There is an emerging consensus among Somalis that there cannot be political equality in Mogadishu as long as a group of elders and politicians claim the capital city to be a property of a clan. “We own Mogadishu” has replaced “I have a property in Mogadishu”. Lack of political inequality translates into, among other problems, inter-clan mistrust, a weak government and victimisation of minority Somali clans. Mogadishu is the capital of Somalia; Somalis hold it to a higher standard despite its history of dispossession that, at different stages, has affected almost all residents in the capital city since 1991.
Without a candid conversation about the impact the loss of Mogadishu’s cosmopolitan status has on how Somali political classes interact, no Somali government can function in the capital. All the progress made on getting politicians to work together within the framework of federal institutions can easily be undone.
Federal parliament MPs who put primacy on their political advantage based on ability to organise militias against the government are now putting pressure on the Federal Government of Somalia to grant their clan militias the privilege to operate in Lower Shabelle in the name of the Somali National Army. Their political power is rooted in the capital city’s status as an unofficial clan fiefdom. This factor partly explains why successive Somali governments have failed to function in the capital without being threatened by clan militias, and why the Lower Shabelle crisis remains an intractable political problem.
A national conversation about the political injustice and inequality is only possible if MPs not associated with Mogadishu clanwise summon the courage to speak up against cliques that deem unaccountable political power in Mogadishu to be akin to ruling Somalia.
There are some issues that anti-government MPs and senators cannot solve through opposition to the federal government or vote of no confidence threats. Having no a common viewpoint on the Somali National Army is a political problem on the brink of derailing the security architecture unveiled in London Somali Conference in May 2017. Mahad Salad, a Somali MP, described the American decision to suspend assistance for the “Somali National Army” as a plot to recruit “mercenaries”. Ghost soldiers whose illegal salaries are pocketed by some commanders once again brought to the fore some facts Somalis discuss in fadhi-ku-dirir – Somalis’ public sphere.
How can Somalis go about starting a candid conversation about the capital city claimed by sub-clans? First of all the Somali political class ought to agree criteria for a city to become or retain a capital city status. It is impossible to reverse the demographic and residential transformation Mogadishu has been undergoing since 1991. The clan ownership claim of the capital city took shape shortly after rebels had overthrown the military dictatorship in January 1991. United Somali Congress divided Mogadishu districts into sub-clan zones (aagag). The three month battles between forces of the former interim president, Ali Mahdi, and militias of General Aideed did destroy almost two-third of Mogadishu and divided the capital into North and South halves. The Union of Islamic Courts brought to an end the legacy of warlords in 2006, thereby making a degree of governance possible in capital threatened by latent warlordism.
Mogadishu has the distinction of being the seat of government for the thirty years Somalia had a centralised government. Politicians and bureaucrats based in the capital before 1991 made decisions that had impact on life chances of their compatriots in nearby regions and regions on the periphery. A Somali capital city for a functioning state will never enjoy pre-1991 status of Mogadishu: Somalis associate a politically dominant capital city with centralism, neglect and oppression.
If all other Somali cities have clan ownership claim of specified territory in common with Mogadishu how can a Somali government function in Somalia? A capital city can become a seat of a national government if it meets the following criteria: (a) it is administered federally (b) opportunities in the public sector will be equally shared among Somali social groups regardless of not being associated with seat of government clanwise (c) there are policies aimed at remedying injustices inflicted on citizens (d) Anyone who condones embezzlement or violation of citizens’ rights will lose the right to hold public office.
Somali politicians do not only have the capacity to make Somalia unnecessarily indebted to other countries and multilateral organisations; their interactions with each other in pursuit of unfettered access to public resources through the state leave a legacy of mistrust, deep inequities and injustices. Discussion on the status of Mogadishu as a capital city will have to be conducted in an atmosphere that does not stigmatise victims of political opportunism in whose name politicians and elders lay claim on the capital city. For citizens to have equal political rights politicians must encourage addressing inequities embedded in valuing clan identity at the expense of citizen rights. Mogadishu’s continued status as a clan fiefdom makes mockery of the Somalis desire to exist peacefully with each other and with neighbouring countries. If Mogadishu cannot create an atmosphere for political equality, Somalis have other cities that can host a Somali government.