EDITORIAL | When Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble landed in Kismayo on Wednesday, the significance of the trip wasn’t just that a senior government official was visiting one of the federal states they struggled to engage with.
Admittedly, Prime Minister Roble’s appearance in the capital of Jubbaland was good for the optics: the federal government was on a collision course with Jubbaland for most of the tenure of outgoing President Mohamed Farmajo. At one point, Farmajo even refused to recognize Jubbaland chairman Ahmed Madobe based on what was seen as an irregular election there in August 2019.
Roble’s arrival was therefore a signal that the federal government was choosing to seek a political solution rather than remaining stuck in the deadlock of procedural technicalities. In other words, Jubbaland may have ignored the law by doing certain things, but it is still a useful cog in the Somalia reconstruction project.
The immediate benefit of Roble’s visit, however, is to work day and night to ensure the smooth running of the scheduled elections. In Somalia, good deals can always be ruined by a single nut in a leader or by a downsizing of the militant group al-Shabaab. This is why we think the trip to Kismayu was important because it pointed out to us the number of things Roble and his officials need to do to ensure that we have free, fair and credible polls.
First, by visiting federal areas with possible issues ahead, Roble will have the chance to hear from local officials and the people on the ground about what needs to be done. In Jubbaland, there is a race against time to ensure that the communities of Gedo reconcile and agree on the location of the elections.
With the calendar set and elections scheduled for July 25, one day is an important time to iron out these issues. You don’t have to plan a national event just for the people of Gedo or any other place to ruin the plan by refusing to participate or haggling to conduct the polls.
As Somalia continuously grows into the federation, the role of federal states becomes even more important in this election time. In a country with a two-tier security structure, the security services provided by the Länder are going to be crucial. The Somali federal government itself lacks security resources. As such, federal governments must fill this gap and work hand-in-hand with the National Advisory Council that Roble chairs to ensure the security of the elections, participants, and places.
As elections approach, appropriate awareness raising may be needed, even for clan elders, on the role they will play. No government entity knows its location better than a federal administration. They probably know the exact identity of these clans and their elders and know how to select the voting delegates.
Somalia’s lack of a national database of civilian records is a great loss. But federal states, thanks to their localized skill in knowing that people can verify whether someone belongs to Al-Shabaab, is a defector supporter or a patriotic citizen. That alone can help prevent a suicidal renegade from entering a crowd of peace lovers and causing harm.
We suggest this with caution, of course, knowing full well that in the past some over-ambitious federal state leaders have rallied their loyalists to vote, leaving out the “enemies”. It would be naive not to see leaders of federal states as interested in their own political achievements as those of the federal government, hence the friction we’ve seen over time between Mogadishu and Northeastern State, for example, or with Jubbaland en Gedo on the deployment of national security forces.
The safety valve, for the moment, is in dialogue. Let the PM tour the country, gather suggestions and sift through to make sure the little things that matter are addressed before it’s late.