Somalia: After London Conference, Federalism and the Future


In this political spectrum – stuck between separatism and centralized rule – federalism is the only option that safeguards each group’s interests, whilst protecting Somali national unity.

The much-hyped London Conference concluded with less than expected jubilation. In the renowned British style of doing things, the world’s top leaders came, intermingled, exchanged ideas, and everyone returned to their homes fully aware of two things: a) Somalia has reached center-stage in world politics; and b) the communiqué was pre-drafted and sent to the invited delegations days before the actual conference.

In reading the communiqué, there emerges progressive thinking on the side of the “international community” – insofar as it pertains to how the “international community” perceives the Somali people and their ability to solve problems. A few examples to cite:

*” Decisions on Somalia’s future rest with the Somali people”

*” We emphasized the urgency of Somalia funding its own public services, and using its assets for the benefit of the people, as well as tackling corruption”

*” We welcomed the success in some areas of Somalia in establishing local areas of stability”

*” We agreed that Somalia’s long-term reconstruction and economic development depended on a vibrant private sector”

The London Conference communiqué missed a crucial point – rebuilding Somali security forces. In this regard, the communiqué states: “We agreed that, over time, Somalis should take over responsibility for providing their own security and develop their own justice systems…”

Indeed, after more than 20 years of conflict, Somalia does not have more time. The phrase, “over time,” is an open-ended idea that leaves too much room for maneuvers by interest groups, parasitical governments, and Somali war profiteers to engage and act accordingly, in order to prolong the conflict for the benefit of the select few, and the continued suffering of the Somali masses. What the London Conference should have demanded was efficient and effective training and equipping of Somali security forces to face-off the threats of terrorism, piracy and other criminal gangs who have operated in Somalia for over two decades.

Notwithstanding this, it was nonetheless a worthy document, which marks a moment in history when the world’s leaders gathered to discuss Somalia. The London Conference was right to support the ongoing political process in Somalia – the Transitional Federal Charter, the Djibouti Agreement, the Kampala Accord, the Roadmap, and the Garowe Principles. Indeed, IGAD and the African Union have spent tireless efforts to guide the political process, and it would be shameful if a European power suddenly and unreasonably changed everything to start fresh. Somalia’s political process should continue on the current trajectory of political inclusivity for non-violent groups, civic participation and open debate about the country’s future.

The future in Somalia is a federal system of government. We have often heard TFG President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed make the absurd argument that “federalism is a temporary system” in Somalia. Indeed, following the state collapse of 1991, Somalia completely disintegrated into different parts – both socially and politically. The only thing that can keep the nation-state together politically, aside from our shared Islamic faith, is a federal structure where self-governing parts unite to form the whole.

To put it a different way, political groups in Mogadishu daydream of a return to centralized rule so everything will again be controlled from Mogadishu, under the watchful eye of Ugandan generals. Others in northwestern Somalia, namely “Somaliland”, daydream of international recognition as an independent country. In this political spectrum – stuck between separatism and centralized rule – federalism is the only option that safeguards each group’s interests, whilst protecting Somali national unity.

Many groups refuse peace in Somalia. These include interest groups, parasitical governments, war profiteers, terrorists and pirates. Recently, terrorist groups have begun joining each other – Al Shabaab joined Al Qaeda, Galgala militants in Somalia’s Puntland region joined Al Shabaab. In 2010, when Puntland government forces launched a military campaign and seized control over Galgala mountains, many Diaspora writers argued that “Puntland was attacking a clan”. Today, one wonders, where are those writers? They must be hiding in shame.

Puntland has proven its leadership by taking charge of its own security and governance, and the success of its reasonable political ideology, in the face of separatism and centralized rule. However, this does not mean – and should not mean – federalism based on clans. As the world takes account of developments in Somalia, we should be ready to understand that federalism is the voluntary merger of two or more of Somalia’s 18 administrative regions of pre-1991. The myriad of clan-based “federal states” emerging in south-central Somalia is an embarrassment to the country’s political development.

We should seek workable solutions, not creating new problems. Certainly, the London Conference has charted a new path to reinforce the ongoing process, and Somalis should take advantage of newfound opportunities to unite their own communities, to share experiences and to pursue a common goal of rebuilding the fragmented nation-state.

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