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Somalia’s election impasse: Crisis or successful state-building?

By Mohamed Sheikh Nor
Posted on Monday, 7 December 2020 17:12, updated on Wednesday, 9 December 2020 15:53

somalia
Somalia's President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, center-right, holds a Somali flag during a handover ceremony at the presidential palace with former president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, center-left, in Mogadishu, Somalia Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)

As the year 2020 comes to a close, people across the world are breathing a sigh of relief anticipating a better 2021. But for Somalia, a country transitioning from chaos to statehood, the worst of 2020 seems far from over.

Somalia finds itself once again at a crossroad due to the ever-recurring political disagreements over electoral processes.

The current contentious issues plaguing the country are: the composition of electoral and dispute resolution commissions and election procedures for Somaliland and Gedo regions, all of which continue to delay each round of elections.

There are those who view this election impasse as a new stumbling block for Somalia’s road to democratisation. Others see it as an opportunity to strengthen electoral structures and processes – key components for Somali state-building. And there are those who suspect incumbent President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed ‘Farmajo’ of wanting to subvert Somali nationhood to consolidate power.

‘Repeat of the 2016 debacle’

Somalia has slowly been making its way back to the international community. But in order for it to continue in that trajectory, its state-building efforts must primarily be focused on providing citizens with basic functions and services, and ultimately meeting those obligations and responsibilities in a timely manner.

Looking at the ongoing election impasse, one could assume that the Somali political class lacks a shared understanding of what it takes to build a strong state. Stabilisation efforts in Somalia have yet to bear fruit due to the absence of a suitable political settlement that caters to the interests of all those involved.

READ MORE Somalia: Caught in the middle of a deeply divided region

The current election stand-off is merely a repeat of the 2016 debacle. But since then, no lessons were learned and nothing has been done to improve the Somali election structures and processes says Hussein Sheikh-Ali, the executive director of  Hiraal Institute, and a former national security advisor to the current president. Namely President Farmajo failed to achieve universal suffrage, though he never lacked support to implement that during his tenure, and this has led to a political deadlock.

“Who knows, maybe it is a deliberate move by Farmajo to preserve his stay at Villa Somalia” says Sheikh-Ali, who is also a former operative of Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA). In response, the Somali political elite have come together under the banner of a united opposition and are going against Farmajo. “Resolving this impasse might require intervention of the international community,” says Sheikh-Ali.

Somaliland and Gedo

Gedo is part of the Jubbaland administration and shares a border with Kenya. It’s also one of the two places in the Jubbaland that is planned to take place in the upcoming parliamentary selection but Jubba land president Ahmed Madobe insists he will not hold elections there until the Somali Federal government forces that were deployed in this region some time ago, But the Federal government insists that these forces are necessary in guarding the border towns with Kenya.

Jubbaland maintain good ties with Kenya though the Somali Federal government considers Madobe as merely a puppet administration for Kenya.

READ MORE Somaliland’s new Cold War diplomacy

With regards to Somaliland, MPs from the self-declared independent state represent Hargeisa at the Somali federal government in Mogadishu. However, the speaker of the upper house, Abdi Hashi – also from Somaliland – has accused Farmajo of securing their support in return for preferential treatment to the advantage of Hargeisa.

Candidates’ meeting

A notable event that shaped the ongoing impasse was the November 2020 Mogadishu meeting by presidential candidates and the joint communiqué they issued afterwards demanding the urgent removal or resignation of the National Intelligence and Security Agency Director, Fahad Yasin.

According to the opposition candidates, the NISA Director has taken on the role of chief campaigner for the incumbent president. In doing so, he has lost any credibility to continue heading the state security agency.

The presidential hopefuls also voiced their disapproval of the electoral commissions, including the above-mentioned issues of Somaliland and Gedo.

Villa Somalia has yet to directly respond to their joint communiqué but a statement from the Federal Minister of Information Culture and Tourism, Osman Abukar Dubbe, was telling about the government’s position. He was utterly dismissive of the contents of the communiqué, questioning how presidential candidates can demand the resignation of a person appointed at the discretion of the executive.

Abdirahman Abdishakur, leader of Wadajir Party  and former Minister of Planning attended the November meeting. He says President Farmajo has become an obstacle to Somali state-building and is a a shrewd political manipulator who is usurping state powers to prolong his stay at Villa Somalia.

READ MORE Somalia: Ahead of polls, parliament votes Prime Minister Khaire out

“We cannot have credible and fair elections unless there is consensus among all stakeholders. The president now has resorted to using state machinery as a way of consolidating his power to ensure he remains in that position,” says Abdishakur. But despite the election delays and setbacks, Abdishakur remains optimistic, adding that Ahmed Abdi Karie Qoorqoor, leader of Galmudug State is reaching out to all parties and acting as a mediator for reconciliation. The Wadajir Party leader says he remains committed to an amicable political settlement even if it means elections experience delays.

“Our political leaders are simply selfish, and it’s never about the country, it’s all about themselves,” says Ibrahim Hassan Haji, a member of the newly appointed electoral commission. “The Somali election bus has departed and it cannot be driven in reverse gear, all must board,” says Haji when asked for a solution to the impasse.

Foreign interference

“Neighbouring countries are also looking forward to their own elections and this is having a spillover effect into Somalia as they all try to exert their influence here to achieve outcomes that favour their interests,” says Ali Abdullahi Egal, commonly known as Ali Bashi, a member of Somalia’s civil society and expert of local politics.

He singles out the competing influences of regional powers – Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Kenya – and their desire to have an ally at Villa Somalia as the major cause of Mogadishu’s impasse.

READ MORE The Horn of Africa and the Gulf: Shifting power plays in the Red Sea

The recent expulsion of the Kenyan Ambassador and recall of its Somali counterpart was provoked by Mogadishu’s concern of Nairobi’s meddling in its elections. “Foreign embassies and their officials are protected by diplomatic immunity and can be channels of laundering money to bribe politicians, Farmajo was wise to undercut any external influences” adds Bashi.

Meanwhile, Washington announced at the end of last that it will pull out nearly all its estimated 700 troops in Somalia in the coming months. As Donald Trump wraps up his final weeks in power, he has begun a round of short-notice withdrawals.

Many Somalis view the presence of US troops as a means of ensuring some level of stability in the country, particularly during its election season.

Over the weekend, certain members of the political class tried to appeal to the US to reverse its decision. “The US decision to pull troops out of Somalia at this critical stage in the successful fight against al-Shabaab and their global terrorist network is extremely regrettable,” said Somali senator Ayub Ismail Yusuf in reference to the al-Shabaab insurgency.

“US troops have made a huge contribution and had great impact on the training and operational effectiveness of Somali soldiers,” he added.

Bottom line

Somalia is trying to avoid the potholes dotting its road towards democratisation and stabilisation as it seeks to build a responsive and responsible nation.

Recent controversies in the US presidential elections gave some comfort to Somalis as they seek to build consensus for their own delayed elections.

Disagreements are an indication that members of the political class are embracing dialogue to find a settlement that covers all interests.  In that light, we can see how Somalia is finally building the foundations of a functional state.

So while the 2020 Somali elections’ impasse appears as a crisis, with a different light, it can seen as the success of state-building efforts. But those political elites must continue to advance their knowledge of state-building that includes a great role for civil society on educating citizens.

How this impasse unfolds into 2021 will reveal the state of the country’s journey.

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