A quarter of a century had elapsed when the state collapsed in Somalia 1991. It is an opportune time to reflect on what went wrong. Somalia has come a long way since 1991. The seemingly intractable political problems in Somalia have many causes. One of them is the absence of a political class with a pan-clan agenda. While the civil war remainsone of the reasons for the collapse of the Somali state in 1991, the adoption of 4.5 power-sharingmechanism for four major clans and minority clans has weakened Somalis’ ability to reconstitute the state. The 4.5 power-sharing mechanism is based on the reasoning that power-sharing among majority and minority clans will lead to forming a national government whose writ extends to all parts of the country. It was introduced and adopted in the Djibouti-sponsored reconciliation conference held in 2000 out of which the Transitional National Government ( 2000-2004), led by President Abdikasim Salad Hassan, had emerged. Both Abdikasim and his Prime Minister, Dr Ali Khalif Galaydh, were ministers in the dictatorial regime that clan-based opposition groups had overthrown in 1991.
At the reconciliation conference in Djibouti, the emphasis was placed on consultations with “the civil society” although, in many parts of Somalia, there were no civil societies. It was a new approach to reconstituting the Somali state but it ignored achievements of leaders who spearheaded successful, locally conceived reconciliation efforts in Somaliland and Puntland.
Locally organised reconciliation conferences empower political leaders to make decisions that lead to peaceful coexistence of clans in a given locality. The 1993 Mudug and 1995 Erigavo agreements are two examples of successful reconciliation initiatives. It was a peace-making advantage that participants in Djibouti-sponsored reconciliation conference and Transitional National Government leaders lacked.
To understand the impact of 4.5 power-sharing mechanism one has got to look at how political institutions based on it have fared so far. It was not only powerful warlords in Mogadishu who opposed the Transitional National Government (TNG). Puntland and Somaliland administrations did not recognise TNG. Somalia’s neighbouring countries viewed the TNG as a product of an incomplete reconciliation process. It made Puntland an ardent proponent of federalism and compelled Somaliland to conduct the referendum in territories under its control in 2001 to legitimise its secession from Somalia.
The former Transitional Federal Government of Somalia( 2004-2012) had utilised the 4.5 power-sharing formula. Warlords were given roles in the executive and legislative branches of federal institutions. Like its predecessor Transitional Federal Government (TFG ) faced opposition from Mogadishu-based warlords, who forced President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed to work in Jowhar and in Baidoa districts for two years before Ethiopian Defence Forces defeated Union of Islamic Courts in 2006 and facilitated the relocation of the President and the Prime Minister to Villa Somalia. Where the TNG alienated regions that have recovered from state collapse, the TFG alienated people who have suffered under the long reign of warlords in many parts of southern Somalia.
The UN-sponsored Djibouti reconciliation conference for the TFG and Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia ( ARS) in 2008 provided another opportunity to use the 4.5 to expand the parliament to incorporate ARS members whose leader, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, was elected President of TNG in January 2009. The TFG under President Sharif had to face Al-Shabaab, which views leaders of successive Somali governments as apostates. When TFG was being phased out in 2012 to pave the way for Somali Federal Government, the first permanent Somali government since 1991, the 4.5 formula was used to select Members of the Parliament, who elected President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
Fifteen years after the current power-sharing mechanism was adopted in Djibouti Somali political classes are as divided over governance as warlords were two decades ago. Successive Somali governments have not made headway in addressing human rights violations by clan militias nor have transitional justice processes called for the UN Security Council been put in place. Consequently, efforts to by Somali Federal Government to integrate clan militias and moderate religious paramilitaries into a Somali army have failed.
Instead of reviving trust in the institutions of the state the 4.5 power-sharing formula has bred scepticism towards state institutions. It still retains discriminatory characteristics that relegated some Somali clans to minority status for not having or being allied with armed militias or ruling a territory. It has prevented the emergence of a political class able to help Somalia to move from a failed state to viable state.
What Somali political leaders of a quarter century ago, who failed to agree on power-sharing after the ouster of the military dictatorship, have in common with the present-day Somali political class is a reluctance to learn from past political mistakes. If Somalis continue to view the state as means used by some clans to achieve political and economic goals, Somali state will remain reliant on peace-keeping forces.
Somalia needs leaders with consensus-building skills who are able to nurture and break barriers between budding Somali civil societies. Sharing political institutions at the centre is futile if a citizen has limited life opportunities in a region whose political institutions one clan dominates, as is the case now. Institutionally, the 4.5 has limited what a President and his government can achieve in areas where people see him as partial. This mistrust in the executive and legislative branch of the government is a legacy of both pre-collapse politics in Somalia under the military dictatorship and post-collapse political disorder caused by lack of a political programme of armed opposition groups. Somalia’s political class depends on the support of the international community but they have yet to show the maturity and farsightedness to learn from political mistakes their predecessors made twenty-five years ago. Somalis expect their leaders meeting in Kismayo to introduce a power-sharing formula that emphasises equal rights for citizens anywhere in Somalia.