By Said Omar Ahmed
The post-conflict Somalia state-building process has generated heated debate within the state and among peace-building academicians. One school of thought holds that the top-down state-building approach is ineffective and impedes the growth of viable and trustworthy institutions because the approach does not facilitate smooth devolution of power to lower levels of governance.
At the beginning, state-building efforts generated considerable friction within states and community. In some areas, state formations generated further violence and animosity due to weak and self-centric implementation process. However, Somalia’s state formation has forged a promising path for the district council’s formation as indicated in the current operational Provisional Constitution.
The international community has been supporting the engagement over the last decade with little momentum, mostly in the nascent Federal Member States (FMS). This follows considerable failure from the central government and international donors in embracing a consistent and sustainable state-building approach.
Local Councils Status:
Administrative governance in Somalia is exercised at three levels – the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS), which is the national government, the FMS, which are the regional governments, and local governments, which comprise the district councils. This brief write-up will examine the effectiveness and sustainability of previously formed councils from selected districts in the Southwest State of Somalia.
With the help from donors, the FGS has invested heavily in governance systems by putting in place effective local district councils in a move aimed at boosting devolution. The District Council formation process entails various sequence activities and deliverables, which enable workable and responsive councils that can propel district development initiatives.
So far in Southwest state, where decentralization is slowly taking root, few districts participated in the process owing to political persuasions and lack of proper understanding of the exercise. To date, only two districts have been officially formed. Hudur and Berdale districts in Bakol region, for instance, now have operational district councils. The councils have benefitted from capacity building sessions on how to run district affairs and mobilize necessary funding, including mapping district resources and tax collection mechanism.
Although the process has many challenges, it has nonetheless increased awareness among local administrations and enabled overall understanding of democratic elections at the district level. The lesson learnt from Hudur, for instance, about the setting up of councils can prove handy during central and regional governments’ elections.
The Hudur community has particularly shown respect and compromise, which is essential for the growth of democracy and other social life. However, the sustainability of this process remains in question. In my view, any processes led or supported by external actors ordinarily erode or disappear after the inauguration. The remedy to this rests in raising community awareness and education for any such processes to last longer, or even for eternity.
The other challenges, which come to my attention, are the periodic gaps whether political, security or caused by donor funding. These challenges can potentially cripple the district formation process and create further delays, which can sometimes compromise the final outcome.
Coherent and sequenced process:
The ongoing district council formations in regional governments have faced numerous political, security and natural disaster delays. Some argue that the absence of political will from the regional states or district authorities is similarly responsible for the delay in the process. The current district council formations require collective efforts, which seek the community buy-in and thereby raise awareness among the locals.
Most of the target people were born after the State collapse and therefore never got a clear understanding of district councils and overall democratic elections. I believe, the process requires a serious session on community awareness, where youths have a platform to discuss pressing issues on self-governance.
On top of that, conflict management and genuine social reconciliation should be incorporated in the planned activities. That means, despite the strict guidelines from donors, such a programme should be fairly flexible. For instance, should conflict arise in the middle of the process, the project should immediately switch to conflict management efforts and set aside other activities until common agreement is arrived at on the councils formation exercise. Intermittent clan conflicts should, therefore, be carefully handled and resolved prior to engagement.
Governance in district level:
In the context of devolution, state-building seeks to strengthen grassroots governance where the community can have input in their evolving governance structure. Peace can only come when the grassroots communities are coherent and are on the same page with regard to a system of governance.
Communities have, for a long time, missed out on such grassroots governance. The average Somali citizen has not witnessed a functioning local council, so they ideally need more awareness and sensitization courtesy of such projects.
However, as local actors, we must ensure the outcome of the process must satisfy the local community and create cohesion among residents. In this regard, the donors must understand that grassroots state-building with adequate and resource injection can further complement peacebuilding efforts.
Somalia state-building presents an ample opportunity regarding district councils. Previous experience showed that local capacitated councils can adequately handle the business of the district and can bolster development for the district. The other opportunity is that the local community has a say in their governance issues.
If the councils are properly formed, they can champion and initiate resource mobilization and seek required funding from donors for the benefit of the district, as witnessed in the instance of Hudur.
While Somalia’s political elite is positive about district council formations, it cannot possibly keep the momentum, hence the need for donors to continue with aid support to district councils with a view to strengthen state-building efforts. I think district councils can help provide core services to the local people in the long run if they get the required capacity and funding.
Finally, Somalia’s political elite and the international donors must revisit the state-building project otherwise the state will suffer and remain weak and fragile for years to come.