Authority must not come from above but from below

By Dr. Mohamed Hassan Tifow

Conceptually we must separate between positive and negative peace. Negative peace describes the absence of overt violence, while positive peace is about justice and equal opportunities. 

The prevailing focus on national governments, such as security sector reform, the Rule of law and the organization of political elections, mainly focuses on negative peace. That this is insufficient is apparent, among other things, from the high risk of relapse into conflict.

Therefore, it seems necessary to stimulate socio-economic development at the national, community, and individual levels. Interest in early childhood development and peace education is part of this trend. Investing in people’s socio-economic development, especially the new generations, can play a positive role in the peace and security of the country. 

Over the past 30 years, Somalia has seen several reconciliation processes to pursue enduring peace. However, none of these reconciliation processes has contributed anything to a more peaceful future in Somalia. Partly because institutional structures are often unwieldy, it also means radically different answers to the conflict are not forthcoming, despite insights into our civil wars’ ‘new’ nature. For example, the country’s response to the escalating conflict still focuses on military intervention. With many billions spent on Amisom, the military solution alone did not become an engine for lasting peace.

In addition, we are underestimating the influence of stakeholders influence on Somalia’s conflicts. We should think of the Somali elite, African countries contributing to the Amisom forces, and those further down the links of the shadow networks, such as the international arms dealers seeking a market for their products and state actors trying to ensure their interests in the conflict.  

What’s missing here?

For lasting peace, we must look at the Somali citizens themselves for a change. Since the fall of dictator Barre, we have been continuously searching for ways to strengthen democracy. Still, many tangible steps yet not set toward that end. So far, the path taken was mainly changing governments and not aimed at improving the individual citizen vis-à-vis the government. And those governments and local leaders have not ensured that people are not treated arbitrarily by the administration. None of them allowed citizens to participate in democracy and entitled them to participate in a democracy better informed. Administrative acts are taken or introduced without inspiring the public about their merit. The strengthening of the position of the individual citizen vis-à-vis the government was necessary to take democracy a root. Nonetheless, the government did not take a preliminary step to that end.

Therefore, our democratization process was insufficient, partly due to the impediments limiting the government’s authority. Still, the paths taken by numerous governments lack several principal steps necessary for democracy to function. One such important step is the lack of popular participation of the citizens, which is essential because democracy is impossible without actual individuals having a say in all matters. 

Secondly, while few can air their opinion, much of our population is poor and, of course, very much preoccupied with the daily problems of their existence. Informing themselves about political issues is the last of their concerns. Thirdly, because Somalis disagree on almost everything, politics can never meet its citizens’ many, often contradictory demands. Therefore, building a direct line between citizens and politics without intermediary organizations creates an illusion. Similarly, the confrontation between the rhetoric of the political leaders, as we have witnessed, and the limited possibilities of satisfying the expectations of citizens can lead to frustrations and a further aversion to politics. 

Fourthly, as witnessed during the dictator Barre as well as the administration of Farmaajo, the media (including social media) plays a central role in political communication. For many citizens, they are the only source of information. What does it mean when one speaks of the citizen’s voice? Is it the citizen speaking, or do we hear the murmur of the media? Therefore, there is an apparent lack of diversification in communication, partly due to the absence of prominent civil society organizations that distribute information to their members. Finally, while government aims are to give citizens more political voice, politics loses impact on critical societal sectors by acting too passively.

The missing role of civil society

When society is connected and acts together by deliberating, they can create living conditions that give maximum opportunities to all individuals. Significant social problems, such as the security issue, cannot be solved individually but only through a joint, collective approach. In doing so, we start from a normative citizenship model (rights and duties citizens must have), from values and norms that regulate life and reflect a belief in the feasibility of society. 

These are essential ingredients for the proper functioning of democracy. That is why the government must offer sufficient incentives to develop associations fully. This associational life fulfils three crucial functions in society. Firstly, it is a weapon against agitation and tension. Secondly, it is a school for fundamental democratic values, including tolerance; thirdly, it is a means of organizing citizens and, in this way, making them empowered and effective. 

The democratic citizen, for his various concerns, must have organizations that defend their interests and express his wishes. The organization fulfils this duty based on information gathering, internal consultation and cooperation between members, volunteers, and professionals. Hence the great importance of civil society, the entirety of organizations that act as representatives and advocates of those many individual citizens. It can be the traditional civil society like a trade union and newer forms of ‘collective citizenship’ and the single-issue movements: such as a neighbourhood committee, an action group, an advisory committee, or a parents’ association. Civil society organizations combine interests. They speak in the interests of many and are supported by many when they are active.

As a result, political decisions taken in consultation with or after advice from civil society have broad democratic support. 

Therefore, I believe that government, from municipal to the federal level, should value the importance of civil society, both traditional and new movements, and engage in structured dialogue with civil society regularly and should be advised.

We expect civil society to make every effort to involve groups most affected by the prolonged civil unrest in the country, such as the elderly, the subsistence farmers, women, illiterate and minority groups. So that they can build a new society based on dignity and citizenship; however, involvement is possible only if democratic rules are observed. Power, therefore, should not rest in the hands of the elite alone but through a tangle of intermediary organizations such as trade unions and other civil society organizations that are in close contact with the citizens.

Sports and youth associations

One such association that government must pay attention to in the first place is the youth associations. In youth associations, young people learn to communicate, delegate, and negotiate, all qualities expected of responsible citizens. Youth associations, but also the rest of the association life, first and foremost need sufficient infrastructural support.

That is a contribution the government should take to heart. I, therefore, propose to President Hassan to make sure that in every municipality, there should be rooms and areas for outdoor activities for youth associations and community centres where associations can meet and organize activities. Making this infrastructure available free of charge is essential for developing association life. 

Sport occupies a prominent place in youths’ life. Sports practice has a significant influence on the personal development of everyone. This impressive development results from the intrinsic value of sport as a goal and the extrinsic value of sport (sport as a means). Sport has a health-promoting effect, strengthens the body and mind, and teaches new skills, including motor skills. In an association, sport also imparts social skills and a socializing role. Involvement in a joint activity is an essential counterweight to progressive individualization. Sport also promotes integration through club life. In short, sport increases people’s social participation. The government, therefore, has a dual duty within sports policy: on the one hand, a sports promotion task of bringing people into contact with sport and encouraging them to participate in active sports. On the other hand, a supporting mission to the organized sports world of clubs and federations.

This double task is part of the tasks of each level of government, whereby the actions are conducted as close as possible to the living environment of each community. In addition, using the available resources, opportunities must give for every community to participate in sports. 

Social media and the democratization process

Social media, insecurity, and the stagnating economy put further pressure on our democratization process. Social media creates new empowerment, but this puts the developing democratic system under even more pressure: campaigning becomes permanent. As the result of pressures from social media, the government is suffering from election fever and credibility from profiling zeal. In such times populism, autocratic tendencies and anti-parliamentarians are rampant, as witnessed in the Farmaajo administration. 

The time when Somalis depended on news from BBC and VOA is now the past. Instead, Somalis could already follow the political spectacle from minute to minute on social media, radio, TV, or the Internet. Still, today they can also react to it from second to second and mobilize others. The culture of immediate reporting gets instant feedback. However, social media does not make the work of the public figure and the elected politician any easier. Not only do leaders immediately see whether their proposals are to the liking of the citizen, but they also see how many people can be whipped up by that citizen. The new technology provides new empowerment to the public if they are organized, but the opposite is also true, as shown by the Farmaajo administration. 

Besides, president Farmaajo’s administration and social media reinforced each other. Because they constantly pick up on each other’s news and bounce back, an atmosphere of permanent smear is created. This negative media campaign has severe consequences for the functioning of democracy: efficiency suffers from the electoral calculus, legitimacy from the endless urge to profile. In such a situation, the public’s long-term interest has lost out against the short-term and the leader’s interests. 

In this time, with its social and economic dissatisfaction, agitated media system, rapidly deteriorating security situation, and tendencies obdurately clinging to power, democracy can easily and virtually wilfully buried. 

Dr. Mohamed Hassan Tifow