In a development that surprised many, the Somali government makes a strategic move and formally acknowledges the transitional administration in the SSC-Khaatumo regions, a territory whose governance has long been a contentious issue between Puntland and secessionist Somaliland. The government’s decision has profound implications for the political equilibrium in Somalia and could exacerbate existing tensions while simultaneously serving the immediate political interests of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
Amidst this significant policy shift, it is noteworthy to mention the recent rebuke of the President by influential former leaders, highlighting the complex and fractured nature of Somali politics.
The Federal Government’s acknowledgement came via an official press release from the Ministry of Interior, Federal Affairs & Reconciliation, dated 19 October 2023. The government endorsed traditional clan elders’ decision in their Las Anod conference on 6 February of this year. The elders declared that SSC-Khaatumo areas fall under the federal government’s jurisdiction, effectively nullifying claims from Puntland and Somaliland.
Immediate political ramifications
This recognition is fraught with political undercurrents that merit deep analysis, especially concerning the relationships among the Darod clans, Puntland, and the federal government.
The decision could be interpreted as a strategic move by President Hassan Sheikh to exert more pressure on Puntland’s President, Said Abdullahi Deni. Hassan has been supporting Deni’s political opposition in Puntland and recognizing SSC-Khaatumo potentially further agitates the Dhulbahante in Puntland. This is particularly significant given that 17 MPs from that region are part of Puntland, and the Puntland constitution explicitly covers SSC areas. The latest move effectively throws a wrench into the internal political machinery of Puntland, possibly creating rifts that could favour Mohamud’s agenda.
Ambiguity on Federal Member State status
The government’s statement stops short of declaring SSC-Khaatumo a Federal Member State (FMS), a move that would have even more far-reaching consequences. Such a declaration would subtract eight MPs and two Senators from Puntland, significantly reducing its political influence. The statement’s ambiguity appears intentional, allowing room for future manoeuvring while fostering the notion of harmony between what is politically termed “the northern regions,” a reference to areas the British formerly colonized.
Long-term prospects and observations
The government’s decision can be a double-edged sword. On one side, it promotes national unity by claiming a contested area for the federal government and potentially paving the way for better service delivery in the region. On the other side, it adds another layer of complexity to Somalia’s already intricate political landscape.
A growing chorus of criticism
While the federal government frames this as a milestone, the undercurrents of political discontent cannot be ignored. A letter penned by former high-ranking politicians, including three former Prime Ministers, a former President, and two former Speakers of Parliament, further reveals the fragile state of political consensus in the country. Particularly in light of President Hassan Sheikh’s recent failed military campaign in Galmudug to dislodge al-Shabaab, which resulted in the militant group gaining more ground, the criticism from such senior figures serves as a potent counter-narrative to the federal government’s claims of progress.
As Somalia stands at yet another critical juncture in its turbulent history, the federal government’s decision to recognize SSC-Khaatumo raises as many questions as it seeks to answer. While the government frames this as a milestone in its efforts to consolidate governance and territorial integrity, the implications of this move will likely reverberate through the complex tapestry of Somali politics for years to come, not least because of the overt criticisms from former leaders who are part of the political establishment. The weight of their rebuke and the consequences of the new policy could well define the immediate future of the Hassan Sheikh administration and Somalia at large.