Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Somalia’s New Autonomous Regions Hit Lethal Snags on Road to Federalism

The barely functioning Federal Somali Government (F.S.G.) is pushing forward this fall to replace its original system of small administrative regions with large autonomous “regional states,” officially enshrining a fragmentation that has been going on over a quarter-century of civil war.  But the plan is running into problems, notably with outbreaks of factionalism and fighting in the central Galmudug and Hiiraan regions.  Some say it is long past time to abandon the whole idea of Somali unity.

It’s only gotten more complicated since.
The most well known of these states, Puntland State of Somalia, has been de facto self-governing since 1991, when Somalia fragmented in civil war following the end of its sponsor state, the Soviet Union.  Today, Puntland is in most ways independent, though the government is nominally “unionist.”  Another region, the former British Somaliland, is the de facto independent Republic of Somaliland, which, unlike Puntland, does not pretend to be part of the Federal Republic of Somalia, though Somalia insists it is.  Somaliland is diplomatically unrecognized, but treated by the United Nations and many states as independent in every respect other than the exchange of ambassadors—mostly because of its oil wealth, exploited by firms from the United Kingdom, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, and elsewhere.

Puntlanders with their flag
The federal government gave its blessing last July to an officially autonomous “Central Regions State,” just south of Puntland.  (That’s the occasion for the flag display at the top of this article.)  That entity has now reverted to calling itself Galmudug Regional State (Galmudug being a portmanteau of the names of the smaller Mudug and Galduduud administrative regions), the name used when it first declared itself self-governing in 2004 amidst the chaos of the Somali civil war.  Galmudug’s formal establishment last year created tensions not only with Puntland—the two states’ shared border is in dispute—but with neighboring entities on its western and southern side which have long aspired, with less success, to formal autonomous status, notably Ximan and Xeeb (also spelled Himan and Heeb) State and Hiiraan State.  Puntland, jealous of threats to its preeminence as a stable, economically viable, and (not incidentally) territorially expansive pseudo-state, has (as discussed before in this blog) repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the Somali federation whenever another autonomous state begins establishing itself.

Mudug + Galgaduud = Galmudug
Internally, Galmudug is riven by factionalism within Ahlu Sunna, a moderate Islamist militia whose conservative faction controls some areas of Galmudug, including the town of Dhusamareb.  Twenty people were killed in a two-day battle for Abudwaak this month between the Interim Galmudug Administration (I.G.A.) and the traditionalist Ahlu Sunna Wajameeca faction, with the I.G.A. securing control of the town.

Warring Ahlu Sunna factions make a stable Galmudug difficult to achieve.
Just last week the newly elected president of Galmudug, Abdikarim Guled, said that Galmudug was in talks with Puntland to end their hostilities.  The Puntland–Galmudug conflict swirls mostly around rival claims on the Northern Mudug administrative district (in the terms of the old, vestigial map of Somalian regions and sub-regional districts), where Galmudug’s newly relocated capital, Adado, sits.  Local clans do most of the fighting in these disputes.  Formerly, Galmudug used the southern part of the city of Galkayo as its capital; Galkayo straddles, Berlin-like, the de facto border between Galmudug and Puntland.  Adado is farther south but is still claimed by Galmudug.  Awkwardly, it is also the capital of the aforementioned Ximan and Xeeb State, an intermittently self-governing landlocked pocket of desert which theoretically aspires to be a Mogadishu-recognized autonomous regional state.

To add to the mess, al-Shabaab (literally “the Youth”), a radical Islamist terror group which affiliates itself with al-Qaeda, is in a constant tug-of-war with these entities, the central government, and with the African Union (A.U.) Mission in Somalia (Amisom), a peacekeeping group dominated by Ethiopia and Kenya, for control of remote towns.  Just last week, federal troops, joined by some of the 2,000 Amisom troops there from Djibouti (a country which sponsors insurgent separatists in western Somaliland, incidentally), drove al-Shabaab out of two Hiiraan villages.  Hiiraan and Middle Shabelle (also called Hiiraan and Jawhar) Regional State was supposed to begin its implementation process on September 1st and complete it in December.  So there is a big push to stabilize that region so it can keep to its timetable.  There is also tension within Amisom, since Djibouti—which sponsors insurgent separatists in western Somaliland, incidentally—suspects Ethiopia of having an anti-Djiboutian agenda in the peacekeeping operations.  Djibouti is ruled by its Issa (Somali) minority, which is in perpetual conflict with its Afar majority, which is also a powerful minority in neighboring Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Somalian subdivisions—old style ...
The current parliamentary system is an arcane one involving unelected traditional clan elders as a sort of estate or upper chamber within the representative system.  But one of the plans being considered divides Somalia into seven large legislative districts: Puntland, the Interim Jubba Administration in the far south (also called, at various times, Jubaland, Jubbaland, Azania, or even Greenland), the Interim South West Administration (also called sometimes Asal, just to the north of Jubaland) (see article from this blog), Galmudug, Benadir, Somaliland, and the Hiiraan–Shabeelle entity (see above).  Jubaland, in particular, is supported by the A.U. and by the Kenyan military command which operates through the A.U. in southern Somalia; Kenya sees it as a useful buffer state between the Kenyan homeland and the al-Shabaab-ruled areas bent on exporting terrorism across the border into Kenya.  (See an article from this blog on Jubaland.)

... and old old style.
Somaliland, in the far northwest, will never accede to being part of the failed state of Somalia; it has done well on its own, and federal forces would never try to subdue Somaliland’s capable military.  But the Puntland, Galmudug, Hiiraan–Shabelle, South-West, Benadir, and Jubaland regional states are gradually trying to normalize themselves, in almost impossible circumstances.  Whether they can ever succeed is an open question.  In my opinion (as I have written as long ago as 2012), the problem is that the international community unanimously backs the failed idea of a central government based in Mogadishu.  The world’s leading nations should grant diplomatic recognition to Somaliland and showcase the country, imperfect though it is, as the island of stability it is in its horrifically dangerous neighborhood (near, among other places, South Sudan and Yemen).  This might encourage Puntland to declare independence as well (it is a quite viable state), or might convince Mogadishu to craft with local leaders a very loose confederation of four or five large regions.  The alternative is today’s dysfunction, with vast areas under no clear governance and becoming a breeding ground for al-Shabaab.  It would be good to get this in place before al-Shabaab, like Boko Haram in Nigeria, switches its allegiance to Islamic State.

The flag of Hiiraan State
[You can read more about Puntland, Galmudug, and many other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]

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