When Somalia gained Independence in 1960, the country embarked on a democratic path, with eight administrative regions governed by civilian authorities representing the central government based in Mogadishu.
But under the regime of the late General Mohamed Siad Barre over 21 years (1969-1991), the Horn of Africa country was further split into 18 regions.
The collapse thereafter of the Barre dictatorship in 1991 set off years of civil strife.
Horrified by years of lawlessness, Somali leaders gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, for a major reconciliation conference in August 2004 and adopted a charter paving the way for the formation of the Federal Republic of Somalia.
Exactly 11 years after the Nairobi accord, Somalis are still trying to make the federal system work. Progress is slow but tangible.
On August 8, Abdulfatah Hassan Afrah, the governor of Hiran region and Ali Abdullahi Hussein Guudlaawe, the governor of Middle Shabelle region, signed an agreement to unite the two regions in central Somalia to form a state.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who oversaw the signing of the agreement between the two regions at an event in Villa Somalia, the state house in Mogadishu, said, “What we are witnessing today is another occasion that shows how power is being devolved and shared.
“This signing ceremony is a demonstration that organised authorities will be responsible for the states and accountable to the federal government,” he added.
Somalia’s Minister for Interior Affairs and Federalisation Abdurahman Mohamed Hussein Odowaa congratulated the two governors and the peoples of Hiran and Middle Shabelle regions for seeking a way forward but had a word of caution.
“The federal government welcomes the merger of the two regions to form a state to be part of the Federal Republic of Somalia, but you have to remember that the way ahead is not a bed of roses,” indicating the need to employ the experience gained over the past years in state-building.
The provisional Constitution that was endorsed by a Constituent Assembly in August 2012 stipulates that two or more regions can unite and form a state.
Since Somalia officially has 18 regions including Banadir region (Mogadishu and surrounding areas), there are quite a number of states that can be formed.
Puntland state in the northeastern region declared itself autonomous in August 1998.
Unlike Somaliland, Puntland labelled itself “semi-autonomous,” a crucial distinction that signifies its leaders are waiting until a federal republic is formed for Somalia so that they can join it.
Since September 2012, Somalia was guided by Vision 2016, an internationally supported scheme that, among other goals, aims at federalising the country by the end of the term of the current government led by President Mohamud in September 2016.
Apart from Somaliland and Puntland, which that had existed prior to the formation of the federal government in 2012, the task of organising the remaining regions into states has proven to be arduous and painfully slow.
In August 2013, the federal government signed an agreement with the Jubaland rulers in the southern coastal city of Kismayu, recognising the merger of three regions — Lower Juba, Middle Juba and Gado regions — as an interim administration later to become a state.
Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed Islam alias Madobe, a former militia leader whose fighters battled alongside Kenyan troops in the campaign to capture Kismayu in 2012 from Al Shabaab, was acknowledged as the leader of Jubaland.
Baidoa town, 240km south of Mogadishu, had become he base of rival politicians, all intending to form the South Western State of Somalia. Some wanted to form a state made up of six regions, almost encompassing the whole of southern Somalia.
The “six-region” blocs was led by Madobe Nunow Mohamed, a former Somali minister, vowing to form a state made up of Bay, Bakol and Lower Shabelle regions plus the three regions already recognised as the Jubaland administration.
A rival group chose to form an administration for the southwest made up of three regions.
The “three-region” group was led by Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan, a former Somali transitional parliament speaker, who was ready to settle for a state comprising Bay, Bakol and Lower Shabelle regions.
This group recognised that the Jubaland authority was already administering the other three regions in southern Somalia. Mr Adan was elected by community representatives as the leader of the new administration for the three-region South West Somalia in November 2014.
By the end of 2014, Somalia had four zones with autonomous administrations: Somaliland, Puntland, Jubaland and South Western.
By the beginning of 2015, the task of forming an administration for two regions in central Somalia, explicitly for Galgadud and Mudug, started.
A technical task force was assembled to help the elders and the politicians organise conferences and streamline the meeting deliberations. The required threshold was met when Galmudug administration was announced and an 84-member legislative assembly was inaugurated in June 2015.
There was further progress when Abdikarim Hussein Guled, a former federal interior and national security minister, was elected president for the new administration on July 4, 2015. The last effort at state formation took place on August 8, 2015 when the governors of Hiran and Middle Shabelle regions signed the deal, together with 11 ministers in the federal government who hail from the two regions.
Nicholas Kay, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to Somalia, who was present and endorsed the merger of the two regions, said; “I wish you success and congratulate the federal government for assiduously leading the federalisation process.”
The federalisation of Somalia is not short of challenges. The Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab, the separatist Somaliland as well as clan rivalries are among the obvious enemies that are all out to puncture the evolution of federal Somalia.
With the black flag of Al Shabaab still flying in many districts and regions of the country, especially in southern and central Somalia, the Islamic militia has given the federal government and its supporters, particularly the 22,000-strong force serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), a hard time.
Politicians in Mogadishu know that as long as Al Shabaab remains strong in large swathes of Somalia, the central government will have little chance of federalising the country.
To respond to the problem, the Somali National Army (SNA) and Amisom peacekeepers have waged successive military campaigns, particularly the 2013/14 campaign nicknamed “Indian Ocean” and the one in 2015 named “Operation Juba Corridor.”
The jihadist movement has been pushed back and lost territory they controlled prior to 2013. Amisom and SNA repeatedly assert that Al Shabaab, as a power with active fighters, will be eliminated by the end of 2015, which is good news for those striving to federalise Somalia.
Secessionist Somaliland, of course, poses a formidable obstacle to the expansion of power from the capital Mogadishu to the newly formed states.
The territory claimed by Somaliland is the former British Somaliland Protectorate, which encompasses five out of the eighteen regions of Somalia. These are Awdal, Waqooyigalbeed, Togdheer, Sool and Sanaag.
(Africa Review is a Nation Media Group Initiative to tell untold African stories)