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Somalia's political wrangling raises the spectre of violence

  • Moulid Hujale
  • 23 Sep 2021

If the power struggle between the president and prime minister continues, election timelines will be delayed and the country can sink into a civil war, regional experts warn.

( AP )

Somalia’s political crisis intensified as President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Farmaajo) suspended the powers of prime minister Mohamed Hussein Roble on September 16, just a year after he appointed him to lead the country’s long-delayed elections.

The prime minister swiftly rejected the order calling it “unconstitutional” and asked his cabinet to continue functioning as normal. The feud between the leaders has been escalating for months following the disappearance of a young female intelligence officer.

The 25-year-old cybersecurity analyst went missing in late June after she was called by Fahad Yasin, her former boss at the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA), according to her mother.

NISA said the agent was abducted and killed by Alshabab, which the group subsequently denied.  The prime minister then fired Yasin after failing to submit a report on the missing spy. He also appointed Lieutenant General Bashir Mohamed Jama as an acting Director. 

But the president overruled Roble’s appointment and instead promoted a senior NISA official to the post. The row between the two men unleashed a fresh leadership and security crisis, raising fears of renewed clashes in the capital Mogadishu.

In an apparent attempt to win the upper hand in the security, the prime minister sacked the security minister, an ally of the president, and appointed an outspoken opposition MP. 

The president’s four-year term ended in February and a two years’ extension by the parliament in April was dropped following fierce domestic pressure, which involved armed resistance and international pressure.

President Farmaajo then agreed to stick to an indirect election road map which was agreed in September last year. This agreement involves a complex traditional model where clan delegates pick members of the national parliament who in turn vote for the president. 

Analysts say the ongoing political crisis will not only derail an already slow-moving election but will have a far-reaching impact on the country’s fragile security, political and humanitarian situation and could undo years of state-building efforts. According to the UN, nearly six million people in Somalia are in need of humanitarian assistance; in addition to the pressing threat of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Somalia is in a critical junction where the constitutional mandate of the parliament and president has ended, '' said Mahad Wasuge, Executive Director of Somali Public Agenda Think Tank. “The immediate impact of the current impasse will be felt at the ongoing parliamentary elections. If the power struggle continues, it will delay the election timelines. It may also create complications on election security as the current stalemate affects the security institutions”.

Demonstrators from Somali anti-government opposition groups protest in the Fagah area of Mogadishu, Somalia Sunday, April 25, 2021.(AP)

Power tussle dates back to 2004

On September 12, the UN Security Council released a statement expressing “deep concern about the ongoing disagreement within the Somali Government and the negative impact on the electoral timetable and process,”

The Council urged “all parties to resolve their differences through dialogue for the good of Somalia and to prioritise the peaceful conduct of transparent, credible and inclusive elections within the agreed timelines and in accordance with the 17 September and 27 May agreements”. 

The conflict between the country's top leadership is not new in Somalia, it has been a common occurrence going back to 2004. Almost every president has had a problem with his premier.  The most recent being Hassan Ali Khaire who was removed from office by the parliament in July last year.

Observers say long-standing ambiguity in the provisional constitution and lack of constitutional court to interpret it is partly to blame for the recurring conflicts between Somali presidents and their prime ministers. 

And every time such a showdown happens, it emboldens the Al-Qaeda linked group Al Shabab which has been fighting to overthrow the federal government. 

Last week a suicide bomber killed 11 people in a busy tea shop near a military base in the capital. The group controls large swathes of the country and carries out regular attacks in Mogadishu. 

“The risks are high that the country will descend into violence as the two leaders continue efforts to undermine each other,” said the International Crisis Group in a report released last week

“Already, both sides have reportedly reached out to security actors in Mogadishu to gauge – or lobby for – support in anticipation of a showdown”.

“Somalia’s international partners should weigh in publicly and strongly and be prepared to deploy measures of their own to discourage destabilising actions. International partners should be ready to name those acting as spoilers, threatening sanctions if they do not change tack and prepare targeted measures, potentially including travel restrictions or asset freezes, against those who persist with actions that undermine Somalia’s stability and the prospects of getting to a quick election,” it added.

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