The city of Mogadishu is not legally the capital of Somalia, in fact the country has no legal capital at the moment, and this has given momentum for the creation of a federal state that will encompass the city and its outlying regions, thereby removing its eligibility as the national capital.
We spoke to Abdikarin Farah, a Somalia-based activist who has helped organize previous fundraising efforts for the founding of Banaadir State of Somalia.
Dissident Nation: What role have you played in the current debate over Mogadishu’s status?
Abdikarin Farah: I helped bring local leaders and diaspora supporters together in a shared venue in the former capital.
Dissident Nation: Why do you call Mogadishu the former capital, especially when the current government is based there?
Abdikarin Farah: The new constitution doesn’t mention a Somali capital, not once. It keeps the issue open to debate. The constitution takes into consideration the needs of the people of Mogadishu to decide their city’s fate. The government is based in Mogadishu because a new capital has not been decided on, in the same way that the former prime minister held office until the new premier was approved by parliament.
Dissident Nation: How old is this movement to incorporate Mogadishu into a regional state?
Abdikarin Farah: The very moment that federalism became an option for other Somali regions, the people of Mogadishu also wanted the political security and representation that other regions of the country were to be allotted.
Dissident Nation: What about the other Somalis who believe Mogadishu should be a special city that serves everyone?
Abdikarin Farah: That’s an insensitive question. You, and many others, are implying that Mogadishu will be a betting stage for other regional entities. You’re saying that Mogadishu will be bargained for by others while we enjoy no special federal protections or representation. That’s exactly the fear that many here have. Eventually, as your question implies, Mogadishu will become a neutral political arena, thereby removing the will of its residents. When people look at Mogadishu, they see a sandbox with no previous occupants, they don’t see that communities have already been established there, much less the needs of those communities. Federal states are not just geographic demarcations, they are bodies which represent the unique needs of the various communities living across Somalia. Without a federal state, there is no special body that will serve the current demographic groups of Mogadishu. In time, the current residents of Mogadishu will be drowned out by the interests of everyone else. Everybody thinks we all just moved to Mogadishu when this government was formed, and they totally ignore the common interests of the city’s people.
Dissident Nation: How will Banaadir State come into being?
Abdikarin Farah: The same way Hiiraan State, or Puntland State, or Jubbaland State were born or are being born. We will first bring together the native clans of Mogadishu and they will create a caretaker administration for their city. From there, we will venture out and meet the 2-region requirement needed to be a federal state by inviting more regions for dialog. Eventually we will incorporate all of Middle Shabelle and Lower Shabelle provinces to the central hub of Mogadishu, with their consent and full support of course.
Dissident Nation: Our more important question is, how will the transition from Mogadishu to a new city work? And why are you against hosting the capital city?
Abdikarin Farah: The previous Transitional Federal Government was based in Jowhar and Baidoa for nearly three years before moving to Mogadishu, let the current government figure out its next move, it isn’t our problem. Let them build a new city where they will not be forced to delegate the affairs of Somalia and the international community in the midst of an established community. All they see are roads, ports, and buildings, they don’t see people. Entire parts of the city have been made off-limits to ordinary residents of Mogadishu in order to protect government institutions. The number of security checkpoints in virtually every corner of the city have also made travel a laborious task, even from one district to the next over. Being the legal representative of Somalia has also made our city and its people the biggest target for the various parties vying to control Somalia throughout the last twenty-two years. We have suffered too much, and we no longer want that burden.
Dissident Nation: Mogadishu currently benefits heavily from outside investment even as the unofficial capital of Somalia, won’t you lose that if you join a federal state?
Abdikarin Farah: Those investments benefit a few people, like the corrupt mayor, who also occupies the post of governor. Let me give you one example of how we’re currently losing. The meager revenues of Mogadishu’s main port support all of the government institutions that support the rest of Somalia. There are Somali military personnel supported by the port’s revenues who are fighting as far away as Kismayo. But you have ports like Kismayo which will only support the regional needs of Jubbaland. How crazy is it that Jubbaland State is supported by two ports, but adversely, Mogadishu is only supported by the crumbs of its own labor. This will only get worse as more states demand the government’s attention, leaving us to pay the tab.
Dissident Nation: What is your confidence level in the formation of a Banaadir State that will encompass the currently-established Somali capital?
Abdikarin Farah: I only cite the will of the people as a reference to this point. If the people want to sit idly while distant Somali interests and even foreigners divide up their capital, then they will remain trapped in a capital city that serves everyone else first, and them last. But if they want to create an apparatus that will allow them to take an active role in the formation of Somalia, then they will support a federal state that represents their community’s interests.
Dissident Nation: How are things coming along for Banaadir State?
Abdikarin Farah: We are lobbying to remove the last remaining obstacle, the city’s mafioso mayor Ahmed Nur Tarsan. Once he is out of the picture, we can continue dialog with the government without intimidation or threats.