Somalia: the Limits of Theoretical State

Published on 23rd April 2012

For a start, there is no denying that Somalia as a nation state exists. Yes it does. It’s on the world map; it’s also represented in the United Nations and numerous international bodies. It has a flag, a president, parliament, national army and police--although these nascent institutions are concentrated mainly in some parts of the capital city Mogadishu.

However, outside Mogadishu there is another reality. From much of South-central Somalia all the way to Puntland, there exists no geographic contiguity and a system of governance that directly takes its cue from the government in the capital city.  Yet the administrations of Ahlusunah waljameeca, Hiiraan, Xima & Xeeb, Azania and Puntland all claim, theoretically, allegiance to the TFG.

The TFG itself is a collection of unelected strange bedfellow – secularists, Sufis, Salafis, centralists, regionalists, federalists – brought together under the 4.5 power-sharing formula. This ‘theater of the absurd’ is imposed on the Somali people for fear of Somalia becoming un-governed space and falling into the hands of international terrorist networks.

On the borders, the armies of neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia are currently deep in Somali territory claiming to assist the Somali government fight Alshaab. They do not, however, coordinate their activities with the TFG forces nor take orders from it. That is Somalia, a country that is free fall all, whose land, sea and air is everyone’s business.  The TFG officially represents this absurd country.

In what can be described as a case of misplaced priorities the TFG is undertaking momentous tasks in its Roadmap initiative. Among other things, they’re drafting a new constitution and readying the nation for elections. It seems these phantasmagorical projects are more important than improving the deteriorating security situation in the capital city and winning the war against Alshabaab. Or perhaps this war is never meant to be won at all. This goose that lays the golden eggs is better chased around than killed!
In another bizarre twist of events, the TFG is sending a delegation to London to hold talks with the representatives of the secessionist enclave of ‘Somaliland.’ The agenda of the talks is everyone’s guess.  However, I will not be surprised if they agree to the secession of ‘Somaliland.’ With the secessionist sympathizer Augustine Mahiga calling the shots, and the venue being London of all places, the expectation does not auger well. This view is informed by the haste with which the secessionists are rushing the process (they’ve announced their technical team ahead of the TFG) and the celebratory mood in Hargeisa relating to this issue. I shall not prejudge though.

Perhaps the secessionists have exhausted everything and are looking for Sadbursi and a larger piece of the political pie of Somalia as they want to compete Puntland in the affairs of Southern Somalia. Even if so, the current theoretical TFG, is ill disposed to undertake such a momentous task on behalf of the country.  Granted, the TFG didn’t initiate this process; they were forced to do it, but they should have at least tried to convince the international community that the more pressing issues of security and stabilization of the country demanded their attention in the immediate term.

The Idea of a Nation and the Somali Condition

In a very thoughtful article entitled ‘The Role of Literature in Modern Africa’ (NewAfrican, Nov. 2010) which was written to commemorate the 50 anniversary since the dawn of independence for many African nations, the famous Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stated that one of the reasons why most African countries are failing is the fact “that citizens have not yet absorbed the idea of a nation. “A nation is not about the geography of land but the geography of the mind. It is an idea, or a collection of ideas.”

Adichie’s says “what has made other modern states succeed is a faith in its own idea of what it is and its place in the world,” which is largely missing in Africa, as we place emphasis on the ‘rituals’ of “the flags and borders and anthems that keep a people ostensibly united.” I’m sure Adichie has no issue with flags and borders, as other successful modern nations have them also, but the lack of self-confidence in ourselves and the loss of collective sense of who we are as a people and how this creates dependency on others is what concerns her most.

Thus, she writes: “We are a people conditioned by our history and by our place in the modern world to look towards "somewhere else" for validation, to see ourselves as inhabitants of the periphery.”  Adichie may have analyzed the current African condition from an imaginative literary point of view but this is also true in the arena of economics and politics. After more than fifty years of independence, Africans still communicate with each other in European languages. African countries do business more with outsiders than between themselves. It’s also easier and cheaper in many African countries to travel to one African country to another via Europe. The cash crop for export, at the expense of domestic production, is still the favorite foreign currency earner. Not to mention the brain drain. I can continue but there is no need to rehash the obvious. The so-called African Union (AU) has done little tangible work to fully integrate African states – politically, economically, and socially - since its founding.

Somalis were the opposite of this. At the dawn of Independence, the largely homogenous Somalis had a solid idea of their collective sense as a people. The geography of the Somali mind was not confined to the two parts that formed the union of Somalia in July 1960. This idea was printed on the flag, legislated in the constitution, and sang in the national song.  At the time, Somalis were a people cocksure of themselves and their place in the world. The Somali child first imbibed the sights and sounds of his native soil before she/he came to into contact with other cultures. Somalis had also embraced and supported the struggles of Africans who were fighting for freedom, such as Mozambique, Angola, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa.

Sadly that idea is today dead and gone. How it died and who killed it is not the scope or reach of this short article; rather it’s to show that Somalia as geographically contiguous nation state is not, currently, in existence. Nor is the idea which formed the original Somalia plausible today. Somalis are growing apart both mentality and physically. That is a reality that we cannot ignore any longer. We have lost the sense of who we are – collectively – as a people. We have become a people who look to others for validation and even rule. Adichie’s African condition is perhaps more Somali than African.

Getting priorities right

The TFG is the only institution that represents this strange country that exists only in name. As such, they should thread carefully and not gamble with the future of this already fragile state by opening Bandora Boxes of secessionism which will certainly trigger cascading effects. The momentum created by the administration of former Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed must not be squandered. Already Alshabaab are bouncing back with the recent deadly suicide attack in Mogadishu. This is because of the chronic over-dependency on foreign forces on the security of the country. It’s a national shame that Somali armed forces cannot hold their ground against Alshaab, let alone displace them without the assistance of AMISON troops. This dependency is ‘created fact’ which can be overcome if the TFG politicians in charge of the army put their priorities right. It’s only by empowering the Somali Armed Forces can the tide be turned against Alshabaab. Ultimately it’s the Somalis that must fight their fight. This open-ended foreign military presence is untenable and detrimental to the future of country. Just the other day AMISON troops were apologizing for running over innocent civilians. Apologies? Why not compensation or even criminal persecution? It‘s high time for the TFG to negotiate with AMISON  an agreement similar to Iraqi- American Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that should set a timetable for their stay in the country and regulate their activities in Somalia.

If we’re not deluding ourselves, the only way proper elections can be held and constitutional referendum be conducted, is by having boots on the ground in the provinces.

Secessionism can also be discouraged by negotiating from a position of strength and by offering better alternatives – that is, if you first put your house in order.

But instead of doing the obvious – which the majority of Somalis agree to - and putting their priorities right, the current TFG leaders, I’m sorry to say, are ‘Mending Rips in the Sky,’ to borrow the title from Dr.  Hussein Adam Tanzani’s essay.

By Nuradin Jilani
Email:[email protected]

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