Building Federalism through Local Government Dialogue

The process of state building after protracted conflict entails both establishing structures of government based on the rule of law as well as implementing a bottom-up process of building the legitimacy of  these structures at all levels. Such legitimacy is essential in order for the process to be viable and sustainable. The concept of federalism has the potential to reconcile top-down and bottom-up approaches in state building and governance. Federalism, however, is not a uniform concept. Especially in countries with a long history of violence between ethnic groups or religious communities, with weak government structures and equally poor experience in governance, any models of how to share responsibility and power must take into account the particular nature of the social environment: the existence and role of clans, tribes, religious stakeholders, charismatic leaders, (former) rebels and the diaspora.

With funding from the German Federal Foreign Office, the Berghof Foundation will accompany the efforts being made by the Somali Federal Government and its international partners to establish structures for a federal system. These structures will ensure the effective governance both on the vertical (central-local) and on the horizontal (district) level. A particular focus of the project is addressing the challenges of conflict resolution and reconciliation through means of dialogue and building trust.

Our 2-year project will bring together local dignitaries of the Middle Shabelle region to a series of Shirarka, the typical 7-day Somali form of dialogue, during which they will address topics of local governance. The forum will allow Somalis to speak and have their voices heard, thereby coming up with their own ideas for local governance within a decentralized, federal system. Through such dialogue with community members of Middle Shabelle, the project aims to entrench federalist ideas into local government structures. International expertise on federalism and conflict resolution will be provided by the Berghof Foundation, while the Somali expertise will be enlisted from cooperating Somali universities, representing a cross-section of the socio-political environment. Through several training sessions, the Somali experts will supplement their extensive local knowledge with that of a conceptual understanding of federalism.

The decision to create a federal system in Somalia was taken during the Somalia Reconciliation Conference in 2002 and 2003, and was enshrined thereafter in the Transitional Federal Charter in 2004. However, no political agreement on the concrete design and structure of such a federal system could be reached. In early August 2012, eight years of transitional government in Somalia ended with the adoption of the Provisional Constitution (PC). In November 2012 a new Federal Government was established, which developed a strategy for establishing a unified and sustainable governance structure throughout the country, and in July 2013 the Federal Parliament passed a “District and Regional Administration Establishment Act”, which was, however, developed without any consultations with existing communal administrations.

While not providing much detail, the Provisional Constitution mandates the Federal Government to federalize the country, foreseeing the voluntary merger of administrative regions to create new Federal Member States as the backbone of any federal state. Currently, Federal Member States/Interim Administrations include Puntland, the Jubaland Administration (uniting Gedo, Lower Jubba, and Middle Jubba), and the South-Western Interim Administration (merging the regions of Bay, Bakool and Lower Shabelle). In August 2014 the regions of Muduug and Galmaduud voluntarily merged and discussions are underway between the regions of Hiiraan and Middle Shabelle to merge into a further Interim Federal Administration. 

The Government recognizes that these federal structures are based mainly on the consent of the elites of the respective societies; the essential next step is to bring the local administrations, the local leaderships of clan and religious elders, and the population at large into the process of building a federal structure that is recognized and respected by all parts of the Somali society. The present project will help to lay the basis of and propose models for such a bottom-up development. Taking into account the decades of local and regional conflict in  Somalia, accompanied by grave injustices and crimes committed, the formation of local and regional government structures requires local and regional reconciliation processes and due consultations with the people affected.

We will collaborate on this project with three universities in Somalia: SIMAD University,  University of Southern Somalia and Puntland State University. In addition, the project will be supported by the Somali Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of the Interior and Federal Affairs.

The project is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office.

In June 2015 we held  a preparatory workshop  in Mogadishu  with all project stakeholders in order to discuss the approach and methodology, as well as plan the detailed activities, of the project.

Workshop in Mogadishu, June 2015 >

During the months of July and August 2015, the Somali-based team carried out the regional assessment mission in the Middle Shabelle region. The objective of the mission was to collect citizens’ views, positions and opinions on federalism and the ongoing federalization process in Somalia, issues of local government and governance, and the subject of conflict. Over a period of five weeks, the assessment team interviewed clan elders and traditional leaders, minority leaders, religious leaders, women’s groups, youth groups, the business community, representatives from the arts, and professionals (e.g. lawyers, teachers, doctors, and health professionals). The following report was drafted based on the empirical data, in the form of opinions and narratives, collected on the above mentioned thematic areas from the citizens of Middle Shabelle.  

Report >
Report (Somali) >

In October  2015, we held a symposium with all project stakeholders in Entebbe, Uganda  in order to discuss the results of the regional assessment mission in Middle Shabelle as well as to plan the upcoming activities of the project.

Workshop in Entebbe (Uganda) >

In December 2015, we held a capacity-development workshop in Mogadishu and beginning in 2016, the three Shirarka in Middle Shabelle will take place. 

Capacity Development Workshop in Mogadishu, December 2015 >

The project implemented six community dialogue assemblies throughout 2016 in the regions of Middle Shabelle (in the city of Jowhar) and Hiiraan (in the city of Bulla Burte).

Six Shiraka 2016 >

  • Janel B. Galvanek: Grass-Roots Dialogue in Hirshabelle State: Recommendations for Locally-Informed Federalism in Somalia. 2017. Project Report. PDF >
  • Janel B. Galvanek: Wadahadalada asaasiga ah ee Dowlad Goboleedka Hirshabelle: Talooyin Federaalka ku saabsan oo aay dadka deegaanka qeyb ku leeyihiin. 2017. Warbixinta Mashruuca. PDF >