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On Sunday 15 May, indirect elections will be held in Somalia to elect the new president. The incumbent president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed ‘Farmaajo,’ is running for re-election after more than a year since his term was unduly extended. Farmaajo will be remembered for many things but perhaps his most enduring legacy will be the stranglehold he tried to apply to federalism in Somalia.

Farmaajo was one of the signatories of the Tripartite Agreement of 5 September 2018 in Asmara, together with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isayas Afeworqi. We now know that this agreement was made at the expense of the Tigrayans, who were sacrificed to the respective ambitions of the three heads of state. Revenge was certainly one of the components of this agreement but beyond that, it was the very idea of federalism that the signatories intended to kill on that day in Asmara

While Eritrea has been ruled “as a personal fiefdom for over 30 years,” in the words of long-time Horn scholar Alex de Waal, Ethiopia and Somalia are federal republics. According to the 1995 constitution, Ethiopia is organised into regions established on ethno-linguistic grounds. There are currently 11 regions. In Somalia, on the other hand, the population is relatively homogeneous in terms of language and religion. It is the clans that structure the country socially but especially geographically. Somaliland, which is predominantly populated by the Issaq, seceded from Somalia in 1991, following the “forgotten genocide” against the Issaq between 1987 and 1989. For various reasons, Somaliland is not yet recognised as a sovereign state by the majority of the international community. The sovereignty of nations and the inviolability of borders have been sacrosanct principles for many heads of state but none more so those who fear their populations may exercise their right to self-determination, especially when they have been victims of ethnic cleansing.
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