Geographically, the southwest of Somalia is composed of six regions that were originally known as the “Alta-Juba regions.” However, they have been split into two states as a result of politically induced drives.
The Digil and Mirifle clans are the first Somali community to advocate for federalism. In the 1940s, the Hizbi Digil and Mirifle, a political party led by Digil and Mirifle clan elites, was the first party called to embrace a federal system but failed in that endeavor.
After years of collective efforts toward state-building and maintaining the Somali stabilization process, however, Somalia initiated the federalization process, shifting from a centralized unitary government following decades of conflict in the country hence the federalization process commenced in 2004 at Embegati; however, in 2012, Somalia emerged from the transitional period and the provisional constitution was passed.
In 2014, a new South West State that consists of three regions was established in Somalia, despite objections from the vast majority of the population. Sharif Hassan was elected as the state’s president, and Barawe was designated as the state’s capital. On the other hand, Baidoa has been serving as the state’s interim capital since then.
The Drivers of Political Turmoil in SWS
In 2018, the Farmajo government abducted Sh. Moktar Robow, a prominent candidate for the state’s presidency, and Abdiaziz Hassan Laftagaren was elected as state president in a move described as a bloody coup. However, Laftagaren encountered substantial internal opposition from the state’s politicians during his tenure, particularly when he refused to let some well-known political figures like former Southwest State President Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan and ex-parliament speaker of Somalia, Prof. Mohamed Osman Jawari, participate in elections for their respective parliament seats.
However, as he took the helm of the state, the lawmakers voted unanimously to unify the terms of the parliament and the presidency amid the opponents’ refusal of that decision.
Generally, the parliament’s term was supposed to come to an end in November 2023, while the president’s term was scheduled to end in December 2022. As a result, the parliamentary endorsement means that both end together in 2023.
In Somali politics, generally speaking, every president works to retain power for a long time, regardless of the consequences. In this regard, Laftagaren used every technique necessary to retain his grip on power for an extended term through the lawmakers.
The parliament was accused of not discharging its duty as required rather than working on personal political interest; the regular parliamentary session is held only when there is the approval of a controversial political agenda; likewise, many believe that the state lawmakers have had no freedom to express their political opinion, citing that to what happened, some of them were removed and expelled after expressing their political sentiment against the state administration.
Due to the new political culture invented in the state, anyone with an opposing perspective against the state government is either arrested, expelled, or removed from his position.
Somali political achievement is not measured by helping the community and working for the public interests; on the contrary, the only thing that matters is serving one’s interests and the closest ones.
The Implications of the Parliamentary Endorsement
As we alluded to before, in Somali politics, every president strives to stay in power for a long time, regardless of the consequences. Considering this, Laftagareen used any means enabling him to cling to power for a longer time through the parliament, and that decision was refused by the South West State political opposition, indicating that he was only trying to justify a one-year extension because the South West State constitution limits the president’s term to four years. As stipulated in the Southwest State Constitution.
Furthermore, after an impasse over holding a state election and as the president’s four-year term came to an end in December 2022, gunfire broke out in Baidoa, the state’s interim capital.
Dozens of fighters and civilians were killed and injured when pro-Laftagaren forces stormed a stronghold of the opposition group. Nevertheless, domestic flights, telecommunications companies, and commercial hubs had to cease operations, which significantly impacted business activities in the city.
The gun violence had an impact on life aspects, notably socioeconomic situations, security, and citizens’ safety.
Political and traditional elders endeavored to stabilize the situation and go together to the negotiation table instead of weaponizing the language.
In this regard, in January 2023, the Somali government formed a technical committee for the South West State Reconciliation Conference, led by the parliament speaker of Somalia, Sheikh Adam Mohamednor (Madobe), to work on holding the meeting and bringing together the two sides.
On February 2023, a reconciliation conference was held in Baidoa in the presence of Somali President Dr. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, parliament speaker Sh. Adan Mohamednor Madowe, international community representatives, and South West State political stakeholders, including opposition leaders, civil society, and local elders.
The conference lasted for two weeks; however, after long discussions, deliberations, and consultations, the technical committee issued a joint statement, noting that the two parties agreed on: The new lawmakers will be selected by the traditional elders between November and December 2023, and the parliament speaker and state president will be elected in January 2024.
emphasizing that the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs of Somalia will be responsible for implementing this agreement.
The SWS Humanitarian Concerns remain dire
Humanitarian, security, and economic issues are strangling Somalia. Many people in the country have been greatly impacted by climate change, which has led to food insecurity, droughts, and a financial crisis.
According to UNICEF and OCHA, in 2023, 8.25 million people in Somalia will need emergency humanitarian assistance. Due to the threat of poverty, disease outbreaks, conflict, and climate change, Somalia is in imminent danger. However, in several regions of central and southern Somalia, conflict and instability have exacerbated displacement and food insecurity.
The Southwest State of Somalia is and has been vulnerable to the frequent disasters that occur in the country. It has been experiencing a variety of challenges affecting millions of people in the state.
Recently, heavy rains hit many parts of Southwest State districts, notably Baidoa, causing floods that affected the livelihoods of IDPs. According to UN humanitarian agencies, about 100,000 people have been affected, including shelters housing 80,000 IDPs.
This comes after the Somali government recently warned of an impending crisis caused by the El-Nino phenomenon, which will exacerbate the dire situation for many vulnerable communities.
On the other hand, the fear and restriction of road travel have been challenging since they impede state businesspeople and citizens from traveling between Mogadishu, Afgoi, and Baidoa. For years, goods-carrying trucks have been stopped, trapped, and occasionally plundered or damaged.
Major districts have difficulty accessing foodstuffs and other essential commodities; Hudur and Wajid, for instance, have been in a blockage for years.
Therefore, it is believed that Baidoa is the busiest destination for domestic flights in the country.
Nevertheless, all these road-related constraints fueled the state’s deteriorating humanitarian condition.
On top of that, the Southwest State has the highest number of internally displaced persons. After Mogadishu, Baidoa is Somalia’s second-largest IDP-hosting city, fleeing droughts, civil strife, and security-related issues.
The inter-riverine community in southern Somalia is the most susceptible to the disasters that have been occurring constantly in the country.
Having said that, the state is generally considered a Somali agricultural basket, where many of the people practice agriculture and rear livestock. Since each region excels in a particular productive sector, it is apparently clear that the state is suitable to benefit from its strategic positioning, trade weight, and resources. For instance, the lower Shabelle region alone is believed to be able to feed all Somali regions if it is well managed and properly exploited.
The Political rage and Potential scenarios
As the expected election deadline approaches, the SWS political opposition declared that they are ready to be part of the arrangement of the South West State’s presidential and parliamentary elections, which are scheduled to begin in the month of November 2023.
Meanwhile, the National Consultative Council reached a consensus in May 2023 on a new road map that will transform and reshape the nation’s electoral system by unifying election schedules starting in 2024.
Since this agreement was criticized by some Somali political figures, who said it would give term extensions to the leaders of federal states whose mandates are coming to an end,
Regarding this, the Southwest State president insists on upholding this agreement, ignoring the already-reached February agreement in Baidoa to commence the state election in November 2023.
The South West State presidential candidates called for an urgent election to implement the Baidoa agreement, holding meetings in and out of the country. And they decided to take any route-by air or land-to get to Baidoa.
In the meantime, as a preventative measure against any potential regrouping of any team linked to the opposition, the state administration began sending everybody affiliated with them back to Mogadishu.
The issue will worsen and put the state in a political standoff if the state’s escalating political tensions continue and no solution is achieved.
History repeats itself: President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo struggled to retain his position of power by using various political tactics, but he ultimately failed in his political ambition and was forced to hold a presidential election.
South West State can’t withstand any further escalating political tensions as it faces humanitarian, security, and economic challenges; however, prioritizing public interest over private interest is the only thing that can bring together the entire population.
Nonetheless, the political standoff in the state will escalate if this mess worsens because it will not bring any fruitful outcome for the people. However, Laftagaren should work on the peaceful transfer of power and expedite the preparation for an election environment; this will give him credit for future political engagement and leave a political footprint in Southwest history.
In a nutshell, the South West State remains one of the most vulnerable to any disaster and is now grappling with challenges that burden the livelihood of numerous people in the state.
However, the ongoing political disputes will exacerbate the situation and create a further burden.
The traditional elders, intellectuals, civil society, and all other Southwest State stakeholders should be involved in resolving this political impasse by emphasizing the peace, tranquility, togetherness, cohesiveness, and coexistence of the Southwest State community.
Mustaf I Ali