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Establishing an inclusive and sustainable political settlement in SWS: Opportunities for re-establishing dialogue

Establishing an inclusive and sustainable political settlement in SWS: Opportunities for re-establishing dialogue


The current political dynamics seen in South West State (SWS) have been shaped by the state collapse of 1991, the civil war, and subsequent fraught efforts to establish a Federal Member State. Initial ‘bottom-up’ efforts by the Rahanweyn Resistance Army to form an autonomous entity ultimately collapsed into infighting, following which al-Shabaab established a significant presence in the area. The state formation process that later began in 2014—heavily driven by the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS), Ethiopia and other external factors—failed to establish a legitimate and inclusive political dispensation. The legacy of the civil war has also led to enduring tensions between various groups over military and economic power, especially in Lower Shebelle.

In light of this historical genesis, today’s dynamics can be understood as the absence of a political settlement—the underlying rules of the game agreed among political actors regarding the distribution of, and competition for, power. Instead, successive elite cliques based on a minimal inner circle and narrow set of clan allegiances have been able to rule without consensus by relying on the support of the FGS and Ethiopia. While this has provided a degree of political stability, it ultimately affords little scope for addressing state-building reform or wider underlying issues in the political settlement. On the contrary, it has led to repeated bouts of political violence, with cliques seeking to capture state institutions, most notably around state elections. Such violence erupted in the wake of the controversial December 2018 elections, then again in December 2022 following a dispute surrounding the next elections process. Tensions arising from the latter outbreak have yet to fully subside.

These short-term dynamics of clique formation and competition obscure deeper historical and structural fissures. Competition for control of rents—especially from checkpoints—in a context of limited resources and revenue continues to drive conflict and instability, especially in Lower Shebelle. The disconnect between the state administration and Lower Shebelle poses a twofold challenge to a more inclusive settlement due to, first, tensions between the SWS administration and Lower Shabelle’s military and economic elite, and, second, the marginalization of key groups within the region. Further obstacles to an inclusive settlement in SWS include the marginalization of other minority identity groups and the ongoing presence of al-Shabaab, which controls four districts in the state, as well as wide swathes of its rural areas.

Thus, for long-term state-building and development objectives to be achieved, it is essential that an inclusive, sustainable political settlement in SWS is established, allowing the state’s different groups to peacefully engage in dialogue and compete for power.

This briefing is a product of the Somali Dialogue Platform, a programme which supports Somalis to achieve consensus on contentious political issues and is implemented by the Rift Valley Institute. The Somali Dialogue Platform is funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).