Daily Archives: October 12, 2019

Tunnel Vision: The Case of the Somali Federal Government

By Nur Bahal.

This article was first published 20 August 2013. Nur Bahal’s warnings and concerns are still valid.

In a country where a tediously protracted civil war has been raging for the last 23 years; where resources are scarce despite the unexploited affluence of the country; where society is divided along tribal lines and allegiance to tribe arouse the strongest emotions and sentiments, corruption and favoritism will flourish. That tribalism is what destroyed Somalia needs no debate, but after so many lost lives, so many squandered opportunities for peace, it is mind boggling that tribalism and its inherent vices are flourishing at a level and pace comparable to where it was at the beginning of the state failure in 1991. One of the reasons, and probably the most important, for the conspicuous increment of tribalism is the lack of an honest attempt at social reconciliation.

The urgency of social reconciliation for Somalia cannot be over-emphasized.  Reconciliation is a pivotal element in restoring trust after a detracted civil war particularly when the memories of such war are still fresh in the minds of the society. An honest reconciliation can mend the spirit of forgiveness allowing the return of harmonious social re-integration.

The FSG neglected this crucial step in the process of rebuilding Somalia from the ruins of war. As a healing mechanism, social reconciliation is cardinal to nation building. Conflict resolution among warring factions, judicial and legal reform, observance of human rights especially in the areas where gross human violations have occurred, righting the past wrongs, power-sharing arrangements, demobilizing tribal militias and empowering and promotion of civil societies are all indispensable components of reconciliation whose final goal is the restoration of the nation.

The skewed approach to nation building that the government of President Hassan Sheikh embarked upon reverses the logical sequence of nation building for a post conflict country. Social reconciliation seems to have taken a back seat while International recognition, and naturally, the monetary incentives that come with it, is the infrangible priority. The handpicked parliamentarians and ensuing election of a president seems to have convinced the international community that the rest of the solutions will fall in line. Both the controversially under-defined federal prescription and the equally controversial, incomplete and un-ratified constitution are also wreaking havoc on the relations between this government and the rest of the country. The prescription of federalism, in its present form, complicates the Somali problem; while the central government is seeking weak federal states that it can dictate to, the regions desire the opposite. They are aspiring to the example set by Puntland. 

The unwillingness on the part of the SFG to candidly address the federalism issue without bias and without regard for group politics or tribo-political agenda became a severe constraint to building bridges between the Somali Society. The Jubbaland issue, where the Somali government lodged accusation with IGAD and the International Community against the Madoobe Administration and Kenya did not help its image. President Hassan could have resolved the issue by going to Madobe himself to address the issue on a Somali to Somali basis. The SFG’s class-monitor attitude where she believes it can discipline adversaries through IGAD’s whip evidences her inability to sort out the socio-political intricacies of its country.  It also is a clear manifestation of the absence of reconciliation. And because of this, the antagonistic positions of the society become further entrenched. It might, as a result, help us to scrutinize some of the important steps that were missed by the government.  

Righting the Past Wrongs

No human rights violations with the magnitude of those committed in Lower Shabelle have taken place anywhere in Somalia. The painful fact is that these unspeakable inhuman violations have been perpetrated by other Somalis on peaceful Somali Communities.

Over the centuries, Lower Shabelle became home to a large variety of tribes. Despite power struggles between a few sultanates in and around the 17th to the 19th century, the predominant way of life was and is peaceful coexistence. The people of Lower Shabelle were also not party to the Hawiye – Darood power struggle that brought down the Somali state. Unarmed and unprepared for conflict, they became easy prey for the militias from the central regions.

Kenneth Menkhaus aptly described the situation: “Clan militias have come to occupy important pieces of real estate in Mogadishu and parts of south Somalia. In contravention of the Geneva conventions, these valuable lands are being settled by the victorious clans at the expense of weaker clans, who have been pushed off their land, evicted from their houses, or in some instances conscripted as forced labour on the land they once owned. This has been a particular problem in parts of the Lower Shabelle and throughout the Juba valley.”

Kenneth Menkhaus, Warlords and Landlords: Non-state Actors and Humanitarian norms in Somalia, p14-15

The unparalleled mistake is that this government is bent on legitimizing the wrongs perpetrated on these communities.  

The current government contravened both the spirit and the principles of righting the past wrongs. As a region that suffered flagrant human rights violations including land grabbing, enslavement, rampant rape, killing and displacement, it should have been a priority for the government to undertake a massive campaign to right these wrongs. Contrary to expectations, the government is firmly and securely establishing the raiding groups as the permanent masters of Lower Shabelle. The past wrongs are being legitimized by this government in five major ways:

  1. Incorporation of the hegemonic tribal militias into the Somali National Army and stationing them in Lower Shabelle where they committed gross human rights violations.
  2. The same tribal militias and their fellow tribesmen and women have been exclusively appointed to almost all positions of authority in the region to the exclusion of the communities indigenous to the area.  
  3. No steps have been taken by the current government to return the appropriated land to the rightful owners.
  4. The government has recognized tribal militias who appropriated land as de facto residents of the lands they forcefully seized.
  5. There are no plans to allow the people of Lower Shabelle to form their own administration as has happened in Bay, Hiran and Middle Shabelle. This last point is especially significant as it represents a total negation of the rights of these peaceful communities to take control of their fate and future. It is a clear indication of sinister plans to keep them in bondage and amounts to cleansing them of their land and properties in a systematic manner and with the resources paid by the International Community and the donor countries.

There is a clear trend, here, to create a culture of impunity and denial of victims’ rights to redress to the most trampled community. Impunity is a state’s failure to address the wrongs committed by groups and individuals. There is no worse impunity than rewarding the perpetrators of human rights violations with becoming the administrative authority of the communities they victimized.

Power Sharing Arrangements

It took three months for the President, Hassan Sh. Mohamud, to announce what he called a small government made up of ten ministers. There are three glaring flaws in a small government:

  1. In a post-conflict, it is crucial that every tribe sees themselves in the government. This helps the government secure the crucial legitimacy it requires in order to carry the reconciliation process forward.
  2. Many ministries had to be amalgamated which makes the planning process hard and over burdens the politicians and staff. The disadvantage of this amalgamation becomes more pronounced when ministries necessary for social services are lumped with other ministries that are not as visible to the public eye.
  3. The merger of a number of ministries into a mega-ministry negates the first point above and thus becomes an obstacle to the reconciliation process.

The appointment of the Somali ambassadors to countries around the world is another glaring defect in power sharing. The ambassadors are overwhelmingly from the Hawiye clan. The reverse of this was true during the last years of Siyad Barre’s government where Darod was the absolute majority in the ambassadorial positions. To the average Somali, this is a continuation of the power struggle between Darod and Hawiye. It is an act unworthy of a government whose agenda is to heal the Somali society.

The office of the President is an example of total absence of power-sharing. He surrounded himself with a mechanical diet of people with the same tribal stripes. Does this represent a lack of trust for the rest of the Somali society? Or does it reflect a return to the beginning of state failure?

The Head of State, in a post-conflict situation, must have the primary responsibility of bringing the society back together, healing the wounds of war, bridging the gap between warring factions and righting the wrongs. The president, as the man at the helm of the renascent nation, must carry the bigger responsibility of reconciling the country and taking a leadership role in becoming an exemplary statesman whose dedication to rebuilding is emulated by the civil service and the ordinary citizens alike. On the contrary, President Hassan Sheikh, like those before him, has burdened himself with the procurement of foreign aid. Although foreign aid is crucial for rebuilding the country, a greater emphasis must be placed on creating an atmosphere where rebuilding is possible. Whereas the frequent-flyer- president is convincing the world of his six-pillar road map, the real road map of reconciling the torn nation is neglected. It has not been assigned to anyone – not to the President and not to the Prime Minister.  

Judicial and Legal Reform

Rule-of-law is the most fundamental requisite in making the transition from conflict to post-conflict and full reconciliation of society. The issue has been largely ignored by the current government.

The judiciary is dysfunctional; its staff members are either incompetent and are a major part of the problem. Corruption in the judiciary system is rampant; staff are completely discredited in the eyes of the public. A recent case may shed some light on the state of the Somali Judiciary system.


A young man, Siyaad Xuseen Sheekh Soofe, was murdered in Peace Hotel in broad daylight. The victim’s murder is known. The family went to court. The judge, through tribal lineage, is related to the assassin. He ruled blood money in the amount of $120 US to be paid to the victim’s family and the murder be jailed for 6 months. A clear case of conflict of interest is ignored by the judicial system. The case has become an epitome of injustice in Mogadishu and the amount of material written about this case on Somali websites is an indication of the steep loses of legitimacy by the Judiciary System.


The above case is elucidates the absence of any judiciary plan by the current government. Such a plan is crucial to a post-conflict society where the rule of law has to take root so that the war torn society has reason to lay down their weapons and trust in the law. Social legitimacy is also an important element that the government needs in order to carry the national recovery forward. Cases like this one and many more that are common in Mogadishu are eroding the trust of the people in the current government.


The absence of Truth and Reconciliation Committee also affirms the government’s lack of interest in undertaking any social reconciliation. One of the most outstanding issues that require immediate attention is return of properties in the capital city still held by individuals. Apart from a few instances where the President paid lib service to the issue, there have been no attempts at any tangible return of property. Apart from the fact that the judicial system is staffed by corrupt and incompetent staff, if a true rule of law must take root in Somalia the government has to establish a number of oversight committees to ensure that the justice system progresses to garner the trust of the society:

  1. Internal oversight, such as police internal affairs bureaus
  2. Parliamentary oversight
  3. Judicial review and inspections through the courts
  4. an ombudsman, a commission of inquiry, or a national human rights commission
  5. Civil society oversight

Demobilizing Tribal Militias

Once the most powerful military in the Horn of Africa, the Somali National Army, voluntarily disbanded when Omar Arte Qalib, the Prime Minister for Ali Mahdi government enjoined the National Army to surrender to the militia groups; the SNM in the North and the USC in the South. This had a long-lasting negative consequence in that: a) the official preference by the government of tribal militias over the national army and b) loss of identity for the majority of the army servicemen who regarded that their only allegiance is to the nation. As none of the governments that followed had the capacity or the willingness to reverse this trend, the National Army servicemen and women assumed civilian lives or left the country turning their back on any hope to assume their role again. Those who could not or would not part with the tribal ideology joined the militias or formed their own.

The empowerment of tribal militias and their precipitous influence on the current government is derived from the self-justification to create a national army. Yet, there are practical examples of the stranglehold these militias have on the current government and how much she depends on them for survival. The case of General Dhega Badan is an optimal example.

General Dhega Badan was appointed by Sheikh Sharif as the Commander of the Armed Forces. As a veteran of the Somali National Army, he was the principle driving force for the defeat of Alshabab in Mogadishu and parts of Lower Shabelle. The fate of the general was sealed when he tried, and succeeded to a large degree, to curb the rape, abductions and roadblocks that plagued Lower Shabelle. Without regard for his accomplishments, the general was unceremoniously released from service because of the lobbying clout of the same tribal militias who unleashed a reign of terror in Lower Shabelle. It is important to note here that not a single village has been liberated from Alshabab since General Dhega Badan. On the contrary, Alshabab has become so bold that there are explosions, ambushes, assassinations of high profile civil servants and suicide bombings within the span of two weeks between; 10 July – 24 July 2013.

On Jul. 24, Sheikh Abdu Aziz Abu Musab, Al-Shabaab’s military spokesman, said that his group carried out over 100 attacks between Jul. 10 and 24. Half of these, he said, occurred in Mogadishu. Courtesy of IPS (Inter Press Services)

They became so emboldened that the extremist organization invaded some districts of Mogadishu by foot.

The tragedy of return of insecurity to Somalia and its many faces is highlighted by the untimely pullout of Médecins Sans Frontières’ from Somalia. Dr. Karunakara of MSF stated the problem aptly and succinctly by saying that  “The final straw was the realisation that authorities, armed actors and community leaders were actively supporting or tacitly approving the attacks, the abductions, the killings against our staff”.

And it is not only MSF that has withdrawn staff from Somalia; most international organizations withdrew their non-essential staff as a result of the increase in violence. The daring attack on the UN compound, the raid on the Turkish embassy, bombings on markets such as the Bakara market and major population areas in the city, the killing of civil service, government soldiers. Yet, the government whose six-pillar road-map hinged on security is acting as though nothing has happened. International and NGOs staff have become a cash-cow for the same groups that lobbied for the ouster General Dhega Badan. Intrepid military officers and audacious men like him will be remembered forever as a few who dared to bring a semblance of peace and stability while operating in an atmosphere deprived of all the rules of sanity and sensibility. It is not only Alshabab profiting from the corrupt arrangement between them elements who profit from the instability of Somalia.

Why all these Gaffes

Corruption takes many forms and assumes many faces. From small favors for friends to mega-million dollar deals with foreign multi-national companies, the footprints of corruption are everywhere around the world. Corruption in Somalia, though sharing few traits with the rest of the world, is on a class of its own and takes place at a number of levels.

Like anywhere else, corruption takes place on a personal level. Although varying in magnitude and frequency, personal level corruption in Somalia does not, in the present time, pose the greatest risk to slippage back into civil war. It is tribal corruption that presents the single most devastating tool that keeps Somalia from becoming a viable nation. Allegiance to tribe and the greed and ignorance that come with it have blinded many Somalis to the vision of nationhood. The pinnacle of tribalism is to achieve tribal supremacy with the aid from an incognizant international community whose material and financial aid to rebuilding a nation are used for the advancement cherished tribal desires.

The dangers of revenant civil wars are not visible to the myopic eyes of tribalist leaders who favor to expand the ambit of their kin at any cost necessary. They are oblivious to the wealth of the greater value that can come from implementing justice.

Corruption also occurs at the group level. A group can be a political party, a politico-religious group or simply a group of friends. These groups are not independent of tribe and its many levels, personal insatiable desire for wealth and therefore any combination of group and tribe can produce many more layers that can hatch their own brand of corruption. The possibilities are almost infinite for Somalia. The lack of transparency and both the monopolistic powers of government officers and cabinet members are the driving force behind Somalia’s corruption. The absence of proper check and balance of power, widespread habit of tarnished means and ways to get to public office – from the presidency to parliament, from cabinet members to bureaucracy – and the lack of willingness to change on the part of those who came into the system by these foul means, make it that much harder to fix the channels of corruption.


There is a slim chance of democratization unless there is complete stabilization of the state. Stabilization hinges on solving the tribo-political quagmire which represents Somalia’s primary problems, which in turn, revolves around not only resolving the Hawiye – Darood dichotomy but also affirming the rights of other tribes especially peaceful ones and minorities. This is the dilemma of the Somali Federal Government; a dilemma that it has created for itself and from which it may not be able to extricate itself from, without untangling itself from group and tribo-political dynamics.

Like the Somali society, the international community also is at a critical juncture. There is great pressure to rebuild a stable Somalia which can cause them to lose sight of the reality. The imbalance between foreign policy and the dearth of internal security, lack of reconciliation and human rights violations are all glaring deficiencies in this government’s post-conflict reconstruction policy – deficiencies that will cause the entire commitment of the International Community to fail. It bespeaks to the lack of understanding of the priorities for a post-conflict society: social reconciliation, security, stability and democratization in that precise order but not necessarily one at a time.

Nur Bahal

Toronto, Canada

20 August 2013

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Posted by on October 12, 2019 in Somalia