A theoretically decentralized but internally centralized system: How Kismayo municipality deals with emergencies

Skyline of Kismayo

Aweis Ahmed

Somalia adopted a federal system in 2004, almost two decades ago, and its implementation started in 2013, almost a decade ago. I expected that the decentralization of power from the federal government to the regional states would pave the way for the decentralization of delivery services to local communities. However, during my fieldwork in Jubaland’s interim capital, Kismayo, I felt that a strict centralized structure exists within the overall regional governance. This was notable when assessing the local government’s inability to address the new wave of displacement alongside preexisting displacement and form durable solutions to ameliorate this trend.

Newly displaced people in Kismayo were relocated to a site near Luglow, which is about 19 kilometers away from Kismayo. However, the people could only have toilets after several months because some of the host communities claimed the land and prevented toilets from being constructed. The local municipality and the Lower Jubba regional authorities could not deal with the emergency. Therefore, Jubaland’s president and his cabinet interfered, and managed to establish the toilets for the displaced community, but it is critical to note that this was accomplished because of the influence of the top leadership figures.

Local government, land, and durable solutions 

Although the land is a contentious issue in Jubaland, the assumption was that the local municipality would handle the land cases daily, but the local government could not manage the land even in emergencies. The governance structure is highly centralized, with the Jubaland president and his cabinet controlling some of the mandates and functions of the local municipality.

This doesn’t mean the local government is not working. However, some of the local government’s responsibilities, such as land use planning and responding to emergencies, are not under its full authority. Understandably, the decentralization of Somalia’s governance structure needs an extended period. However, some essential service delivery requires urgent decentralization and should be addressed by institutions closer to the people.

On the other hand, the role of the local municipality in finding durable solutions for the displaced community appeared to be less efficient than in the previous period. Previously, the local government has managed to offer land for the displacement-affected communities. As a result, thousands of houses were built, and hundreds of IDP and returnee families were resettled and are currently integrated with the host community.

Durable solutions work has recently become a source of funds for various high-level government portfolios and consequently placed under their control. Thus, the local government’s role in working on durable solutions has become less effective.

Why an effective local government is needed?   

Kismayo is one of the primary hubs for displaced communities. This is pertinent to its location because recurrent droughts, and security threats from Al-Shabaab are rampant in the surrounding area therefore driving displacement into Kismayo.  Furthermore, the city hosts more than half of Somalia’s returnees from the refugee camps in Kenya due to its proximity to the border.

It will be challenging to deal with emergency issues in a centralized manner, particularly in a city that hosts new arrivals of displaced people almost every day. Besides, the returnees who already had a piece of land with one or two rooms built on it complained of a water shortage. A fully functioning and effective local municipality in Kismayo with autonomy and jurisdiction on service delivery could greatly impact the rate of responding to emergencies and working toward durable solutions.

What needs to be done?

The centralization of the supposed decentralized governance structure is a common challenge across all Federal Member States in Somalia. Many of the Federal Member States resemble mini-central governments and often fail to decentralize services and governance to their respective districts.

Despite almost a decade since the formation of regional states began, the fruits of decentralization are not yet felt at the local levels in main cities like Kismayo, which hosts a considerable number of IDPs and returnees.

To strengthen local government authorities’ ability to deal with emergencies and durable solution activities, a lot needs to be done. Setting up a special durable solutions unit in the local government to deal with emerging issues in a sustainable manner could be the first step. Moreover, the local municipality should be given the mandate to deal with emergencies, including land use, and management. Finally, the local governments should receive assistance in regard to increasing their staff’s capacity to create durable solutions and mitigate emergencies.

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