baziBy Bazi Bussuri Sheikh

A Somali elder was asked about the new federal system in Somalia and his response was “Federaalka Xaajadiisa hadaan sidii dabo ari loo feydin, ma fayoobaahayso”.   He then added that for the newly imported federal system to have a chance of success, it has to go through the same process the Latin alphabet has gone through to create the Somali Alphabet. Somalia borrowed the Latin alphabet but went through a process of Somalinisation or indigenisation until the breakthrough of Somali Alphabet was introduced. It must have been time consuming and tinkering task for those committee members involved in creating the Somali script. But this is all remembered by Somalis and the world as creative and historical breakthrough. Somalis need to follow the same pattern on areas like reviewing the imported carbon copied constitutions from the West.   This peace is to urge and encourage Somalia’s independent constitution review committee to find a ways to create an environment where the imported and homegrown constitutions interact and evolve in a mutually constitutive way.

After all the Word Federal in Latin terms means Covenant. Covenants have to be voluntary and Federalist experts all agree that the federal process requires a “sense of partnership” and such sense cannot be imposed. There is strong evidence that federal agreements must be based on domestic agreements if they are to survive. History has also shown examples of federal systems imposed by outside forces that are troubled and usually short-lived. Examples include Cameroon “imposed by Britain, lasted 1961-1972”, British Central African Federation “imposed by Britain, lasted 1953-1963” and Mali Federation “imposed by France, lasted 1959-1960”. Therefore, we need to get the Alif of our constitution right so that we do not struggle with the Al-Baqarah (Country’s Well-being). Nigeria got its Federal constitution wrong the first time and lost one million to civil war. But its leaders have been willing to undertake institutional reform and at least contributed to maintaining the integrity of the country across deep ethnic and religious divides.

The external actors’ argument on prescribing federalism to Somalia is that there is historical existence of federal political culture among constituent population (clans and tribes).   But Somalia in pre-colonial era had “Peace preserving federalism” and the prescription given or imported today is “Market preserving federalism sugar coated with ethnicity”. The federalism Somalia needs and the federalism that is imposed or imported do not reconcile well. To reconcile and configure the imported federal system according to Somali way requires the approach prescribed by our early Somali ancestors “Tagoogo Muruqa Kala Bax, Kana Tag”. This is how the Somali Script Committee approached the Latin alphabet and this is the only way we can create institutions that saves lives and suits our country best. We need to look for inspiration from within as the notion to find a meaning in institution and ways of life that are not ours is problematic.

One of the main obstacles to achieving a Somali federalism that maintains both unity and diversity is our inability to have genuine reconciliation. This was a missed opportunity on the early stages of the conflict and will likely take long time as the weakened traditional institution of elders will need to be strengthened. But true traditional reconciliation based on face-to-face at Intra-clan (Within the clans), Inter clans (between clans) and national level remains the best solution to heal the social wounds of the conflict compared to peace conferences that lacked the spirit of mediation and negotiation. Without true reconciliation is like using Aspirin to cure a brain tumour, it may relieve the pain but not provide the cure to brain tumour. Similarly repressed social wounds have uncanny ability to remake themselves even after it is thought they have been rooted out. We have seen it recently in Gaalkacyo and ordinary civilians are always the ones that pay the heavy price.

Another main obstacle is our failure to acknowledge the negative effects past imperialist policies such as the terms “Titular Versus Settler” continue to have today’s post-colonial Somali society and all African countries.  We need reconsider and move beyond the greater crime of colonial legacy that “Each of us is Native or a settler”.   There is a need for a value based national dialogue on what it means to be Somalian. Value based nation building is the most profound form of nation building. When a national identity is based on ethnicity or cultural background, it will always be insular and xenophobic. When it is principle based then it invites anyone who accepts these principles and values to join. The constitution needs to be reformed into such a document by using its core values such as equality, dignity, freedom not only as legal values but rather as moral and religious values. As legal values they are merely rights and claims on others. As moral and religious values they become obligations and duties to others.

Western social scientists have also acknowledged the drawback in focusing too much on securing rights for people and not imposing obligations. They argue that while the role of Bill of rights is indispensable, it remains true that the wellbeing of society rests not only on the protection of rights of the individual and the group taking from society, But just as much on the individual and group exercise the responsible conduct towards other people and seeking of service to them. Therefore we need to transform the Bill of Rights into a Bill of obligations which will then create an atmosphere of responsibility and giving in our society. This approach is more in touch with Somali Customary Law (Xeer) of pre-colonial era, than the individual rights culture of the West.

Our Leaders need to draw wisdom and inspiration from traditional knowledge (Religion, Somali Proverbs and Poems) and customary laws. They need not view every issue with a Western eyes and this is one of the reasons they are seen as the “Classic Outsiders”. Our Western educated Somalis are best described today as “The men trapped between the two worlds and comfortable in neither, accepted by neither”. Every one became a piece of rootless leaf that gets blown in whatever direction the wind blows. But it is possible to be the man of two worlds as Nelson Mandela has demonstrated. He was able to traverse between the two worlds (African Tradition and Western concepts). His leadership drew inspiration, wisdom, courage, humility and patience from the traditions of Africa as well as the best of the Western leadership skills

Our Media played important role in informing the public, but nowadays the role is used to inflame rather than inform. It is becoming hard to distinguish rumour from report, fact from fiction, and truth teller from deceiver. Our youth are consuming media that re-enforces their negative evaluation of the political conflict and this not well for the long term health of the country. The Somali media must live up to their role in our society as liberty means responsibility. This is not to encourage censorship by the government, but to balance freedom of expression with wider moral and social responsibilities. Somalia is yearning for “Peace Journalism” where journalists use the power of the media to help resolve conflict rather than report it from a distance.

Finally, Somalis need to make peace with its past. If every Somali focuses on past mistakes and wrongs inflicted on them is like every one of us driving a car while looking in the rearview mirror. We will keep in the same direction until we collide with something solid (Tagto Daayoo Timaaddo ogow). We also urge Somalia’s independent Constitution Review committee to exercise sense of partnership and cooperation and avoid our worst syndrome of “Aan wax qalano midiyahana kala qarsano”.

By: Bazi Bussuri Sheikh (