitation/reconstruction process in the
country.

6.2 Think-tank: The international community should help to establish an international


Somali Diaspora Think-tank. This think-tank could contribute to the reconstruction of the
Somali-nation state.

7. Conclusion
Any solution, unless it is based on today’s reality, is prone to fail or possibly to complicate and
intensify the conflict. One of the main causes of Somalis’ present dilemma is the degeneration
of authority. This began as consequence of the colonial manipulation of the traditional authority
followed by the failure of the opportunity to facilitate a smooth transformation of the socio-
cultural, political norms and institution.
Now there is an opportunity to create structures of governance which balance the various
communities throughout Somalia. We must now reject the old centralised rigidities which led
to the chaos from which we all suffered. Only a fully federal system which allows the people
to govern themselves at the most local level appropriate can give us and our children the
promise of a peaceful and prosperous future.

8. Reference
Afrah, Maxamed D.; "The Mirror of Culture: Somali Dissolution Seen Through Oral
Expression" in The Somali Challenge: From Catastrophe to Renewal? Ahmed I.
Samatar, (ed.), (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1994).
Fromm, Erich; The Fear of Freedom, (London: Routledge & Kegan Paule, 1980).
Issa-Salwe, Abdisalam M.; The Collapse of the Somali State: The Impact of the Colonial
Legacy, (London: Haan Associates, 1996).
------ “The Welfare State of the Somali Nation: A Possible Solution to the Somali Dilemma”, in
Pour Une Culture de la Paix en Somalie, in Mohamed Mohamed-Abdi et Partice
Bernard, (eds.), (Paris, Association Européenne des Etudes Somaliennes, 1997).
------ “Towards Decentralisation Structures: Puntland Experiment”, April 1999.
Kapteijns, Lidwien; "Le Verdict de L'Arbre (Go'aanka Geedka): Le Xeer Issa, Etude d'une
Democratie Pastorale" by Ali Mouse Iye, Hal-Abuur, Vol.1, No.1, Summer 1993.
Lewis I. M.; A Modern History of Somalia: Nation and State in the Horn of Africa (London:
Longman, 1980).
------ Understanding Somalia: A Guide to Somali Culture, History and Social Institutions,
(London: Haan Associates, 1993).
------ A Pastoral Democracy, (London: Oxford University Press, 1961).
Sadia Muse Ahmed, "Transformation of Somali Marriage System and Gender Relations:
Rhetoric and Realities," MSc dissertation, University of London, 1994.
Samatar, Ahmed I.; Socialist Somalia: Rhetoric and Reality, (London Zed Books, 1988).
Siciid Faarah Maxamuud, "Prisoners of Siyadist Culture", Hal-Abuur, Vol.1, No.1, Summer
1993.
Waterlow, Charlotte; What is Federalism? An Outline of Some Federal Constitutions,
(London: A One World Trust Publication, 1994).