Farmajo: Fleecing federalism, and Galmudug’s fault line

Asad Cabdullahi MataanBy Asad Cabdullahi Mataan

By: Faisal Roble

The squabble over the upcoming election in Galmudug state is rooted in the regional rights versus a centralized unitary-based system of governance. It is about who controls Galmudug’s political life as 2020 approaches. In the recent past, the same fight has been waged over the elections of Puntland, Southwest, and Jubaland.

Whereas President Farmajo prevailed in Southwest at the cost of about 30 civilians’ death so as to install a figurehead, he lost the fight in Puntland and Jubaland. With an expensive win and deep scars still vivid on his face, he is set out to rob Galmudug’s exercise of its stately rights.

The political sin that the Farmajo administration is committing in plain sight in Galmudug is no longer a secret but an open sore all to see.  He wants to install his man and the list is thus far narrowed to two of his protégés – a lesser-known man named Qorqor and one Abdidhere, who has served in Farmajo’s cabinet in 2010.

Right in front of our eyes, Farmajo methodically destroyed an existing and functioning legally sound administration in Galmudug without any replacement. The federal government’s argument in “reconciling” different factions in Galmudug is less credible. Rather, it has so far functionally nullified the administration of Haaf without a replacement in its place. As such, today Galmudug is only held together by the grace of local elders and peace-loving elites who are weary of conflict.


Although President Farmajo has vainly sworn to uphold the constitution of the Somali Federal Government, he regularly undermines federalism in favor of the form of a nebula of “decentralized” government system where power stays in Villa Somalia; only services and some aspects of governance are delegated to federal member states is what he essentially believes.

None of the tenants of Farmajo’s typology of “decentralization” is defined legally and/or politically. All that we see is his resolve but largely futile destructive manipulative tactics to install his men of low caliber in all the federal member states.

If he gets his way, President Farmajo is determined to take the country back to a unitary system of government with an autocratic twist in his possession, where he is the sole arbiter on both political and economic affairs of the entire nation.  In a Somalia run by an autocrat (Farmajo), the state and its machines will only be used to benefit members of a minority and narrow upper-middle-class that would always remain largely patrons to Villa Somalia. To that end, Galmudig is in his way, and he must do something about it by hook or crook!

During 1960-1990, the regions and their people were completely excluded from development, education and even cultural assets. Simple decentralization of services and some aspects of governance do not mesh well with the federalism Somalis have been working since 2004.

Oblivious to the history of this nation, there is the danger associated with a mere “decentralization” system of governance devoid of a legal framework and political vision that stipulates genuine power-sharing. How to enforce “decentralization” which is often a model for service delivery rather than a constitutional arrangement is always a problem. In 1790, Alexis de Tocqueville warned about France’s decentralization “becoming an extension of centralized” government due to lack of enforceable legal framework.

Those who are opposing federalism waive to their unsuspecting supporters Kenyan model of “decentralization” as an option. However, what they don’t say about Kenya is its massive corruption, where a lawmaker makes more money, at the expense of poor farmers in the region than his/her counterpart in the United States, and (2) Kenya’s dismal history of conflicts over power-sharing to the exclusion of some regions such as the abysmal neglect of the Northeast region. It is simply a matter of time before regions defy Nairobi and force it to change the existing power relationship between Nairobi and the regions to something akin to federalism.

Unlike the Kenyan model, Somalia has been working diligently on a constitution-making process since 2004 mainly as a bulwark to reconcile warring factions. The genesis of adopting federalism in the Somalia experience is thus rooted in (1) the over-concentration of power and development in the center during the era of the military dictatorship, (2) the consequential civil war of the 1990s, and (3) the ensuing disintegration of the country, including the unilateral secession of Somaliland.

It is in this background that Somalia opted for a federalist constitution as far back as 2004. Consequently, a provisional federal constitution was adopted with a whopping price tag of over $60 million. Such a huge investment came from donor countries and the United Nations. In time, a Federal Charter that stipulated a complete devolution of power with significant latitude to regional governments was agreed upon, followed by a subsequent [current] Provisional Constitution adopted in 2012. Somalis largely believed that an incremental migration to a federalist system will improve the chance to regain the legitimacy of a new post-civil war state.

In the last three years since president Farmajo came to office, he decided to stall and/or gut the draft constitution in major ways.  For all practical purposes, the constitution is either dead or it is suspended; the country is run by the whim of individuals in Villa Somalia in lieu of the contents of the constitution.

The refusal of the security forces in Mogadishu of the former President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed to travel to Kismayo, for example, is a case in point. Such an action violates article 21 of the federal constitution that affirms the right of any Somali citizen to freely travel anywhere inside and outside the country. Ironically former President Sheik Sharif Ahmed, who brought Farmajo to the political arena hails from Mogadishu.

As we stand today, Somalia is disorganized and disarticulated, and it only exists in patches with disparate regional governments paralleled by an antagonistic center that is largely isolated. Instead of patching things up together, the current leaders of Villa Somalia are playing a destructive role and are acting as a destabilizing agent at the cost of taking the nation back to an unattractive and less desirable past. In a streak of forest fire like disintegration of the federal system, Galmudug is the last casualty of Farmajo.  After more than four years in existence, Galmudug is viewed by president Farmajo as his toy thing and his sphere of influence to a point where he must choose a leader for them. To that, a well-informed and politically alert elite from the region so far say “not so Mr. Jose!”

In 2013, I participated in the Somali-owned forum called “Fagaaraha,” where I debated two compatriots. I defended the practicality of federalism as a tool to reconstruct Somalia.  My central theme was that the unitary system has destroyed Somalia and the nascent Somali state, which Somalis so endearingly called Mandeeq, or a lactating she-camel can only be resuscitated through a more democratic and participatory federalist system.

By looking at the European federalist experience at the turn of the 19th century, I was able to learn that the German central government as the guarantor of federalism in the Old Prussian Empire has treated different regions differently. Some regions which had already established a modicum of autonomy from the canter and had shown maturity in federalism were given greater latitude in self-governance. In the Somali context, Puntland and Somaliland fit this category. (Both regional governments were formulated prior to the constitution of 2012).

Jubaland belonged to what I argued to be the second category where the central government has always tried to conquer and control but to no avail. The two met at a middle point, and that’s why former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud finally chose politics of accommodation that conflict in the case of Jubaland. Today, he is credited to have helped stabilize the Jubaland state.

The third group, which I argued to have never freed themselves from the grip of the center, were always treated as if they were spheres of influence of the center.  Hirshabele, Southwest, and Galmudug have been treated by Farmajo’s administration as tutelages because of perceived dependence on the canter.

Almost five years since that debate and two presidents, Galmudug is still fighting for its place in the federal arrangement of Somalia.  Galmudug is in a sense a test case. President Farmajo may not easily let Galmudug go both because of his belief that he has suzerainty over it and because of his political survival which I will discuss later. It is also in the nature of federalism to treat some of the regions that appear to be less independent from the center as vassal states (Ethiopia offers a rich example here where certain regions like the Somali region vis-a-vis the center receive differential treatments).

The Content of Our Character

Up until former President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed gave President Farmajo a lifetime opportunity to enter politics from a coveted door and hired him as a premier, he was an unknown quantity among Somali elite. He never participated in the intellectual forums such as ERGO or ISRAC and others in the early 1990s that pulled together cross-clan intelligentsia to deliberate and find a solution for Somalia vexing issues.

Right or wrong, President Sheikh Sharif was single-handedly responsible for President Farmajo’s entry into the world of Somali politics. Indeed, for Mr. Farmajo this was a big leap from being an affirmative action contract compliance office clerk in Buffalo to Somalia’s premiership. Nonetheless, both as premier and as a president, Mr. Farmajo is known not to believe in federalism mainly because of his deep adherence to conservativism (before he renounced his US citizenship, he was a registered republican).

Galmudug is a geopolitical epicenter of Somalia in more than one way. Geographically speaking, it is the link between the north/northeast and the South. Politically, it is also home to some of the most contentious clan families. It is also a region with challenging environmental conditions, most importantly it is largely a semi-arid region that has shaped the tough mentality of the residents of that region.

Yet, its political significance has never been lost to observers of Somalia’s political history. Galmudug is the region that brought both Farmajo and Khayre to power, not to mention that it gave Somalia its first prime minister, the late Mr. Abdullahi Isse. Mr. Isse is one of the founding fathers of Somalia. Like Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, Aden Abdule, Abdirazah Haji Hussein, and Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Igal, Mr. Isse was not only a household name when discussing Somali patriotism but an able statesman whom Somalis exceptionally hold with the utmost regard. His 1949 presentation at the United Nations convention (that is 70 years ago to this date) to plead the case for his country is a measure of his caliber. Seventy years later, President Farmajo comes to New York as a wounded president and makes a big achievement a small award given to him by an unknown NGO.

Unlike these great iconic leaders, Mr. Farmajo is famous for talking empty talks while always coming short on walking the walk. He is your ultimate dangerously populist figure when seeking office, but a Machiavellian autocrat when given a national mandate. “Don’t only be loved, but also be feared” is one of his Machiavellian modes operand. It is in that context that he wants residents of Mogadishu to love him while he is equally feared. He showed that attribute of being feared by his unlawful ban of former presidents Sheikh Sharif and Hassan Sheikh to travel freely.

During his campaign for the presidency, Mr. Farmajo was harsh to his predecessor. He called Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud an Ethiopian sympathizer. Alas, today Farmajo is an Ethiopian foil that broke his nation’s ethos by extraditing a kidnapped former Somali soldier to Ethiopia (i.e. Abdikarim Qalbidhagax). This action and many others are in total contravention of international law. Letting Prime Minister Abiy so casually announce the unification of Somalia and Ethiopia while standing on the stairs of Villa Somalia represents a violation of the sovereignty of his country.

In one of his most dramatic yet naïve speeches, president Farmajo furtively promised to create a “new deal” type welfare system for Somalia; saying so was tantamount to conveniently forgetting that his poor country lives off international aid. As boisterous as one could be, he vehemently belittled his predecessor for not securing and protecting the citizens of Mogadishu from terror.  To the contrary, his predecessor removed multiple controls established by warlords thereby opening hitherto closed roads to public transportation in Mogadishu.

The unprecedented detrition of the conditions in Mogadishu since Mr. Farmajo became president is exhibited by Al-Shabab ability to set up a parallel tax collection scheme inside Mogadishu.  Even someone who is building a private modest home for his family must pay taxes both to the Somali government and Al-Shabab at an equal rate. Whereas the Farmajo administration is the legal entity in Mogadishu, Al-Shabab has assumed the role of the city’s deep state.

As a candidate, Farmajo chastised Hassan for not letting Mogadishu residents elect their own mayor. However, in three years, not only did he fail to let Mogadishu residents exercise their God-given rights to elect the best wo/man to run their city, but handpicked three different mayors – one was dismissed without any reason; the second mayor was killed by Al-Shabaab under yet explained mysterious conditions, and the third and current mayor is a former warlord of Mogadishu.

As if that was not enough of a disappointment with President Farmajo, his experience in life is a turn-off. As we are the products of our aggregate experiences, that of Mr. Farmajo is a bane. Still, in high school, he was given the privilege to work in the then-thriving Somali embassy in Washington DC. While there, he sparingly attended college, and it took him about three decades to get an MA degree.  His MA thesis is telling of the bubble that he was during the trying times of this nation.

As it is evident in his writing for his MA thesis when writing about the casualties of the 1990 civil war, he got totally either wrong or wrote a local narrative of his inner circle. Contrary to facts, he argued that Darood was subjected to genocide, Hawiye were massacred, and the Issaq was accidentally caught in the crossfire.  This is nothing short of a blasphemous narrative.

If anyone could have claimed to have been subjected to genocide, certainly it was neither the Darood nor Hawiye.  This writing in and of itself should have disqualified him from holding any post-civil war national office.

The Road to Hell is Galmudug 

Located in the belly of the country, peace and stability in Galmudug are tantamount to peace for the entire country. Moreover, Galkayo city is partly Galmudug even if Puntland owns the greater and more vibrant sections of the city. The unity and stability of this city is a huge political gain for all of Somalia. Many opined that where Galmudug and Galkayo go, so goes Somalia in terms of peace and stability.

The election of Galmudug is a do or die proposition for Faramajo. The jury is out and whether the elite of that region capitulates to corruption and cooptation or gain a timely status of a full federal member stat remains to be seen.

As we stand today, Galmudug represents to President Farmajo’s grandiose political plan (ruling Somalia with an iron fist) what American politicians call a “bellwether” state. On one side are Puntland and Jubaland that successfully limited his autocratic usurpation of power. On the other end of the spectrum are the meek states of Hirshabele and Southwest – both are within the sphere of influence of Villa Somalia.

Losing Galmudug by Farmajo-Khyre has many dimensions.  A non-Farmajist victor in the race to replace the aging President Haaf would mean a kiss of death to the hope of a second term Farmajo rule.  Given that he has invested both significant political and personal capital, the Galmudug election is a do or die for him. So far, the undue pressure he put on President Haaf and the way he dismissed him almost destroyed that state without any tangible result to be shown. About nine months ago, Villa Somalia embarked on a course of ill-advised action to get rid of Haaf with an alibi that his two-year term as president ended, a proposition President Haaf disagreed.

Without the luxury of a just arbitration of a constitutional court, Mr. Haaf was disgracefully and disrespectfully pushed out. Despite rumors that President Haaf was bribed to the tune of over $ 1 million dollars paid by Qatar, the deposed Haaf is still bitter. In Somali parlance, Galkayo has not fully endorsed the process underway.  As a matter of fact, the three mini-centers of power within Galmudug (Galkayo, Adado, and Dhusamareeb) have yet to close ranks.  The division is still rife.

Some bright spots, however, have been realized in the last 9 months in the Galmudug saga. The work Mr. Ali Yare Ali, a presidential advisor, started in Galmudug was an inclusive grassroots reconciliation effort. However, Mr. Ali Yare’s impressive groundwork has been hijacked by Villa Somalia with the goal to install its man by any means necessary. The short list that the government is working with is one Qorqor, and one Abdidhere.

If If the road that leads to Wardheer is paved with danger, goes a Somali song, the political road to Galmudg’s presidency is paved with treasonous violations of the Somali constitution. Prior to his departure to New York to partake in the 74th UN General assembly, President Farmajo suspended Article 21 of the constitution which guarantees every citizen the right to travel inside and outside the county. He did so by stopping former President Sharif Ahmed from attending the presidential inauguration of President Ahmed Islan of Jubaland.

Moreover, President Farmajo has also violated Article 1 of the Federal Republic of Somalia which unequivocally calls for “(1) Somalia is a federal, sovereign, and democratic republic founded on inclusive representation of the people, a multiparty system and social justice” in that he closed doors for parties and their leaders to exercise freely their political outlook.

In a deliberately well-calculated and connived action to steal the upcoming election of Galmudug, President Farmajo grossly trumped Article 120 of the Somali constitution which mandates that federal member states conduct their elections free from the heavy hand of Villa Somalia.  Additionally, article 50 (a through g) affirms and strengthens the unity of Somalia through horizontal power-sharing and responsibilities in governance.

What Villa Somalia has done is tantamount to suspending the constitution and declaring a state of emergency without any legal process. In the case of Galmudug Article 120 will not be implemented in administering the architecture of the upcoming election. Instead, a nebulas memo allegedly signed by Haaf, if true under duress, this past summer which authorizes the federal government to manage reconciliation in the state is being used as a tool to establish the technical committee that selects the delegates. These delegates would, in turn, select the next president. Those who are seated in the delegates’ room are the key and the decisive factor to impact the next Galmudug president. In that context, President Farmajo has already corrupted the process and has possibly clutched in the election.

According to a pastoral Somali adage, President Farmajo would soon sing to the residents of Galmudug the vindictive yet painful words of “ma ku curad tiray ma ku caano tiray,” or “I finally killed your first-born son and I took all your milk.”  That is unless Galmudug elites stop him!

President Farmajo has rendered Somalia in general and Galmudug in particular a country/region without a constitution, a disarticulated federation, and a highly corrupt nation. The saga of Galmudug is the last lesson before President Farmajo imposes an autocratic rule on Somalia.

This Artcile was frist published on 

Faisal Roble, a writer, political analyst and a former Editor-in-Chief of WardheerNews, is mainly interested in the Horn of Africa region. He is currently the Principal Planner for the City of Los Angeles in charge of Master Planning, Economic Development and Project Implementation Division.

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