by Abdirizak M. Diis
Friday, January 15, 2021
Somalia gained its independence in 1960. The president of the nascent government Aden Abdullahi Osman was elected democratically. Osman was reelected through a popular vote for a second term and lost to Abdirashid Ali Sharma’arke who was once his prime minister. President Osman conceded and handed power over to his successor peacefully. During that time, Somalia earned the title “The Switzerland of Africa.” President Kennedy lauded Somalia’s democracy and indicated how the two nations resemble in terms of democracy and governance. That was a testimony to how Somalia was more like western democracies. Below are the remarks President Kennedy made when he welcomed then Somalia’s Prime Minister Abdirashid Ali Sharma’arke to the US. “ Separated as we are by geography and history, we also find a sense of kinship to your government which, in its separation of powers between the Executive and the Legislature and the Judiciary, bears a resemblance to the balance of powers which we have felt in this country best insures the liberty of the individual, We are particularly happy to visit us”
President Sharmaarke was assassinated by one of his bodyguards and the motive behind the assassination is not definitely known today. Nonetheless, the assassination opened Pandora’s box that created many problems for the people of Somalia. It was the birth of the culture of uncompromising in Somali politics. The then parliament could not agree on Sharmaarke’s replacement which made the door wide open for the military to stage a coup d’etat that took individual rights.
The progress that was made in the early years of modern Somalia was absorbed by the coup d’état led by Mohamed Siyad Barre. The Military’s intervention was in part to blame the parliament who could not agree. Nevertheless, the first duty of the armed forces is to protect the constitution and defend the country against foreign invasions. But, the armed forces led by Mohamed Siyad Barre dissolved the parliament, suspended the constitution, and arrested politicians. The coup d’état established a culture of uncompromising in Somali politics where Somali politics can be defined as the winner takes all. The culture led to a civil war that is ongoing for approximately thirty years with no signs on the horizon to end anytime soon.
Somali politicians can learn from American politics that were founded on the culture of compromise since the country was founded on July 4th, 1776. Several compromises were made and enacted into law to keep the union together and prevent civil war. To mention a few, the compromise of 1970 made between South and North represented by Hamilton, Madison, and Jefferson also backed by Washington. They compromised the Funding Act and Residence Act. The compromise of 1850 and 1877 are another two great examples of American political compromises.
The uncompromising culture instigated troubles for Somalis. This culture produced the civil war in 1991. Mohamed Siyad Barre refused to leave power after 21 years of dictatorship, repression, and tyranny. and destruction. There was a popular demand for change because people got tired of his repressive tactics that silenced anyone who uttered a word against the regime even if it leads to destroying towns and killing masses of people. The 1990 manifesto which was an endeavor by local actors to save Somalia from plunging further into dissolution was rejected by the President. He instead opted to put the drafters of the Manifesto to jail. Many examples can be cited including the bombing of northern cities and the arrest of the Manifesto drafters. The manifesto called the president to resign and prevent the further dissolution of the country.
The country plunged into civil war and the subsequent warlords that replaced the government could not agree on any model of governance. There were many attempts in neighboring countries and elsewhere that brought together all warlords to save the country. All attempts ended in vain because the culture of uncompromising is deeply rooted in Somali politics. Finally, a new power-sharing system (The first of its kind) was developed in Djibouti. This power-sharing system introduces a 4.5 model, where the four major tribes get equal shares of the parliament and all minorities share half of what the major tribes get. This model was designed to create a framework of compromise between the leaders of the four major tribes. However, it’s clear more than ever before that the 4.5 system failed to instill a compromised culture in the hearts of Somali politicians.
The Union of Islamic courts emerged in 2006 and restored peace and stability in most of Southern Somalia that were enormously needed. However, they lacked international recognition. On the other hand, a recognized Somali government was formed in Kenya led by President Abdullahi Yussuf Ahmed. Common sense tells us that the two entities need each other to restore the glorious and prosperous Somalia that everyone yearned for it. Again, they could not agree on the future of the country when they met in Khartoum. The lack of compromise led to the invasion of Ethiopian troops into Somalia. Many other examples can be drawn from recent Somali politics.
The country is going through a historical juncture that needs compromise. The impasse over the election can be solved only through compromise. Everyone cannot get everything they want. Somali politicians need to learn from their history and prevent the country from going into another civil war that we never know when it’s going to end. I call upon the Federal government to take the lead and consult with other stakeholders in the selection process of the electoral committee and ensure their impartiality. The election committee must have the trust of the public and those contesting. Any election that lacks confidence leads to unwanted administration and mayhem. We must learn from history, recover from past mistakes, and create a promising future for young generations through compromise and acceptance of one another’s views.
Abdirizak M. Diis
The author is an academic and International Relations expert and East Africa political Analyst based in Minneapolis.