The Hirshabelle election conundrum

This October, the constitutional 4-year mandate of both Hirshabelle’s parliament and president ends. After their selection by clan elders, the Hirshabelle parliament was sworn in on 9th October 2016. The legislative assembly elected its speaker and deputy speakers on 13th October and later its president Ali Abdullahi Osoble and vice president Ali Abdullahi Hussein (Guudlaawe) on 17 October 2016. The winner, Ali Abdullahi Osoble, (61 votes of 98 legislators) defeated his challenger, Mohamed Abdi Waare, who received 36 votes.

In less than a year, the Hirshabelle legislative assembly removed Ali Abdullahi Osoble after a no-confidence motion against him on 14 August 2017. His former opponent Mohamed Abdi Waare was elected instead as the second president of Hirshabelle on September 16, 2017, with 75 votes. Waare was inaugured in Jowhar on 23 October 2017 in a ceremony attended by Somalia’s former Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire, the Federal Member State presidents, the then Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) for Somalia, Michael Keating, and other representatives of the international community.

The Hirshabelle constitution limits the mandate of the state parliament and president to four years. Although the current president Mohamed Abdi Waare was Inaugurated three years ago this month, he is believed to have completed the mandate of the state’s former president, which would have come to an end this October. Therefore, the state election was scheduled to happen this month. However, the preparations for the election have been poor and the election coincided with the preparations and timeline of the federal elections, which was negotiated between FGS and FMS executives and yielded an indirect electoral model. The managing bodies for this federal election model are expected to be appointed this month.

Hirshabelle was the last state to be established in  federal Somalia. Its state formation process was hastened due to the 2016 indirect election calculus and expediency rather than establishing the groundwork for an effective and stable administration. Some of the clans in the Hiiraan region – one of the two regions that have come to make up Hirshabelle – were reluctant for the merger of the two regions. However, the federal government at the time wanted to expedite the formation of the new state so that it could participate in the 2016 indirect election.

When the Hirshabelle state assembly speakers and president were elected, they became directly involved in the 2016 federal indirect elections. The state assembly elected the Upper House members from Hirshabelle and the newly established state president appointed the State Indirect Electoral Implementation Team (SIEIT).The (s)election of 37 MPs was managed in Jowhar. The Hirshabelle ministers were appointed after the 2016 federal indirect elections.

Four years later, the Hirshabelle state election clashes with another momentous and high stakes federal indirect election. The incumbent federal leaders again seem to want to accelerate the Hirshabelle state election so that the state can participate in the 2020-21 federal indirect electoral process.

Preparations for the Hirshabelle election

Preparations for the state election have been weak. Its president Mohamed Abdi Waare has been busy with the efforts to explore a model for the federal election. He attended FGS and FMS presidents’ meetings in Dhusamareb (I, II & III) and later in Mogadishu and was part of the recent agreement of the National Leaders Forum on the technical details of the federal elections. However, the Hirshabelle president on 29 August this year appointed an 11-member all-male technical committee tasked to gather clan elders and help them select the state legislators.

On October 6, the technical committee released a timeline for the election of the Hirshabelle state legislators. According to the timeline, the state parliament selection and the election of the speakers of the state parliament will be completed between October 8 and November 10. A few hours after publishing the election timeline, the Hirshabelle president Mohamed Abdi Waare issued a statement directed to the chair of the technical committee. The president stated that there are issues that should be addressed before announcing the election timeline including the inclusion of women members to the committee (even though he appointed the committee), defining the Terms of Reference of the committee, capacity building for the technical committee, mapping out grievances of clans in Hirshabelle, social reconciliation, and organizing a large conference for Hirshabelle clan elders to agree on power-sharing among Hirshabelle clans.

These developments indicate that the president and the committee have different views on how the Hirshabelle election should proceed. Moreover, the federal Ministry of Interior, Federal Affairs and Reconciliation, which has led the recently concluded state formation process in Galmudug, is not playing a role in the Hirshabelle electoral process mainly due to the caretaker status of its minister and the expected new Council of Ministers at the federal level.

In summary, although the Hirshabelle parliamentary and presidential elections were due to happen this month, the preparations do not leave much hope for the possibility of a proper election in this federal member state at this time.

The clash of the federal and Hirshabelle election timelines

Moreover, the Hirshabelle election coincides with the federal indirect election. According to the agreed timeline for the federal indirect elections, the federal and state-level election implementation teams should be appointed between 10th and 20th of October (this month); train the committees between 20th and 31st October; prepare the electoral delegates and polling centers in November; elect Upper House members in the first 10 days of December; elect members of the House of the People between 10th and 27th December, and elect the speakers of the two chambers of parliament as well as the president between 1st January and 8th February.

If Hirshabelle parliament is (s)elected between October 8 and November 10 as proposed by its technical committee, it would mean that the Hirshabelle state-level election implementation team for the federal indirect election would not be appointed up until the 20th of this month; and the committee will not receive the training planned to be given to other state-level electoral implementation teams. This may technically delay the already tight timelines of the federal indirect elections.

The systematic challenge

A proper mapping of clans in Hiiraan and Middle Shabelle regions and a social reconciliation process were not carried out before the formation of Hirshabelle state. Some clans in Hirshabelle were not initially convinced of the merger of the two regions. Their main argument was that Hiiraan has not previously been divided into two or more regions, and it was among the eight regions that Somalia had when it took independence in 1960. On the other hand, the Middle Shabelle region was established in 1974 when Somalia’s military dictator Mohamed Siyad Barre divided the Benadir region into three – Benadir, Middle Shabelle, and Lower Shabelle.

Moreover, about a month before the end of the mandate of the transitional government, President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed issued a decree announcing the formation of an Upper Shabelle region in August 2012, which would have created a new region from a portion of the existing Hiiraan region. Some communities in Hiiraan wanted to legitimize the Upper Shabelle region before the establishment of Hirshabelle, and then share the powers of the new state across three regions – Hiiraan, Upper Shabelle, and Middle Shabelle.

This did not materialize, and the federal government at the time proceeded with a merger of a complete Hiiraan and Middle Shabelle regions. Jowhar, the capital city of Middle Shabelle, was designated as the capital city of the new state. To convince the Hiiraan region, the government announced that only politicians from the Hawadle clan (the dominant clan in the Hiiraan region) could compete for the presidency of the new state. This has encouraged some politicians from that clan to run for the seat. Ali Abdullahi Osoble from Hawadle clan was elected as the president of the new state, and Ali Guudlawe from Abgal clan was elected vice president.

However, the merger of the two regions and the power-sharing arrangement became a structural obstacle that has crippled the Hirshabelle state in the past four years. The newly established Hirshabelle State did not succeed in reconciling clans in Hirshabelle and building the trust and confidence of communities in the two regions. People in the Hiiraan region did not see the fruits of the Hirshabelle state and some view themselves as not being part of the new state. When a member of Somali Public Agenda visited Beledweyne in late 2018, he observed the negative perception that many people in Beledweyne had towards Hirshabelle.

After four years, the establishment of the second Hirshabelle state could be one that rectifies the systematic problems faced in the past four years, one that maintains the status quo, or one that makes things worse.

Three possible scenarios

There are currently three possible scenarios for Hirshabelle. The first is maintaining the status quo, which means organizing another hasty election for the sake of the 2020-21 federal indirect election. Maintaining the status quo could help facilitate the election of the House of the People and the Upper House representatives from Hirshabelle in the short term, but the state will continue to face the same structural challenges that it has faced over the past four years. Moreover, holding the Hirshabelle election on time could also (technically) delay the tight federal indirect election timeline, especially the election of members of the two chambers of parliament representing Hirshabelle as the two election timelines clash.

A worse scenario is a hasty state election and a changing of the current power-sharing model among clans. There are indications that the federal government may want the current vice president of Hirshabelle who is from the Middle Shabelle region to become the president of Hirshabelle. This would mean that Middle Shabelle would retain both the state’s capital city (which may later be moved to Hiiraan) as well as its presidency. It would also further marginalize the Hiiraan region whose communities were not initially convinced of the merger of the Hiiraan and Middle Shabelle regions. This could also create a possible risk of Hiiraan withdrawing the Hirshabelle state altogether and announcing a new state – such as Hiiraan State (which was planned to be established before Hirshabelle state was formed).

Another possible scenario is technically delaying the Hirshabelle elections for about six months but then proceeding with the federal indirect election. The Hirshabelle President could ask the state parliament to sit and approve a few months of technical extension for the Hirshabelle state. This could have four advantages. First, the timeline of the federal indirect election will not be disrupted. Second, clans in Hirshabelle will get the opportunity to discuss among themselves, solve clan conflicts and grievances, and establish a state that has the consent and support of all or majority of Hirshabelle stakeholders. Third, the new federal government – which has a four-year mandate – would not be running against the time and could provide the necessary support for the subsequent formation of a Hirshabelle state. The incumbent federal government spent about eight months establishing Galmudug. The same could be done in Hirshabelle if its election is technically delayed. Finally, a technical delay of the Hirshabelle election would provide the opportunity to rectify the systematic challenges that Hirshabelle has faced in the last four years. And this could lead to building proper and effectively functioning local governments that provides basic services to the public.

The decisions taken by the incumbent federal government as well as the interests and approaches of Hirshabelle stakeholders would define the direction that the state will travel in the coming years.


Election Series: This commentary is the ninth paper of our election series. SPA welcomes and very much appreciates comments, feedback, and ideas relating to Somalia’s anticipated federal and state level elections.

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