The recently published Heritage Institute of Policies Studies (HIPS) policy brief on “Federal Somalia: not if, but how?” is not fit for purpose. The main reason for my assertion is in relation to its lazy methodological approach. Perhaps one may concede and understand the logistics and the security difficulties associated to undertake such research in Somalia, but the erroneous approach of this study doesn’t do justice to such an important topic which deserves closer scrutiny and effort. In my opinion, on this occasion HIPS has regrettably failed to meet its stated organisational remit “to fill in the existing gaps in understanding, to raise awareness and to inform policy”; it makes a number of tacit assumptions and it omits essential information required to understand Somali sentiments on this pivotal topic.
- A total of 213 professionals and students were surveyed…Really?
Arguably, the only way this study would have been acceptable is if it had been presented and designed to capture a fraction of the views of Somali public sector, students and NGO professionals on the Federalism system in Somalia, but to suggest that this limited surveying represents the general Somali view on the question of federalism is a mockery to Somalis. A meagre 213 individuals from a national population of approximately 10 million have been surveyed. Bizarrely, the overwhelming majority in Somalia – the unemployed, IDPs and entrepreneurs – have been left out from this important conversation. Instead, the research concentrated on the easy-to-reach NGO, public sector professionals and students. In addition, the research paper does not specify the number of female -to-male ratio and also does not state the age range of participants. These are major elements which have a great impact on the findings. Tacit assumptions and the omission of key information weakens a great deal of its findings.
- Research timeline
The outcome of any research depends on a variety of factors, one of which is the period in time the study is conducted. Research in general (and qualitative studies in particular) is heavily influenced by participants’ views in certain periods linked to a particular societal, economic and political situation. The HIPS briefing does not mention when the survey was conducted or make any attempt to refer to a periodical timeline. The omission of such key information weakens the analysis of the study.
- The Elephant in the room
In a post-conflict environment, in order to recuperate the community’s trusts and to be credible, the State and independent researchers have the responsibility to confront issues in an inclusive, frank and fair manner. In “Somalia Federal – not if but how” HIPS overlooks the elephant in the room. The unaddressed elephant in the room is the role clans play in this context. Somalia is notorious for its clan-based society. The HIPS study has been carried out in five major Somali cities; perhaps assuming the association of clans with these geographical areas. Given Somalia’s recent history, the topic of clans is sensitive and holds a vital role in the discussions on governance. However, HIPS’ “out of sight, out of mind” approach is counter-productive because it fails to provide evidence of a transparent, inclusive and credible representation of all clans in Somalia.
HIPS should be credited for bringing to the fore stimulating discussions on key Somali topics such as the governance system. It is also noteworthy that HIPS is the first and only post-civil war, Somali-led think-tank which operates within Somalia. I may be an idealist but because it holds such an important role one would expect the production of good research to help the Government make informed decisions. Disappointingly, on “Federal Somalia: not if, but how”, the methodology shows major elementary shortcomings: participants are too few to reach a valid conclusion, the omission of important information such as participants’ general details and the period the research was conducted make the findings futile, and the fact that the complex Somali societal structures are not appropriately addressed and represented weakens further the initial objective of this research. Currently, ‘all hands on deck’ is a pre-requisite for Somalia to overcome its challenges and to assist in the peace-building and state-building efforts. I believe HIPS could play a crucial part in this operation, but first its researchers may want to rethink “…not if, but how” they could improve on their research methodological approach.