Somalia is trapped by clan warlordism, crippling federalism and paralyzing foreign diktat


May 19, 2021

By Osman Hassan

The Somali capital, Mogadishu, has been rocked by one of its worst political crisis seen in April, giving the jitters to its residents. For those old enough, it brought back nightmares of the dark days of 1991, when Siyad Barre’s military government was overthrown by warlords backed by armed clan militia. They saw Mogadishu as their own clan patrimony and the government it hosts as their heritage.

Militia, Mogadishu

Far from ushering the return of democracy, as the people yearned for, what those warlords of yesteryear had bequeathed the country instead was the collapse of the very Somali State with its catastrophic consequences from which it is reeling to the present day. Needless to say, over a million people had died- directly or indirectly, as other millions were displaced, dispossessed, or forced to flee the country to seek refuge in foreign countries. And the capital itself was destroyed through senseless merciless internecine sub-clan war, each vying for Siyad Barre’s post. Many thought what happened was an aberration, a bad patch in the history of the peaceful beautiful city that will never happen again.

Warlordism, Here I come

Unfortunately for Somalia, warlordism in Mogadishu did not vanish once the military government was ousted and the ensuing civil war ended. Rather, it became implanted in the political ethos among segments of the capital’s native denizens. Like an on and off volcano, Mogadishu’s warlordism rears its ugly head now and then, reminding its traumatised population and the rest of Somalia that it is only on hold but could bounce back into action anytime of its choosing. As it is, Warlordism is once again upon us, this time led not by deranged generals but of all people two former presidents, Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud and Sheikh Sharif Ahmed who want power by hook or crook.

Giving Farmaajo the marching orders, the erstwhile president reminded him in one recent memorable speech, echoing the mood of the opposition front, their successive victories (i.e. by his clan), chasing from Mogadishu the likes of Siyad Barre, the Ethiopian invaders and Abdullahi Yusuf. Swearing in the name of Allah three times for effect (Wallaahi, Thuma Wallaahi, Thuma Wallaahi), he said the same fate awaits Farmaajo. This blood-curdling threat struck a deep chord among his simple-minded cheerleaders. But for the rest of Somalis, he is likely to forfeit their respect for his shameful descent from the lofty exemplary conduct incumbent upon a former president into the gutter of a crude clan warrior stoking inter-clan wars.

Foul Election versus Free and Fair Election

What triggered the insurrection by the opposition warlords, occupying their respective sub-clan districts of the capital, was the call by the Somali parliamentarians for a one-person, one-vote general election within two years. These MPs who voted for this call by an overwhelming majority hail from every region and clan of Somalia, an action widely welcomed by the Somali people at home and abroad. Nothing therefore could have taken Somalia more on the right path to democracy and respect for the will of the people to choose their law makers than this parliamentary action.

As such, one would have expected those who endlessly preach respect for democracy to African countries to put their money where their mouth is and welcome and support this parliamentary initiative which has the blessing of the Somali nation. Rather endorsing full democracy, Somalia’s so-called international partners (IP) instead ordered a sovereign government, under crude repeated threats of financial sanctions, to return to the inherently undemocratic and corruption-ridden indirect election which has already run to the sand in the face of opposition from the government’s opponents

What lies behind their opposing the action of the Somali parliament -which represents the will of the Somali nation -is their fear that a one-man one-vote general election is a self-serving ploy by Farmaajo to extend his time in office and, more worryingly, to enhance his re-election prospects. Such a possibility is an anathema for some for some of them, judging by the reactions. It is as if they will no longer be able to hold Somalia on a leash if it goes down the road to full democracy and free parliamentary elections.

And it is not as though parliament has rushed before all avenues have been exhausted for reaching a consensus on the indirect selection of MPs as the international partners would claim. The government as we know has bent backwards to be conciliatory. Unfortunately, each time it made concessions to its opponents they would move the goalposts and demand more. Their aim was to wear down the government until Farmaajo was finally forced to surrender to their demand

The dispute over the election process and the direct intervention of the IPs has shown more than ever who runs this country. It shows Somalia is nothing more than a puppet and the IPs are the ones pulling all the strings. In the face of this diktat, Farmaajo and Parliament have succumbed to their demands with their tail between their legs. Their detractors got more than they wanted now that all responsibility for the selection (not election) of MPs is entrusted to the PM, Mr Roble. Whatever else he is not, he is certainly a nice guy who no doubt will please all his interlocutors but end up sacrificing his government to appease the IPs, the nouveau warlords, the rogue federal member states, and what have you.

Contrast the case of Somaliland

Most Somalis are aware of the double standard practised by Somalia’s IP. On one hand, they forced the federal government of Somalia to give up free and fair one-person-vote general election and return to the corrupt indirect selection of members of Parliament. On the other hand, they have been putting no less pressure on Somaliland, Somalia’s secessionist enclave, to hold free and fair one-person-one-vote elections for its regional houses –precisely what they denied the federal government to do. No doubt, when Somaliland does that, as it is due to do soon, its supporters among the IP would hail it as an oasis of democracy in contrast to the rest of failed Somalia. Some might even go further and say it deserves recognition for its democratic achievements.

What is the way for Somalia?

Somalia is trapped by clan warlordism, crippling federalism and foreign diktat. Facing them is the challenge for the whole nation

Crippling False Federalism

The adoption of the federalism in Somalia was a response to the disenchantment with the long years of military dictatorship and a longing to bring democratic governance to its stakeholders at the regional and local levels. It turned out to be like jumping from the frying pan into the fire, bringing little of the benefits of Mohamed Siyad Barre’s military rule and merely replacing one faraway despot with another, closer to home and often far more malevolent.

Worse, federalism created regional member states that reject accountability to the centre, defy its supremacy and act as sovereign entities conducting relations with foreign countries over the head of the central government and often at the cost of Somalia. This federal paralysis is much to the benefit of outsiders and for that reason defended as the IPs does. It is time Somalia dumped this albatross round its neck and returned to the 1960 unitary system that served the country well but this time with some adjustments here and there to cater for a modicum of administration devolved to the regions, headed by governors appointed by the central government on their merit.

A New Capital is Indispensable

Other than Mogadishu, no capital in Africa- or for that matter the world do some of its inhabitants claim to be its sole owners and exclude the rest as outsiders? Not only that, but also claim the prerogative to topple the head of State or government unless headed by one of them. So, what makes Mogadishu so different? It is not as though other Somalis –people and government- have been nasty to the capital, or to those who claim to be its true owners; on the contrary.

Mogadishu, Somalia

At independence, when the two parts of Somalia were uniting, Mogadishu had no God-given right to be the capital of Somalia. Hargeisa, Kismayo, Baidowa, among others, could have instead been chosen. But we opted for Mogadishu in the rush for union, and the northerners were in overdrive to please in every way their newly found brethren.Since then, Somalia, as government and people, put almost all their eggs in one basket: Mogadishu. Both public and private investment from other regions and Somalis around the globe, as well as foreign development and humanitarian aid, both bilateral and multilateral, all poured into Mogadishu to the exclusion of the rest of the country. All that one-sided attention to the capital had the blessing rather than the envy of the rest of the people of Somalia.

And yet, the reward for all was what Mogadishu warlords and their followers did in 1991, and now once again up on the move for a comeback. Clearly, warlordism has not disappeared but deeply rooted in Mogadishu and hangs like the sword of Damocles over any government they object to and other residents considered outsiders. Farmaajo is their target today like Siyad Barre of yesteryear, despite what he has done for the city since he came to office (as Siyad Barre did too before).

Even if Somalia manages to buy their peace, as Prime minister Roble seems to be doing, there is always the next warlords waiting in the wings. It is a recurring problem. The Somali State cannot function if it has no stable welcoming capital it can call its own. It is time therefore Somalia looked for a provisional capital until a permanent one is chosen at the right time. The worst is to do nothing, waiting for the next crisis, and finally surrender to the likes of Indha Cadde and his mob as Siyad Barre did.

Somalia needs bilateral True Partners

Somalia’s so-called international partners comprise 21 countries and 5 international and regional organisations. It is noteworthy that key countries such China and Russia are excluded and that says a lot. The nature of the relation between them and Somalia is such that partnership in its real sense is a misnomer except in few cases. It is a relation that is not governed by written mutually agreed framework of cooperation and for that reason gives unfettered freedom to those who want to use it, or abuse it, for their own ends…

Looking at the group as a whole, and from the Somali perspective, Turkey takes the pride of place as Somalia’s true partner and provider at all times. It was the first to come to Somalia’s rescue when millions were starving or dying in the prevailing faming and the rest of the developed or rich world looked the other way. It has since transformed Mogadishu and Somalia, providing generous development and humanitarian aid. As they say, a friend indeed is a friend in need and that is what Turkey is.

Qatar comes second in the league table of true partners albeit trailing far behind Turkey. It offers occasional financial help but all the same paltry, considering its deep pockets or the painful sacrifices Somalia made for it. Perfidy is rooted in the Arabian Peninsula, and Qatar’s reliability unlike Turkey cannot be taken for granted. Its recent mediation between Somalia and Kenya for the resumption of diplomatic relations cynically served its interest but left Somalia licking its wounds.

The active vocal ones in the group are mainly the western members who see Somalia as their trusteeship and their role as supervisors of the country- to monitor and guide its conduct and impose sanctions if it is deemed to have gone astray in their eyes. Their leading heavyweight has been thus far Donald Yamamoto, the outgoing USA ambassador, who is usually the first to give pep talk to the federal government. On such occasions, what he lacks for height he makes up for his punches which often land below the belt.

Once the American had his say, others take their turns, led by former colonial powers of the Horn of Africa, who deliver their lesson with overbearing paternalistic colonial ways. Even little Norway, a country with no colonial history, cannot resist the temptation to join the fray and order Somalia around. It told President Farmaajo to quit his post, dispensing with accepted diplomatic niceties. Their recent dire ultimatums to the federal government to cancel the planned general election or face the music are glaring examples of neo-colonialism in action.

It was bad enough in the past to be under one colonial master. Somalia has now for all practical purposes many unofficial ones foisting themselves on the country. The main leverage at their disposal is the relatively meagre budgetary support which

gives them the license to act the ways they do. No other country in the world, including other war-torn countries, or even failed States, goes through the indignities Somalia is subjected to in the name of partnership. It has become thick-skinned in the process and takes all this humbling on the chin – at least for now.

Hard-nosed self interest and not altruistic considerations per se is the raison d’être of the west’s so-called partnership with Somalia. Their coordinated policy is to keep Somalia weak, divided, defenceless and ungovernable under its crippling federalism in order to have control over its strategic position and immense potential resources. This policy is pursued at several levels.

At one level, it is what they do as individual countries to weaken Somalia’s unity. This is for example the case with some Scandinavian countries and the UK, often deal directly with Somalia’s secessionist region, Somaliland, and provide it funds over the head of the federal government, an action which can only sustain and prolong to the secession if not eventually break up the country.

Secondly, these western “partners” keep Somalia defenceless at the UN Security Council by perpetuating the arms embargo for over 30 years – all this when Somalia has been the victim and never the aggressor against anyone. Such unjust embargo has therefore denied Somalia the means to defend its territory against external aggression, as both Kenya and Ethiopia regularly invade it with impunity, or to defeat Al Shabaab terrorists at home and extend government control throughout the country.

The third channel they use is the ad hoc “international partners” platform which allows its western members to micro-manage and get their noses into almost every aspect of Somalia’s internal affairs as if it was their trusteeship. It is a channel which makes it easier for them as a group to manipulate Somalia than if they were to deal with it bilaterally through their individual embassies. And vice versa, it would be easier for Somalia to stand up to them as individual countries than when they gang up on her in the name of its “international partners”. The lesson is quite clear. Somalia should not be bound to deal with this IP group but only with their governments through the established channels.


A trapped impotent federal government, marooned in Mogadishu, will remain easy prey to manipulation by its western minders so long as it is at their mercy for its protection (UNISOM), dependent on their financial charity, hamstrung by their arms embargo to defend or liberate the country, toothless to end the secession, and powerless to deal with rebellious defiant federal member states that make Somalia ungovernable. Is Somalia destined to remain helpless and hostage to its current predicaments? The answer is no.

Farah Maalim, the veteran Kenya/Somali politician keeps calling on the Somali government ad nauseam to cast its net wide and seek true countervailing partners to the current IPs, adding that both China and Russia would be indispensable for its defence and development. It would be an advice they would need to heed. The worst option is to give up and give in to foreign domination.

Osman Hassan
email: osman.hassan2
Osman Hassan is a seasoned journalist and a former UN staff member. Mr Hassan is also a regular contributor to WardheerNews.

Osman Hassan (Badawi) is a former BBC Somali journalist, a life long anti-Somaliland activist. He is very active in many Somali forums including Somalia Online (Sophist), Wardheernews (Wiilwaal) and Somalinet (Cilmiile).

Secondly, these western “partners” keep Somalia defenceless at the UN Security Council by perpetuating the arms embargo for over 30 years – all this when Somalia has been the victim and never the aggressor against anyone. That’s all that needs to said with this nutter!

“At one level, it is what they do as individual countries to weaken Somalia’s unity. This is for example the case with some Scandinavian countries and the UK, often deal directly with Somalia’s secessionist region, Somaliland, and provide it funds over the head of the federal government, an action which can only sustain and prolong to the secession if not eventually break up the country.”

He criticizes Mogadishu being ungovernable due to unuka le clannism, then argues all development funds should go through the abyss that is Mogadishu?