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Somalia Conference and Rivalry of Civilizations


A few days before the “Somalia Conference 2013” held in London on May 7, a foreign journalist friend of mine sent me an e-mail asking what my thoughts were regarding the upcoming conference hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron. I replied: “My heart’s belief in miracles outweighed my mind’s interest in the pursuit of objective analysis.”

I am as optimistic as I was then, but hardly quixotic.

While the conference’s Final Communique outlines specific acknowledgements and directives that could have various effects on various actors, the most important messages were asserted in the implicit, or by way of omission.

The communique acknowledges improved conditions such as security sector, drastic reduction in the number of pirate attacks, receding famine, and the large number of the diaspora returning home. Likewise, it acknowledges challenges such as al-Shabaab’s hit-and-run campaign of terror and the fact that the provisional constitution is an incomplete document that fails to address some of the most serious issues of contention.

On the political front, the communique welcomes the Federal Government’s plans “to resolve outstanding constitutional issues, including the sharing of power, resources and revenues between the Federal Government and the regions.” It continues to state, “We welcomed the dialogue on the future structure of Somalia that has begun between the Federal Government and the regions. We welcomed progress on forming regional administrations and looked forward to the completion of that process. We encouraged the regions to work closely with the Federal Government to form a cohesive national polity consistent with the provisional constitution.”

The message seems clear; however, there is one thing missing — the term “federal state.” Though the concept is prominently established in the constitution, oddly it is replaced with terms such as “regions” and “regional administrations” in the communique. Throughout the communique the term is sidestepped seven times.

Was this the result of collective amnesia, or was it a deliberate action articulated in a carefully crafted language? If I were a betting person, I’d go with the latter.

As a newly rebranded coalition mandated by a new resolution, the international community has a new plan and initiative that will most likely to be much different than the discredited version outsourced to the hegemon of the Horn- Ethiopia. Hegemons tend to grant themselves the right to roam around freely and randomly exploit any ventures they deem expedient to their perceived unilateral self-interest.

Despite the fact the U.S. dual-track policy still has a de facto presence on the ground, this new language seems to have been injected to indicate rejection of the prevalent domestic clan-centric political order. Who can ignore the stubborn fact that, in current day Somalia, “federalism” means nothing other than legalized clan domination? The Alfa Clan, or the most armed, mainly gets the lion’s share and subjugates others while crying wolf.

The writing is on the wall: Somalis must renegotiate the form of government and indeed governance in a way that decentralizes power, leaves space to accommodate Somaliland, and brings the nation back together. The international community has been receiving earful of grievances from various clans, such as those from Sol, Sanaag, Ein and Awdal who inhabit Somaliland and say they are facing existentialist threat from the current arrangement, and, as such, are invoking their rights to stay in the union.

However mortifying this may be to some actors, reason should prevail. Staying the old course is a recipe for renewed civil war and perpetual instability. Somalia is too war-weary and too important to let it drift back into chaos again.

Contrary to the common perception, Somalia is perhaps the most important political theatre in the 21st century as it is where geopolitics, geoeconomic and georeligious dynamics intersect and interplay. And it is where two old empires (British and Turkish) are positioning themselves for global influence. Meanwhile, the curtains are slowly opening to unveil the covert rivalry of civilizations, instead of the clichéd “clash.”

According to Jamal Osman of U.K. Channel 4, “Western nations are uneasy about the rapid growth of Turkish influence in Somalia, and the UK government’s initiative is seen as part of the West’s agenda to counter it.”

Whether or not this latest high profile conference would prove “a pivotal moment for Somalia” would depend on two particular factors. First, it depends on how soon the Somali leadership comes to understand that without reconciliation, improved security, public services and development cannot be sustained. Second, it would depend on how key international partners avoid the political temptation of zero-sum gains.

Competition of civilizations can be healthy so long as the key actors cooperate, collaborate and negotiate ways that would not take away from each other and the others. However, it’s no secret that the difference between pre-Erdogan (Turkish Prime Minister) and post-Erdogan visit of Somalia is day and night, and that Turkey has been quite humble about the life-changing provisions it has made available for the Somali people and nation.

At the end of the day, what tips the scale and wins the hearts and minds of people are the tangible direct services provided to them at their most dire moment. Everything else is considered a costly symbolism. “There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit;” said the late Indira Gandhi. “Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there,” she added. This, of course, is even more pertinent to the Somali government.

While improvement of security apparatus, finance system and rule of law are indeed issues of high priority, the federal government would have to provide substantive public services far beyond Mogadishu. More importantly, the government must strategically balance the ways, means and ends at its discretion to achieve its objective of secure, reconciled and cohesively functioning Somalia. That is what Somalis yearn for, and that is what the international community wishes to assist Somalia with.

To think strategically is to recognize “what time is it.” What works today might not work tomorrow; and what is available today might not be available tomorrow.

  • Guest


    • Well done Mr Amir, you hit the nail right on the head.

      • Guest


    • fowsiya

      Aden walaalo xishood oo educate yourself. everything Abukar Arman wrights is for you, to protect your future.
      Ilaahay maskax buu ku siiyay ee isticmaal.

      • Guest


      • Abukar Arman

        Aad ayaad u mahadsantahay Fowsiya.

        • Wardi

          I have been reading sir Arman’s articles and , to me, they are unputdownable and he is so impartial when it comes pointing out Somali Politics, therefore, we need a lot of sir Armans. Arman keep up and keep on writing bright articles and never pay any attention to those who want to throw red herrings.

          • Abukar Arman

            Thank you, Wardi, for the find words. I am humbled, and I hope I can live up to that high expectation.

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you, Aden, for the feedback.

  • Mr Arman, Well done.

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you Ms. Lerew.

  • GB

    “Who can ignore the stubborn fact that, in current day Somalia, “federalism” means nothing other than legalized clan domination? The Alfa Clan, or the most armed, mainly gets the lion’s share and subjugates others while crying wolf.” Who are the current “Alfa Clans” ?

    • Abukar Arman

      I am afraid I won’t be able to help you on that. However, Mr. Google has more expertise than any one I know. He can name names and offer volumes of literature to substantiate charges against each Alfa Clan :-)

  • fowsiya

    Keep up the good work and thank you.

    • Abukar Arman

      Many thanks.

  • apha3

    Enjoyed reading your analysis, Mr. Arman…and as a fan of thoughtful proverbs your choice of Indira’s. I would hope that Somalia will maintain its one country identity. Thanks very much for your informative observations.

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you, Andy, for the feedback and kind words.

  • Ahmed

    A good balanced analysis, reading between the lines of the communique. Well done Mr Arman. Correct me please if didn’t understand you when saying accomedating Somaliland you mean the original way the Somali Republic established.

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you, Ahmed, for the feedback and kind words. I am humbled.

      Per your question, I meant a negotiated win/win outcome reached by legitimate (inclusive) representative from both sides, endorsed by Parliament and ratified by the Somali people.

  • apha3

    Arman, I might add, I did have the pleasant opportunity to initially help members of the Somalia refugee community get settled on Columbus, Ohio. I speak with high admiration for them all…loved them. I noticed different factions within the community carried over from their native country. Inshallah, they can work through this, and not allow this feature to be exploited by external forces.

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you for all that you have done. By and large, the community has matured.

  • Definitely worth congratulating you on this article. I have not read anything more concise to the point on a political issue of Somalia then this.
    I must add that pointing out the obvious isn’t blameworthy trait but when it is seen as such that is when people fail to see the future ahead.

    • Abukar Arman

      Many thanks, Mohammed, for the feedback and kind words.

  • Brother Abukar, I am truly disappointed in your latest pieces. It is also discouraging to see an intellectual in your stature and calibre revert to name calling without being able to articulate why rebuilding Somalia through a federal system is a bad thing!

    Mogadishu is dominated by one clan since 1991, and nothing has changed substantially under this new federal government.

    No Somali could be proud of our current political situation.

    Instead of you congratulating the achievement of Somaliland and Puntland by creating sense of normalcy over past twenty years out of necessity due to Somalia’s unforgiving civil war, you tend to call them out for being ‘clannish fiefdoms.’ May be they are! But how is that different than what is happening in Mogadishu?

    Somalia does not belong to Turkey or Britain!

    Somalia will only be recreated by Somalis in Somalia. Us in the diaspora, I hope despite our shortcomings we could encourage and assist in creating a fair and equitable system of governance for Somalia.


    Hussein Samatar

    • Abukar Arman

      Brother Hussein, thank you for the feedback.

      You wrote, “Mogadishu is dominated by one clan since 1991,
      and nothing has changed substantially under this new federal government.” I agree with you; the key phrase being “substantially”.

      Dear Brother, I don’t have any ill-feelings toward Somaliland
      and Puntland. As I said on a number occasions before (and I will repeat it now), I am VERY PROUD of what they achieved in the past couple of decades while Mogadishu was the abode of the demons- pandemonium. However, it would be disingenuous of me to leave at that and not mention anything about the clan-based exploitation and repression…And I am sure if I said anything counterfactual,
      you would have laid out hard facts indicating clan equity and sustainable harmony in both Somaliland and Puntland.

      Like these two and other political entities of various
      arrangements, Mogadishu, too, is dominated by one clan. The only difference, of course, is the trend. Mogadishu is decentralizing, though at a snail’s pace. I am not sure I can say that with straight face about others.

      You also wrote “ Somalia does not belong to Turkey or
      Britain! Somalia will only be recreated by Somalis in Somalia. Us in the diaspora, I hope despite our shortcomings we could encourage and assist in creating a fair and equitable system of governance for Somalia.” I concur.

      I am sorry that you are “truly disappointed in (my) latest
      pieces,” though I don’t see what in the article could’ve stirred such emotion in you. I hope you were not talking about another one since you said “pieces”.

      • SomaliMaayTv

        Both of you brothers agree with this BaidoaNews Editorial wrote today.

        Many Somalis had hoped and still hope a country that is built on principles of ethnic equality, democracy, rule of law and federalism. There was a reason for people to be optimistic about the future of Somalia. Those who had hoped that Somalia would become a paradise of equality justified their argument on the belief that the people of Somalia had bitterly struggled for equality during the many years of civil war.

        Killing all hopes, ethnic domination is practiced on the basis of clan employment in president and prime minister’s offices and political ideology.

        Filling ministries with one’s tribe—a practice mostly demonstrated by Hawiye ministers—continued up to now and many ministries in Mogadishu are dominated either by one tribe or aclan depending on where the Ministers who set them up came from.

        • Abukar Arman

          I believe nepotism is not just a form of corruption; in our case, it is the mother of all corruption. It’s what paralyzes checks and balances and covers the tracks of the cash and resource abusers. This, unfortunately, is not limited to a single clan or a single ministry, though it’s in decline comparatively speaking.

  • Liban A. Ahmad

    Brother Arman,

    Thanks for the timely analysis. “The Federal Government of Somalia” is referred to in the communique. In theory we have a federal state. I understand federalism has weaknesses but it is the best alternative, I presume. For the first time in our long history of statelessness, we are discussing what type of state is suitable for Somalia. It is the consequence of state failure that we have a strong periphery that recovered from state collapse more quickly than the centre (Mogadishu). This is not an attempt to blame people of Mogadishu who have paid and continue to pay a huge price for Somalis’ mentality of associating state power trappings with the Capital City. Different regions in Somalia have developed differential conflict resolution and post- war recovery capacities. Bridging this ‘capacity gap’ is important to address our collective trauma caused by state power misuse.

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you, Liban, for the feedback. I concur, “In theory we have a federal state.” However, I am not sure if federalism “is the best alternative” unless your appraisal was intended to evaluate that system of governance in general and not in relation to Somalia.

      You wrote, “For the first time in our long history of statelessness, we are discussing what type of state is suitable for Somalia.” I agree and disagree! You’re right such conversation is now taking place in various forums. But not such discussion or debate has ever taken place while the current constitution was being instituted. In fact, to oppose it was to be considered as a “saboteur”; and saboteurs, according to Amb Mahiga (the official voice of the international community), could be sent to the International Criminal Court!!! Under such coercion, people were muzzled. Only a handful of politicians and activist have dared to defy that claim.

      You also wrote “Different regions in Somalia have developed differential conflict resolution and post- war recovery capacities…”

      Generally speaking, some regions have indeed established semblance of peace that stopped the bleeding for two decades and that is COMMENDABLE.

      However, in the spirit of straight talk–since we now have a genuine opportunity to reconcile our differences–let me say the following. I think what took place in those regions was, at best, SITUATIONAL PEACE. Otherwise, Somaliland (often cited as the best model) would not have its current inter-clan problems.

  • Mohamoud Hassan

    Abukar Arman,

    This is eloquent piece of work and I really appreciated your balanced work, particularly on people of Somaliland, where some clans are more equal than others.

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you, Mohamoud, for the feedback and kind words.


Abukar Arman
Abukar Arman

Abukar Arman is a former diplomat (Somalia's Special Envoy to the US). He is a widely published analyst. Focus on foreign policy/Islam/Horn of Africa /extremism. Twitter: @Abukar_Arman or reach him via e-mail: [email protected]