The Future of Somalia is in the Hands of Tribal MPs [Archives:2004/770/Opinion]

September 6 2004

By Farhan Ali Ahmed
[email protected]

Democracy has had various meanings of interpretation, but according to philosophy Larry Hauser it is a form of government in which the people rule, either by directly voting on issues (direct democracy), or indirectly through electing representatives to decide issues (representative democracy). One of the important basics of democracy is mutual confidence among political players competing to construct a better future for their nation.
Thus, one model of representative democracy is the one that Somalis are trying to base on the expected all inclusive transitional federal government from Kenya, Mbagathi peace conference. It is unfortunately a tribal model where all clans elect individual MPs that represent tribal interests rather than a country's national interest. Then, tribal MPs elect the country's president and the president appoints his prime minister to form a government. This is a tribal democracy based on clan constituency rather than a regional, area or district where each person in a constituency votes for one person to become their MP and the candidate with the most votes becomes the MP. This would be just a trial model of forming a government, where many Somalis believe that the Somali tribal democracy is far from perfect or all-wise but it is, indeed, the worst model to form a government.
Strangely enough, it may not fulfill or meet the expectations of its people, because of its weak cabinet, poor MPs, incapability of making needed decisions and unresponsiveness to the high demands of its people. It is a unique political system the way in which our country's government will work. The cabinet's work will be ineffective as long as he holds the office for his clan and defends clan interest rather then national interest.
Representing a particular clan will be the first obstacle that the new transitional federal government will confront while dealing the sensitive issues (i.e. security or disarmament issue) in the country and our political system does not make accountable for malfunctioning institutions, as long as its cabinet positions being based on 4.5 (i.e. 4.5 means four major tribes and alliance of minority clans are divided government positions and ministers and MPs and are accountable to their clan). For instance, Abdiqasim's government is a good example, where the TNG attempted to introduce security measures on the capital Mogadishu, one of the cabinet members could not support because his clan would feel unhappy.
It is also, the opposite of what our founding fathers had deeply valued and required – the individual and the power of his vote, rather than what is called tribal MP voters. (e.g. Adan Abdulle Osman's speech July 1962 ” if we Africans are proud to take our place as a democratic people in the comity of nations, we must do more than pay lip-service to the feelings of the ordinary man and woman in our society”. etc) The founding fathers believed and valued the privilege of representative government where MPs are selected for their quality. They anticipated Somalis will flesh out the ideas and principles that they have in envisioned and this dream would shape the future government to our nation but their dream is yet to come real.
On the other hands, tribal MP selections are not based on a meritocracy process where the MP is selected for his ability, experience and knowledge in order to choose a good MP who has the necessary qualities to represent his country but rather he is an X clan; and without exceptions, for the mentally ill and criminals. Therefore, tribal MPs will be weak, and misunderstand their role of passing new laws, some may see as unfair and corrupt. For example, many tribal MP voters will be frightened or bribed into voting for a certain candidate or issue.
Moreover, no doubt that any new transitional federal government being formed by the elected president will have to maintain order in the country by establishing “Rule of Law” in order to preserve life and protect property. To maintain order the new government needs to possess unquestioned authority in order to grantee the safety of the weak, and to protect them from the attacks of the strong. To pay these operational activities of bringing peace and security into Somalia, the new transitional federal government needs to collect a tax and get international assistance. Thus, I wonder how weak cabinet and poor MPs based on tribal system could collect revenue for the expenditure of their operational activities and quickly respond the needs of their nation and at the same time take appropriate action towards sensitive issues. While the only group from the international community who is offering assistance is the African Union who is pretending to send peace keepers into Somalia and their object is only another biding for further funds for the African Union, so I remain deeply doubtful, of how the new government would achieve its goals!
However, there is proverb says “two birds in your hands are worth many in the bush” In August 2004, Somalis managed to elect new members of the Somali Transitional Federal Assembly and are ready to take over from their predecessors the burden of public service (i.e. Arta TNG). Thus, the new TFG MPs will receive a mandate of trust from the clan appointees and the whole of nation. This mandate is not only an obligation passed through to their tribes but also to the whole nation and it is vital to remind them that the future of Somalia is in the hands of the tribal MPs. Warlords will be given the opportunity to exercise their faithful citizenship as they enter the new Transitional Federal Assembly. They will be faced with a challenge of making choices that will improve the lives of many million Somalis who suffered at their hands or they will choose what they believed for more than a decade which was violence. We know what violence leads to and it is a vicious circle of violence. The violence of the past results in violence of the present, and the violence of the present results in violence in the future. If warlords do not consciously and intentionally decide to break this cycle, of future violence then it will continue to go on and bring more misery.
So they need not neglect their duties and place an unprincipled man, or in other words, a warlord in the highest office in the country; the violence will multiply and the new TFG will soon be corrupted; laws will be made not for the public good so much as for the selfish or tribal purposes. Therefore it is their responsibility to elect a good leader for their country. They must remember at the moment that they are offering their vote, that they are not there to please one of the candidates whatever the reasons, but they have to remember that they carry responsibilities beyond this interim period and generations to come. When it comes to vote, all it takes is a little cross on the ballot paper. But that mark could well change their life and the whole country in the next few years. Elections are about more than just picking a candidate.
Overall, it is important to recognise that we need time to understand and absorb how democracy is used in other parts of the world and how we, as Somalis, need to adopt a system that can truly reflect our needs and background. It is obvious that the tribal model of democracy is not what our founding fathers expected in the 21st century Somalia. But it is what Somalis have in their hands now. It should be a transitional model where people use as a conflict resolution and be used as an instrument that powers are shared and transferred peacefully now; because it is not a genuine model as long as elections, votes, policies are managed and influenced by the clan. While Somalis instability and conflict caused by application of tribal politics into the government and all government position based on the clan and tribal criteria. This is what makes many Somalis to see this tribal model as a factor of conflict rather than a solution.
Thus, there are several Somali presidential candidates who remain firmly favourable to succeed in the next five years when all tribal MPs are completely selected in the new Transitional Federal Assembly. But there are criminals among them and there is a concern about this whether an awkward voting manoeuvre may occur and intentionally elect the “wrong” candidate rather voting for the “right” candidate. This will be a good example whether tribal MPs choose the road to peace, or road to further violence. If they choose a right candidate the destination of their country is relatively certain.

On the other hand, instituting “Rule of Law” in Somalia is necessary in order to preserve life and protect property, but the new transitional federal government needs not to institutionalise the clan politics and government machine being selected meritocracy process in order to serve national interests. If it does so, the new TFG will maintain order in the country.