When Constantino Chiwenga, Zimbabwe's vice-president and health minister, suspended by-elections in October 2020 citing Statutory Instrument ... (SI) 225A as a means to curb Covid-19, many believed a new date would be set. Instead, the government has remained silent on the matter, with many wondering if this is truly a measure to control the pandemic, or a strategy by the ruling Zanu PF to stop the MDC Alliance from winning back seats it lost after the recall by its breakaway party, the MDC-T.
The road to this agreement may have been bumpy, and the country was on the edge of its seat more than ever, as the armed political factions took up positions in Mogadishu gearing up for continued conflict.
After parliament voted in a proposal in April to extend Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Farmaajo)’s term by two-years, chaos hit the streets of the capital.
Residents sought refuge outside the city, fearing for their lives, while tensions escalated between pro-government forces and those opposed to Farmaajo’s bid to extend his term. An estimated 100,000 people in Mogadishu have fled their homes.
After being cornered by both internal and external forces, Farmaajo announced that he would no longer pursue the two-year extension on his presidential term. This opened up dialogue with the opposition to reimplement the 17 September 2020 agreement and reform the national elections.
In traditional Somali culture, a dispute in the community is settled through people gathering beneath a tree to iron out their differences. It then comes as no surprise that the path taken to averting this crisis through a gathering of people at the National Consultative Summit in Mogadishu took place beneath a figurative tree while the Somali flag flapped in the background.
Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble is being credited for successfully bringing together leaders from the Federal Members States (FMS) and the Benadir regional administration, for a six-day meeting held at the Somalia Airforce Hangar at the Aden Adde international Airport.
Analysts are warning about a premature celebration as there still remains a long walk to free and fair elections.
All contentious issues were smoothed over, and a new election model signed by all political stakeholders. The prime minister acted as chair of the summit and in his closing remarks to the attendees, that included the international community, he said: “During the consultations, all political stakeholders agreed to iron out their differences and the contentious issues of Gedo and Somaliland were completely healed and agreed upon.”
From the onset of his mandate, Roble promised to deliver. “As I had previously committed to, my government is steadfast in implementing this agreement and to leading the country towards a transparent, free and fair election that does not infringe upon anyone’s rights.”
The signed agreement includes changing the names of election committees for both federal and regional levels that were nominated last year. Elections are scheduled to take place in two months. The changes will affect anyone that is deemed unfit for the job or anyone who is has issues raised against them as they will be subject to confirmation.
Incumbent Farmaajo’s speech was conciliatory as he said: “We must know and respect what the majority of Somali people want because they are seeking tranquillity. They want free and fair elections and today’s final meeting is all about that. We must therefore implement and fulfil what has been agreed upon. It is a collective responsibility which I expect to will take place accordingly.”
Somalia’s regional leaders welcome reconciliation
Mogadishu’s mayor, Omar Filish, who represents Banadir and whose region bore the brunt of the recent crisis, addressed the gathering:
“During the chaos which were caused by the delayed election, many Mogadishu residents fled from their homes. Concessions made by the political elite have now made it possible for things to be steered onto the right track. I really appreciate the resilience and stamina of the Mogadishu residents.”
Puntland’s President Said Abdullahi Deni said he was optimistic about the agreement: “I am here today to pledge our commitment to fulfilling this agreement accordingly and that we should avoid going back to the previous mistakes that derailed the election to be held on time.”
The Galmudug State leader, Ahmed Abdi Kariye spoke about the momentous nature of the pact. “This agreement is a milestone and compliments the previous 17 September agreement. This is the conclusion of the previous deal, which has been brought about through patience and concessions made by our mature politicians. This will finally lead to free and fair elections.”
Others, normally galvanised against the government, also spoke up in support of the agreement.
“No matter how divided we may or seen to be enemies, what matters is today’s tangible results, which effectively puts an end to our differences and puts in place an agreement for the election,” said the former president Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and chair of the opposition Council of Presidential Candidates. “On behalf of my colleagues, the presidential candidates, we have forgiven anyone who deemed our words as insults and likewise we request you to forgive us,” he said.
Somalia’s international partners represented by the UN Special Envoy, James Swan, welcomed the results of the consultative summit. Swan said: “We are delighted to see that a Somali led process to bring consensus has been successful. We also urge for full implementation to timely elections that will allow Somalia to get back to business.”
30% women quota
But not everyone was quick to throw their trust behind the final words of the meeting. While the 27 May agreement emphasises a 30% women quota for representation in government and its full implementation, women remain sceptical. They allude to the vague wording in the communiqué.
“I request all political elite in my country to allocate the 30% quota to women. I raise a complaint about the way it has been spelled out in the communiqué as it only mentions that women should be respected instead specifying the allocation of the 30 percent quota,” said Batulo Sheikh Gaballe, the Chairperson of Somali National Women’s Association.
Long walk to free and fair elections
While the agreement has mitigated chances of a return to violence, analysts are warning about a premature celebration as there still remains a long walk to free and fair elections.
“Today’s agreement was about the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘when’ but the ‘how’ is far more complicated and requires on-going efforts by all parties. Assuming this is an event, not a process would be a mistake that Somalia cannot afford. Holding an inclusive election is a marathon, not a sprint,” said Abdi Barud, the former senior advisor in the office of the prime minister.
The 60 days ahead will be anything but a smooth ride for Somalia. The prime minister has managed to broker an agreement among an obstinate political elite and accolades are pouring in for his efforts. However, Roble must now maintain sanity among political players to effectively deliver a transparent, free and fair election.
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