Federalism Dialogue in Kismayo

As part of the National Dialogue on Federalism, a six-city research project across Somalia,  we travelled to the coastal city of Kismaayo, the capital of the newly minted Interim Jubba  Administration (IJA). This was my first trip to Kismaayo.

Before we landed, we were all curious to see the spectacular view where the Jubba River joins the Indian Ocean. We asked the pilot to tell us when we are close enough to take pictures of the spectacular beauty of the river merging with ocean.

We landed at Kismaayo International Airport on a sunny morning. The airport is decent by Somalia standards(I was told that United States built it decades ago). Kenyan contingent of the AMISOM forces control the area. Apart from few helicopters, ours was the only plane at the airport. We were quickly whisked into the small arrivals terminal.

A lanky immigration officer asked about our visas. We told them that we flew domestic from Mogadishu. That wasn’t good enough. The officer insisted that we pay entry fee. Our resistance yielded no results. It was a fitting experience to our research subject: federalism in Somalia! The de facto reality is that regional states are exercising greater influence, perhaps to the chagrin of the Federal Government in Mogadishu.

Like all our previous trips to other major cities, we partnered with the local university: Kismaayo University. A team from the university received us at the airport and drove us  through the exotic green land between the city and the airport. The sight of camels and sheep added to the serene feeling one experiences there.

Kismaayo is arguably Somalia’s most beautiful and resource-rich city. It has it all: a hugging ocean with a sandy beach; a river; abundance of livestock and farms. But its greatest asset is its people: extremely diverse in the Somali context, urbane and very hospitable.

That diversity crystallized at our forum later in the day. Unlike the other less heterogeneous cities we visited, where one narrative dominates the room, we were impressed—yet humbled—by the heterogeneity of views and the civility of discussion.

Following our dialogue, we visited the heavily fortified Presidential Compound of IJA, a beautiful mansion on a hill in the middle of city. We learned that it used to be Mohamed Siyad Barre’s retreat. The Minister in charge of the President’s office, Abdighani Abdi Jama and his assistants received us graciously and briefed us about the situation on the ground. Later, he invited us to lunch at a restaurant in the middle of town and also explained to us the ongoing reconciliation conference in Kismaayo.

As the third largest city in Somalia, Kismaayo has endured through decades of civil war. The relics of the many wars are all too evident. Not far from the Presidential Compound is the former headquarters of al-Shabaab. The Arabic script is still there as if to remind who was in charge here not long ago. Few blocks down lay the ruins of the cathedral built a century ago by the Italian colonizers. Al-Shabaab detonated the building to the ground.

Driving through the city, I  saw Calanley, Farjanno and Faanole sectors that I memorized when I was in school. I will not forget its climate, people, and historical sites. Although we were all too ecstatic to be in Kismaayo, it was a special moment for one colleague: Abdiaziz Elmi, our filmmaker who was born and raised in Kismaayo. We drove by his old house not far from the Central Bank. He doesn’t know who lives there, but he was tempted to go and check it out. He attached a name to nearly every house in his old neighborhood, but none of these people were there.

Kismaayo was the fourth city we visited for our federalism research. Prior to it, we visited Baidoa, Garowe, and Galkacyo respectively.

For all its challenges, Kismaayo, and Jubbaland by extension, could be a template for how and what works in Somalia. Its diversity and economic potential offer rare opportunities, but also immense challenges.

As they say in America, “wherever Kismaayo goes, so goes the nation”!

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2 Comments

  1. Ahmed
    Posted November 2014 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    I would like to appreciate for sharing us the information that you got from Kismayo. Similarly, I would like to point out some suggestions about the article. Although I am not a writer, but I have had some basic skills about Academic Writing, and I think that revising these points will actually enhance the readers’ interest.
    First, the article used too many simples sentences, and that is not as good as the use of all other forms of sentences together. Secondly, avoid the use of personal pronouns as much as you can so that the article becomes more academic.

  2. Liban Abdullahi Mumi
    Posted February 2015 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Really, I am very excited how you prepared this article and I encouraging you to double your efforts so as to achieve the goals in your mind.

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