Somalia: Democracy in transition

By Dr. Mohamed Hassan Tifow

Beauty and truth stand together as fiction, and experience that the world is sometimes more complicated than you think, and always more interesting. Still, you are not a thinker if you are unable, where necessary, to imagine things simpler than they are. The truth is usually a linear product: one comes after another because it rests on it, and it’s a process that converges, you feel like you’re getting closer over the years. The search for beauty is also a resident affair, but the beauty captured in this way appears to be more temporary. What used to be beautiful can now be ugly and vice versa.

I work in a hospital with mentally ill patients. There’s a situation when for patients, it is necessary due to various circumstances, to administer medication forcibly without their consent. Forcibly restrained and medicated is a devastating experience. Siyaad Barre’s so-called “scientific socialism” can be compared with that forcible medication. We’ve not resisted as we should. The brutality of the period continued after the fall of the military regime but no less significant way. We need to learn to think differently and see our behaviour need a change so that we could be normal again. That was one of the disastrous periods in our history. Use of external force and restraint was the norm and even today still used to subjugate the society. Just think of those casual violence use from the revolutionary period that has shaped our lives. People’s lives under the regime of Barre were like a swinging bridge on which you are not sure your survival—not submitting extreme instructions was like walking staircase whose steps break off under your feet so that you try to hold on with all hands and feet at the same time.

Now we’re in search of a new concept, namely democracy. And want to leave behind the appropriation of the citizen, or to shrinking them “customer”, as was the case during 21 years under military rule. Insane people’s dream is freaky, and maybe the reasons why they might experiencing craziness. If they dreamed like ordinary people, they would quickly be cured of their illnesses. Not only that there are facts in the world, but there is sometimes a certain connection between these facts. After all, the dreams are nothing but like the eraser in the computer, what you no longer need must be cleaned up so that you can start with a clean slate the next day. If you don’t do that, you don’t dream, you will eventually become infected by your lousy thought, and that is insanity.

In the past, we have often believed in things that later turned out to be untrue, but which lasted for a long time as an old chair that was too good to put away—second-hand leaders who are yet in need of replacement. But then conscience begins to speak. Because a person’s conscience is nothing other than the conscious of the people around him that keeps you from thinking things you might think if you were alone. A man can do with what he wants. But acting on that idea is sometimes a bit difficult. The truth is calling, and there seems to be no turning back. Dreams will give way to the facts and never the other way around.  Anyone returning to the past will have to come back to the present because people can only live in the present. Our history is just a bad dream, a dream not to be returned. But how can we get back exactly where we took the wrong turn from the right path without gratifying the past.

Democracy understood as “government by the people”, says nothing about the domain that it covers. But usually, we reserve the designation “democratic” for the political decision based on people’s consent. Democracy is a long process. A process that begins in education: if the people don’t even understand the concept of democracy, how can it apply it? It is a process that is seriously threatened by corruption; because who wants to vote if the elected people only use your vote to benefit them? And who is going into politics with good intentions when you know you have to compete with corrupt and untruthful colleagues who are not interested in their country’s progress? The ability to choose representation is crucial, but only at the same time, it’s one dimension of the functioning of democracy. Besides, one must able to take a particularly at the role of the politicians and political parties. However, in societies like ours with a low level of education citizens not only lack information and how to present concerning matters that directly affect them so that they decide for themselves and remain confident in their system of representation. Currently, our so-called democracy is a political system in which citizens do not rule, independently or through others chosen, the government is not influenced and controlled by the people.  Our democratic deficit usually concerns the limited influence of citizens on the development of Somalia’s political democracy. General attention must, focusing in particular on the political domain and more specifically on the absence of the representative party democracy.

Another significant democracy deficiency and the constantly recurring issue is the absence of political representation of Mogadishu city and citizens’ criticism of political institutions and politicians, for the lack of direct control of citizens and the unwillingness – especially at the national level to tackle this issue once and for all. The government collects tax from Mogadishu residents. In return, no services such as housing, health and education provided and no political representation. The opposite is the affairs of all other regions as they have representation without taxation. That indicates our current democracy we have probably no longer works well for Mogadishu citizens. The existing relationship where the citizens see themselves subordinate to the system which best illustrated with taxation with no representation needs a reality check. The significance of citizens in shaping society, both politically and socially, has been skimped.

A consequence of this scaling is the sense lack of ownership, of public responsibility, too little is present. Citizen forums initiated to demand rights were arrested and disbanded by the former government, and the current government did not allow any discussion on the rights of the Mogadishu citizens. Also, there’s no civil society sufficiently challenging citizens to think along with, individually or collectively, to weight up, to decide and to implement.  It will be an insult in the current Mogadishu status to speak of democracy; without representation, there is no democracy.

It’s a welcome initiative that at the local level citizens taking matters on their hand and putting initiatives into practice to find connection and resonance. There’s at the local level a renewed effort to figure out how to develop from the bottom-up efforts to restore and strengthen local democracy. In Mogadishu, the trend is that many citizens, especially intellectuals and social activists, are taking up their role as democratic participants. They demand to have their rights of political representation. Still, they’re at the same time fighting for matters that are not only in their own but a collective interest. Continuity of these activities depends very much on their perseverance, which is why it is all too common for initiatives to dilute after an enthusiastic start. Far more people might want to be actively involved in politics. Many more people are willing to participate in activities to improve their living environment as an extension of their home. Whether this trend receives sufficient attention and response from the federal government, only time will tell.

From a historical perspective, political democracy is at the state level, a reasonably recent phenomenon. In 1860, the United States was only one state with universal suffrage (for men).

But is democracy realised if there is universal suffrage for adults? No one dispute that this is a necessary one condition is. Suffice it to be political democracy; however, can we speak of political democracy? A question that focused on who wants to know whether, for example, present Somalia is a democracy, not to mention the corruption and vote paying.

The answer depends on what is meant by “democracy”. Two views contrast here. The first reads that democracy means that citizens can choose their government. The second that they can also select a specific policy. However, in the theory of democracy and how it takes shape, this distinction often becomes insignificant, if at all obscured.

The famous and leading definition that Joseph Schumpeter in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942) political democracy explained in the first sentence mentioned above: democracy is a competition between political elites (parties) for the votes of the citizens. Schumpeter put his vision together as follows: the democratic method is that institutional arrangement for political decision-making, whereby for the benefit of the common good the people themselves disputes resolved by electing individuals to meet to carry out the will of the people.  From this description, it must be inferred that Schumpeter believed that “The people” not only choose leaders but also mandates them to pursue political goals.

Besides, political democracy is about another distinction. Everything can decide by majority vote, or are there matters –political and civil rights, for example – that should ultimately not be affected by majority decisions? We believe that “political democracy” can only be said to be a rule of law which cannot be side-lined by majority decisions and a political system. In which the opinions of citizens guide the elections policy. These basic principles for political democracy require many institutional and social conditions. Without freedom of expression, from there is no democracy as meeting or organisation as when there is no fair and secret election and a political system in which those who exercise power are not only elected but also accountable to an elected representative.

Dr. Mohamed Hassan Tifow can be reached at 

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