Local governance in Somalia – New emperor in old clothes?

by Shane Quinn

Somalia has endured a rash of misguided international interventions to resolve its malaise, and apart from initial optimism of the Arta process in 2000 with its extensive civil society participation, these have consistently failed to deliver on their intentions. After all these years, is it finally time for the international community to move away from a centralised state solution towards a hybrid system of governance?

It’s a moot point, although in its latest policy briefing, Crisis Group is heavily advocating in favour of this solution. The latter is not the first to push for this. Back in 1999, in his article, ‘New Hope for Somalia? Building Block Approach’, Matt Bryden promoted autonomy for enclaves or regions which were traditonally recognised as being relatively clan homogenous. In his long research association with the country, Ken Menkhaus has gone further and addressed the idea of organic regional or district administrations assuming a greater role as a viable form of governance in Somalia.

Interestingly, we’ve come full circle after a series of failed initiatives aimed at establishing a central state. Despite all these calls for ‘going local’, promoting autonomy in Somalia is not without its critics. Many Somalis see autonomy as the final nail in the break-up of the country, and also a means of pandering to Ethiopian realpolitik with its emphasis on keeping the country weak rather than having a strong and potentially radical neighbour. The legitimacy of these emerging administrations has also been questioned, as some of them lack a close proximity to their respective communities and in some cases are more interested in being service providers or even, as a Chatham House report terms it, having a monopoly on security. International donors will have to make some hard calls before being possibly immersed in another political maelstrom.

Pushing for regional or district administrations is a valid argument, yet dividing Somalia into building blocks similar to those of Somaliland and Puntland would negate the prevailing issue of sovereignty, which has dogged most interventions. Negotiating sovereignty also remains the major sticking point for many ordinary Somalis, but is generally overlooked as a serious obstacle by the international community, possibly with good reason considering the progress in finding a peaceful solution so far.

Yet, Somalia has challenged most notions of a viable state, and continues to raise questions for even the most fundamental theories of governance and the role of the state. This challenge should be embraced, not dismissed. Even though, it is hard to see these proposed autonomous administrations simply materialising out of similar processes as those in Somaliland and Puntland. South-central Somalia and Mogadishu have proven to be highly contested areas over the years, partly owing to aggressive clan migration and partly owing to the clan heterogenity of the southern regions in general. The usual argument for first establishing security – a commodity in itself – in Somalia will take some doing.

So, if such regional or district administrations do achieve some momentum and prove to be sturdy models of governance, what role for a mediated state in Somalia, similar to Wajir in northern Kenya? (See here and scroll down to the article ‘Rise of the Mediated State in northen Kenya’). While holding up the progress of these de-facto local administrations, there should be a role for the misfiring Somali state, although not in its prevailing Transitional Federal Government (TFG) form. In order to remove the most contested aspects of the violence over the years, analysing different state forms – including the reinforcement of the rule of law – as possible solutions, deserves closer inspection.

The state could be assigned a mediating role over a local governance structure, accompanied by an analysis of the prevailing adjudicatory forms such as customary law and sharia law. Without an analysis on the this issue, there is a danger that Somalia reverts to a security-only approach in the hope that consensus and dialogue is a sufficient form of governance. This supervisory state structure could be responsible for foreign affairs, private sector investment and education (to ensure a national curriculum). On a regional level, the municipality could be responsible for its own tax base through increased consensus over financial management capacity, regional courts and security.

Since the stop-start years of warlord violence prior to the rise of the Islamic Courts Union in 2006, significant levels of civic trust had been built up through establishing community protection security measures and procedures for local governance. Instead of treating every emerging regional or district administration as a valid case for support and assistance, it would be more constructive to lift up those sub-national entities that already have a history of relative stability such as Galmudug, as future models for governance. The case could even be argued for these administrations to gain greater autonomy such as that of the semi-autonomous administration of Puntland.

Through practically assessing the details of these administrations, giving case by case examples and suggesting means of funding them, donors would get a better insight into developing channels to support them that do not require going through the TFG or even international organisations. In turn, these administrations would reach consensus on the make-up of the mediated state. Essentially, this would be establishing governance from the bottom up and involve local stakeholders in bringing stability as occurred during the Borama process in Somaliland. But, of course, a solution of this sort will have its detractors, and that in a nutshell, is the main issue for Somalia; consensus on the way forward.

One response to “Local governance in Somalia – New emperor in old clothes?

  1. Pingback: Guest posting announcements and updates – Focus on Somalia, Colombia, Kosovo, Bolivia and Ecuador | TerraNullius

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