Among all the business that was left undone when the Western “donor”-powers/U.N. rammed through the “transition” to the Somali Federal Government (S.F.G.) in the late summer of 2012 was that of the form that a permanent Somali state would take.
In particular, although it specified that Somalia would be a federal state, the interim constitution did not decide the issue of whether the form of federalism would be centralized or decentralized, paving the way for a political struggle that is now underway between interests favoring an arrangement in which the central government would dominate regional states and those favoring one in which the regional states would have substantial autonomy in relation to the central government. The two focal points of the conflict over decentralized and centralized federalism are, respectively, Puntland, the only established regional state in Somalia, and the S.F.G., the recognized central government. The territories in which the conflict is playing out are the regions of south-central Somalia, in which regional states have not yet been formed. The S.F.G. has been attempting to set up regional administrations in south-central Somalia that are loyal to it, whereas Puntland is encouraging the formation of regional states that are independently organized. With forces in favor of both arrangements in each of the south-central regions, the conflict has become a test of power region by region.
Of all the regions in south-central Somalia, those in the deep south – Lower Jubba, Middle Jubba, and Gedo – have become the test case for whether Somalia will adopt centralized or decentralized federalism. Even before the inception of the S.F.G., a process had begun to unite the deep-southern regions in a regional state that was undertaken by local politicians and clan leaders independently of any central authority. By early November, 2012, that process to create a “Jubbaland” state modeled on Puntland had matured to the point that negotiations among the participants moved from Kenya to the capital of Lower Jubba, Kismayo, and preparations for a convention to inaugurate Jubbaland were underway. Faced with the imminent prospect of a regional state in south-central Somalia that was formed without the S.F.G.’s guidance, the S.F.G.’s president, Hassan Sh. Mohamud, asserted that any regional state in the deep south should be formed under the direction of the central government. In response, the technical committee overseeing the preparations for the Jubbaland convention dispatched a delegation to Somalia’s capital Mogadishu to attempt to persuade Hassan to back the Jubbaland process. Hassan countered that the administrations of the deep-southern regions should be appointed by the S.F.G. The initial face-off had ended in a deadlock.
From mid-November, 2012 through late February, 2013, the conflict remained frozen as both sides attempted to mobilize support, and preparations for the Jubbaland convention proceeded. The struggle reignited in late February, on the eve of the convention’s opening and has gone on since then.
The Show-Down Begins
Slated to start on February 23, the Jubbaland convention was delayed when armed clashes broke out between Ogaden-Darod and Marehan-Darod militias in Kismayo, and some of the delegates to the convention from Gedo had not yet arrived in the city.
On February 24, as reported by Hiiraan Online, the S.F.G. attempted to pre-empt the convention, with S.F.G. interior minister, Abdikarim Hass Guled announcing that the S.F.G. had not been involved in the preparations for the Jubbaland convention and would hold a “more inclusive” convention of its own for the deep-southern regions. “We are inviting all parties to attend this conference including the interim local rulers [who are key figures in the Jubbaland process] and all the local stakeholders,” said Guled.
The counter-convention turned out to be a bargaining chip for Guled when he arrived in Kismayo on February 25 with an S.F.G. ministerial delegation and met with local officials involved in the Jubbaland convention. As reported by Garowe Online, Guled suggested that the convention be held in Mogadishu, whereas his interlocutors insisted that its venue remain in Kismayo. According to Moallim Mohamed Ibrahim, speaking for the convention’s organizing committee, the Jubbaland leadership had repeated to Guled the invitation that they had “always extended” to the S.F.G. to participate in the convention, to which, he said, the S.F.G. had not replied. Having had their counter-offer of a Mogadishu convention rejected, the S.F.G. delegation returned to Mogadishu, saying that they would consult with Hassan on the possibility that the S.F.G. would participate in the Jubbaland convention.
On February 27, more convention delegates from Gedo arrived in Kismayo. It came to light that the absence of the Gedo delegates had been due to some Gedo politicians’ opposition to the convention. Sh. Mohamud Daud Odweyne, spokesman for the Ahlu Sunna Wal-Jamaa (A.S.W.J.) movement, a Sufi-associated militia that is prominent in Gedo, and a member of the Jubbaland technical committee, told Garowe Online that he had met with the opposition politicians in Gedo’s capital Garbaharay and had convinced them that they should attend the convention. On the same day, Guled sent a tweet warning that “no clan or armed group” could create an administration in Kismayo. Guled was making a veiled reference to the Ogaden-Darod and the leader of the Raskamboni movement, which is dominated by that sub-clan, Sh. Ahmed Mohamed Islam (Madobe), who chairs Kismayo’s interim administration. The opposition Gedo politicians were Marehan-Darod.
The Jubbaland convention opened on February 28 with a speech by Madobe in which he urged the S.F.G. to attend. The delegates, who numbered more than 400, then began discussions on a schedule for mapping out a Jubbaland regional state. The S.F.G. had failed in its first attempt to derail or redirect the Jubbaland process.
The S.F.G. made its next move on March 2, when the office of S.F.G. prime minister, Abdi Farah Shirdon, issued a statement declaring the Jubbaland convention to be “unconstitutional:” “The government’s constitutional mandate is to establish a federal state as the end goal.” In fulfilling its mandate, said Shirdon, “the government will only be a facilitator.” The statement ended by warning that in its unilateral action, “the Kismayo convention will jeopardize the efforts of reconciliation, peace building and state-building, create tribal divisions and also undermines the fight against extremism in the region.”
In a statement issued on February 26, the Puntland government had already accused the S.F.G. of “violating the country’s [Somalia’s] Provisional Federal Constitution “ by “actively interfering with the formation of emerging Federated States, such as Jubbaland in southern Somalia...More