By Mohamed Abshir
The Puntland State of Somalia is on a dangerous precipice. More than two and half years after taking charge of the most stable region of Somalia, President Abdiweli Gas policies have erupted into political revelries, jeopardizing the security and stability of the region. The absence of a democratic and accountable administration, widespread corruption, nepotism, clanism and the marginalization of Puntland stakeholders, have left many communities to believe that they have been intentionally left behind by the Garowe-based administration.
The president, a fervent opponent of the 4.5 power-sharing formula, has been on the helm of a regional government that uses the same formula to monopolize political and economic powers in the hands of his clan. The formula places other non-Majeerteen clans into 0.5 designed to limit their political and economic participation. The policy undermines other clans and sub-clans in Puntland, leaving the state of the region as a Majeeteen entity.
The participation of all clans and sub-clans are critical to the security and stability of the region. At present, they are functionally excluded from important senior government positions as well as civil service positions that are reserved for the president’s clan. Those that do participate are coopted and influenced by the increasingly authoritarian regime and are routinely undermined by corrupt deputies who hold authority and only serve the president’s clan interests.
A case in point, the president recently indicated he would select the representatives of the Upper House of the Somali federal parliament for Puntland and the Sanaag and Sool regions, in a violation of the provisional federal constitution. Reports state that the plan gives Majeerteen eight seats, Sool two seats and Sanaag one seat. The selection takes away the Sanaag and Sool seats and gives extra seats to President’s clan. Without participation, the other communities are left with a few alternatives to address their grievances.
In addition, reports from international development agencies state that Puntland routinely blocks international development projects for Sanaag, Sool, Western Bari and Nugaal, especially in the areas inhabited by Dishiishe, Dhulbahante and Warsangeli as part of a plan to redirect development funds to Garowe, Galkacyo and Qardho. Since taking the helm in 2014, the Gas government has barred development projects for Sanaag and Sool regions and used the funds for developing Mudug. Still, Puntland claim the regions and works behind the scene to perpetuate a myth that the regions are disputed areas and dangerous for development agencies to operate. What is clear is that current and former Puntland administration have neither the desire, interest nor the will to help these communities.
The formation of Puntland in 1998 provided a vehicle for representation of all inhabitants of the region. Since that time, successive administrations have monopolized state resources, turning the region into family enclaves. These enclaves undermine federalism and the goals that established Puntland.
As result, political and community leaders from the Sanaag and Sool regions have formed interim administrations, the Northeast State of Somalia to represent their interests at the federal level and are seeking their share of development that is intentionally concentrated in and only benefit Garowe, Galkacyo and Qardho sub-clans.
The Gas administration has abandoned the appearance of democratic state, systematically marginalizing opposition leaders from Bari, Sool and Sanaag regions. The effect of these maneuvers have forced opposition leaders out of the government, further marginalizing clans and sub-clan interests. Frustrated leaders, including the vice president and the parliament, failed repeatedly to mount effective opposition to the regime.
Reports from the region indicated that the administration is currently organizing a no confidence vote against opposition leaders including the vice president and previously removed the speaker of the parliament as well as threatened and/or arrested the free media. These undemocratic actions including the dismissal of ministers have sparked protests and potential showdown.
The opposition to President Gas’s failed administration has largely been peaceful, but exceptions, most notably a recent clan militia clash with Puntland forces that funded by the international community on June 23, 2016, demonstrate the potential for violence. The majority of opposition does not support violence; nevertheless, the discontent among opposition creates opportunity for al-Shabaab to expand their presence into Puntland, Sanaag and Sool.
The political fissures are the worst-case for Somalia. The targeting of opposition political figures as well as the free media is purely self-interested behavior by president, and it does nothing to advance the interests of Puntland. In fact, the discontent flames the marginalized communities and generates a threat to the regions security and stability and further undermines the president’s legitimacy.
According to western diplomats who cover Somalia, the international community is very concerned and is considering change in policy that sets conditions on assistance for Puntland.
The administration is advised to engage with opposition leaders and recognize their demands and address it in order to prevent political and security disintegration of the region. The longer these communities are left without an avenue of political participation, the more likely they may advocate for violent alternatives. If marginalization continues, it could potentially morph into a civil war that, in tandem with the insurgency, would have devastating effects on the Puntland, Somalia and the region.
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