PUNTLAND DEMOCRATIZATION PROCESS: OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
The formation of Puntland State of Somalia in August 1998 was not a sudden development, but a culmination of a process following many community attempts in Northeastern and Northwestern Regions of Somalia, armed struggle and the Civil War aside. Cities like Galkayo, Garowe, Qardho, Bosaso, Boocame and Borama were all important venues for community meetings for reconciliation and forward thinking, eventually paving the way for the foundation of both Puntland and Somaliland administrations.
One of such community meetings was one called “Nabad & Nool” held in Garowe in 1993. Leading this conference were elders from all regions of Harti sub-clan system.
Some of the prominent clan elders of Sool and Sanaag, who had joined the Consultative and Constitutional Conferences, and helped setup Puntland State, took part in both Borama and Boocame meetings and congresses for the formal establishment of Northwest Administration (Somalia). Among them include Garaad AbdiQani Garaad Jama, Garaad Saleman Garaad Mohamed, Garaad Ismail Duale. Suldaan Said Suldaan Abdisalam had also joined the process in later stages.
In the case of Puntland, the society has deep historic roots in traditional self-government with sultanates and kingdoms in the background. Before the successful establishment of Puntland State, there were a series of failed administrative establishments in Northeastern Regions of Somalia. Among them was one led by Abdullahi King Kong in 1992 and the other by Mohamed Nur Jama (Dhigic Dhigic) in 1994. Both administrations existed, in their separate short periods, along with SSDF control of Northeastern Regions. These administrations failed due to lack of skills and capacity in governance, absence of vision and fatal misunderstanding of their leadership role as self-governing entities in the Regions. Puntland charter had decommissioned the civil war organizations of SSDF and SNDU as well as USP on the eve of Puntland foundation.
Based on this brief historical perspective and on the backdrop of failure of all Somalia’s National Reconciliation Conferences (SNRC), people of Northeastern Regions, Sool, Sanaag and Buhoodle had finally got convinced that Somalia couldn’t be reconstructed from top-down as warlords didn’t have legitimate representation as they also couldn’t agree on a united national political platform. Warlordism was their political attraction and preference in maintaining their respective fiefdoms, particularly in Banadir Region.
Puntland State was established on the notion of a “BOTTOM-UP APPROACH” or “BUILDING BLOCKS” (FEDERALISM)) as the basis for re-instating the failed Central Government of Somalia with avoidance of reviving a city-state or a dictatorship.
Delegates to the Founding Congresses, the Community Constitutional conference held in Garowe on May 15, 1998 had resolved to commit themselves to fulfilling two central objectives:
1. To create a regional state with all branches of a government representing the people of Northeast, Sool, Sanaag and District of Buhoodle.
2. To work hard towards the re-instatement and reconstruction of Somalia’s failed Central State.
The 2nd objective would become a daunting task and overly ambitious undertaking that took away most of the time and resources of the New State of Puntland. It had also impacted negatively on Puntland Democratization Process and discharge of constitutional mandate of the government in that regard.
Equally challenging was the fact that the New Administration of Puntland faced upfront serious political and economic challenges. On the one hand, it had to prove itself to be a viable regional state economically and meet the challenges of law and order as clan militias and bandits rampage the regions with their illegal checkpoints stretching along the roads and all cities entry ports. Re-constructing the New Somalia also needed leadership, role model and resources, on the other hand. That also required allocation of Puntland leaders’ time, space and travel.
The international community was split between supporting the Puntland concept of Bottom-up Approach and Top-down Approach of Somali National Reconciliation Process (SNRP).
There was a tough debate within Puntland itself on whether to leave the rest of Somalia to its own devices by focusing on Puntland development, building and strengthening its institutions only or Puntland to put in leadership and resources in re-shaping the New Somalia.
This debate is still raging on. The consensus of Puntland institutions, however, was that the New State couldn’t afford to see the slow disintegration of the Somali Republic as Mogadishu Warlords couldn’t envisage the immediate danger and existential national threat to Somalia.
CHALLENGES TO DEMOCRATIZATION DURING 3-YEAR MANDATE OF PUNLAND FIRST GOVERNMENT
In a nutshell, democratization became increasingly the improbable mission as the Puntland first government operated under tremendous difficulties and faced enormous challenges, especially in the security and economic sectors. To say the country was in humanitarian crisis is understatement. There was a huge influx of IDPs of not only persons of Northeastern origin fleeing from all war-torn urban centers of Southern Somalia, but also thousands of other Somalis coming from every corner of Somalia and in particular, from Banadir, Middle Shabelle, Jubaland , Bay and Bakool regions. The New Puntland State of Somalia was under constant threat to its security and aggression from its Southern and Northern borders. The Civil War was still raging. Jubaland was under constant military siege with General Aydiid posed to re-take Kismayo. The State Constitution was provisional and state institutions just so established were fragile and ineffective. The State infrastructure was non-existent. The Presidency, Cabinet, House of Representatives had no offices to operate, not to talk about other agencies of the State. It was almost an impossible task to run a government, let alone to think building a modicum of a government under these conditions.
Now, think of Democratization under the prevailing situation. Still, in accordance with the Article 28 of the Charter, the First Puntland Cabinet of 9 Ministers started deliberating on the possibility of holding local and general elections on the basis of one person one vote. The Cabinet has resolved to send to task two independent constitutional and electoral commissions in accordance with Article 10 (i) and 10 (ii) of the Charter for approval by the House of Representatives.
1. Constitutional Commission of 15 members proposed by the government for Parliament approval to draft Puntland new constitution and put it for a statewide referendum never materialized due to conflict and legal rankling between the branches of the government and within the House of Representatives itself
2. Electoral Commission to draft legislations and electoral laws
Each commission had its own chairperson and included some members of Puntland House of Representatives, Judiciary, Attorney General and civilians representing the interests of different regions of Puntland
Unfortunately, the Electoral Commission was formed late into the government mandate, and perhaps, it had had barely enough time to prepare. But, the Commission finally submitted their findings in a report to the Cabinet with the following conclusions:
THE FOUR BIG NOs:
1. No population census can be done on time.
2. No public disarmament can be done on time.
3. No financial resources are available
4. No secure environment for elections yet in the country.
The Cabinet had no alternative but to discuss alternatives to seek a new mandate. Two options were on the table:
To resort to the founding formula of regional clan-based representation for which there was very limited time to carry out
1. To propose an extension of institutions mandate for two more years to House of Representatives.
The Cabinet opted for the 2nd scenario. The House was deliberating on the possibility of changing of some articles in the charter like the infamous Article 34.1, 34.2, which stipulates that this couldn’t be done, when the government mandate had expired. The President of the Supreme Court declared himself President for a month pending an election of a president, and prominent elders meeting in Garowe on the issue had endorsed the Supreme Court president’s take-over based on Article 34.2. A constitutional crisis set in and the rest of story is history now.
The Transitional Charter established a transitional authority that within a mandate of three years, ending on 30 June 2001, should accomplish democratization benchmarks as is provided in Article 28 of the charter. However, that proved unrealistic and therefore unfulfilled for the following reasons:
1. To the assessment of many, there was no serious commitment and political will to democratization by all branches of Puntland Government.
2. The operating environment was not conducive to holding elections in terms of :
3. a) Security b) Resources and capacity c) Time constraints and pressure created by Somalia’s National Reconciliation Conferences d) Conflict within all branches of the government and within the legislature itself. The source of this conflict and deadlock was based on articles 34 and 35 of the Charter, especially Article 35, which stipulates that among charter articles that cannot be amended by the legislature include Article 34.2 ( See them in Somali here below).
Despite all the provisions of the Puntland Constitution, there is one persistent question in the minds of both experts and Puntland politicians alike: In a countrywide suffrage, what will be the qualitative choice and result of uninformed clannish society like that of Puntland? Does the track voting record of 66 Puntland MPs give us any confidence towards holding general elections on the basis of one person one vote? Are citizens ready to choose one candidate over another on merit without clan identification? How a general election in Puntland will differ from the existing regional clan representation? Will it have the same qualitative characteristics as the existing clan representation with even more complications and likelihood for electoral violence and breakdown of law and order? These are valid and serious questions that require serious answers and studies.
As a student of Puntland governance history, I believe that some of these questions cannot be answered without putting the experience to the test, starting with local or city council elections. It is good to remember that Somalia’s first democratic elections in 1954 got started with municipal election first.
Presentation at PDRC
By: Ismail H. Warsame