Somalia: Farmaajo rift with Roble threatens October elections

By Mohamed Sheikh Nor
Posted on Friday, 17 September 2021 12:51

Somalia's newly elected President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo listens to Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta during his inauguration ceremony in Somalia's capital Mogadishu
Somalia's newly elected President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo (L) listens to Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta during his inauguration ceremony in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, February 22, 2017. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

The power struggle between Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Farmaajo) and Prime Minister Mohamed H. Roble peaked on Thursday 16 September after the executive powers of the PM were suspended by the President. The clash further risks dividing the country, already behind schedule for its 10 October presidential polls.

President Farmaajo said the Prime Minister Roble had violated the constitution after he had both dismissed and nominated a new head of the intelligence agency in the aftermath of the disputed investigation into the disappearance of the female intelligence officer Ikran Tahlil.

The power struggle not only threatens to further divide the country, but has already disrupted the fragile presidential election set for 10 October. All five member states are in the midst of completing their Senator elections, with the lower house votes unofficially pushed to November, thereby surpassing the presidential poll date.

How did we get here?

Things came to a head last week (6 September) after Roble suspended Fahad Yasin, the head of Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISA), after he called his handling of the investigation into the missing 24-year-old intelligence officer “inappropriate”.

In response, Yasin opted to retire, but Farmaajo immediately recalled him as a national security advisor, and appointed Lt. General Bashiir Gobe, to head the agency, thereby disregarding the replacement made by the PM.

In response to Farmaajo’s move to keep Yasin, Djibouti detained on 17 September the new security advisor and his entourage who were en route to Mogadishu from Turkey via Djibouti. The spokesperson for Farmaajo immediately tweeted his response to the diplomatic situation:

On 9 September, PM Roble had hastily sworn-in a fierce critic of President Farmajo as the new NISA head. The PM justified his actions as necessary to ensure Ikran’s family gets justice for her disappearance and probable murder since she went missing in June of this year.

Farmaajo had condemned the PM’s actions as a deliberate infringement of the constitution. Since Somalia’s Constitution remains a draft and lacks provision for a Constitutional court that can adjudicate differences between the prime minister and the president.

Somalia’s international partners have weighed in on the issue and urged for the feuding leaders to deescalate their political differences so as not to further undermine the election timetable.

In statement issued on 7 September, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) called for the implementation of the 27 May agreement that paved the way for holding much delayed elections.

The agreement came after Somalia’s political crisis earlier this year when Farmaajo declared he would pursue a two-year extension on his presidential term. After much internal and external pressure, Farmaajo made a u-turn, and agreed to open dialogue with the opposition to reimplement an earlier 17 September 2020 agreement that paved the way for holding and reforming general elections.

Rivalry brings poll delay

The fall-out between the two leaders has inflamed rivalry among the ruling elite, and delayed upper and lower house elections.

The PM is responsible for overseeing the election cycle culminating in the presidential polls. But the dispute between Roble and Farmaajo has meant none of the federal regions were able to submit their candidate’s lists on time, or to form local committees to cast the ballots.

This spat is an obstacle to the election that have to be held on agreed timelines. It may also derail all ongoing confidence-building efforts initiated by politicians.

Ahead of the general election, each of the five member states must complete the election of its senators to the upper house along with its representatives to parliament. To date, only Puntland and Southwest have elected its eight Senators.

Hirshabelle, Jubbaland, and Galmudug states have just begun electing Senators, though they have yet to finish the process.

The election of representatives to the lower house, who are elected by the caucus of selected elders, has been rescheduled to late November, though this has not yet been announced officially.

Former president Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed spoke to the press about the squabble and said: “The scuffle between the president and prime minister comes at a time the country is getting ready for elections after a long struggle. This spat is an obstacle to the election that have to be held on agreed timelines. It may also derail all ongoing confidence-building efforts initiated by politicians.”

Professor Hassan Sheikh, an eminent scholar at Mogadishu University, agrees that the fall-out will only further aggravate an already precarious situation.

“The tussle could [further] disrupt elections and even cause a clash or confrontation with a likelihood of bloodshed. The level of risk is very high and we need intervention from outsiders in order to avoid total collapse.”

‘Put your house in order’

The never ending political squabbles has hit a nerve outside the country. Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni – whose country contributes troops to AMISOM – told France 24  that Somalia’s leaders have failed to come up with home-grown solutions to resolve their political differences. The Ugandan leader feels that it is no longer tenable for external forces to remain in Somalia.

“The issue in Somalia is when internal forces do not come up to shoulder their responsibilities. They are always against one another. If they did cooperate, the situation would have been solved.”

On 11 September, leaders from Southwest and Galmudug states, tried in vain to initiate face-to-face dialogue to defuse the worsening crisis. But the stalemate continues and another delay to the elections is tacked on to the calendar.

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