from Africa in Transition

Compatibility Issues in Somalia: Governance and Economics

February 28, 2014

Blog Post

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Sub-Saharan Africa

Politics and Government




This is a guest post by Alex Dick-Godfrey, program coordinator, Studies administration for the Council on Foreign Relations Studies program. 

Somalia continues to improve after a nearly a quarter century of war, but integrating economics and governance remains difficult.

IRIN identifies five core challenges for Somalia’s economic reconstruction. Potentially, the country offers interesting prospects to investors, including vast herds of livestock, bountiful fisheries, oil and gas reserves, and a long coastline with natural deep water ports. However, IRIN highlights such brakes on investment as security uncertainty, inconsistent trade and financial policy, and an unstable currency. These problems are not insurmountable. As the report shows, by formalizing institutions, increasing transparency, and generating cooperation between federal, regional, and tribal administrations, progress can be made.

A second report, “Decentralization Options for Somalia,” published by African Arguments, focuses on governance. It lays out various forms of decentralization as options for Somalia. Little enthusiasm exists for a return to a centralized government structure after the fall of the Siad Barre regime in 1991 and federalism is already endorsed by the Provisional Constitution of Somalia. The report also explains that distrust in and among the political elite, animosity between Mogadishu and the hinterlands, and the desire for widespread political participation have driven Somalia towards decentralization. Diffusing power to the regional states is the most stable way forward, and the most likely one.

Separately, these recommendations make sense. However, when considered together, they may prove difficult to integrate into a coherent political system and economic structure. Many of the economic changes required to build an economy, like trade agreements with other countries or oil and gas revenue sharing, require agreement and consolidation on a national level. To achieve a robust federal system, there will need to be strong states that can effectively govern their territory and provide basic services to the population. However, as investment increases, often so does corruption and cronyism, which can have devastating effects on governance and confidence in government. As power diffuses amongst states, so does momentum in national endeavors like infrastructure development, national unity, and defeating al Shabaab.

Governance and economics together are essential to the stability and sustainable success of the country. The drivers for decentralization are already in place, and hostility or suspicion of centralized economic policy may be a brake on growth.