Differences between Somalia President Mohamed Farmaajo and his Prime Minister Hussein Roble could threaten the electoral calendar the country needs so badly.
The tiff emerged mainly over the appointment or sacking of key officials in government. But stakeholders in Mogadishu, including foreign partners, worry that the public spat between the two could divert the country from an electoral path, including holding presidential elections by October 10.
Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a former president and potential contender in the upcoming elections, warned the country’s election plan depends on how the two can work together.
“Our country is at a critical time and cannot afford another dispute. President Farmaajo and Prime Minister Roble have a responsibility they cannot abandon for the people,” Ahmed, who leads the loose caucus of opposition contenders known as the Council of Presidential Candidates (CPC), said on Thursday.
“We want you to resolve your differences, unite and avoid ruining an electoral plan for our country,” he added in a video message.
This week, two incidents exposed the simmering differences between Farmaajo and the man he appointed last year in September to spearhead the country out of electoral chaos.
On Wednesday, Roble replaced Internal Security Minister Hassan Hundubey Jimal with Abdullahi Mohamed Nur, an outgoing MP.
Roble quickly swore in the new minister, in spite of protestations from Jimal. Farmaajo countered and said the PM had no powers to appoint or sack a minister.
“Based on Article 90(e) of the Provisional Constitution, the powers of the president include ‘the firing of the ministers, state ministers and the deputy ministers upon proposal from the prime minister.
‘‘No appointment or dismissals of Cabinet members are workable until all constitutional means are exhausted,” Farmaajo’s office said in a statement.
Roble and Farmaajo had disagreed days earlier on Monday after the PM reportedly suspended the intelligence chief Fahad Yasin, before the president cancelled the suspension. Yasin would later ‘’resign’’ and was appointed a senior presidential advisor.
But Roble’s pick to replace Yasin was overruled.
Farmaajo instead appointed Yasin Abdullahi Mohamud to replace Fahad Yasin at the helm of the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA). It left Bashir Mohamed Jama who had been appointed by Roble to lead NISA in the interim.
The decision to fire Yasin had come from pressure from opposition and the family of Ikran Tahlil Farah, a female spy agent who vanished in June but who NISA claims was killed by Al Shabaab Islamist militants. The UN and partners in Somalia warned this dispute was a risk to election plans.
“We call on Somalia’s leaders to work together to advance the implementation of the May 27 Agreement toward the holding of elections, recognising the progress made to date by the National Consultative Council under the effective leadership of Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble,” the UN said in a joint statement endorsed by other partners such as Somalia’s neighbours Kenya and Ethiopia as well as the AU and the EU.
The dispute on appointments may largely be out of lack of proper legal interpretations. And the outgoing Lower House came out to accuse Roble of violating the law after the Justice Minister swore in his incoming but disputed Interior counterpart.
“The House of the People of the 10th Parliament expresses its concern on PM Roble’s illegal swearing in of a member of the Cabinet without there being any Constitutional or legislative vacuum,” Mohamed Mursal, the outgoing Speaker of the Lower House said on Thursday.
“This is in violation of Article 69 (D) and 100 (C) of our Constitution.”
There are those who feel the 10th parliament’s tenure ended after new senators were elected last month. Somalia expected to complete senate elections as well as Lower House polls this month, ahead of the indirect presidential elections in October. However, in the technical sense, the 10th parliament can only be replaced by the 11th one after the latter takes oath.
Abdalla Jama, a former Minister of Ports, Maritime Transport and Counter Piracy in Puntland State of Somalia argued there was no need to make Cabinet changes at election time.
“It’s the wrong to make changes at this time of transition. The only way-out of this crisis is to go to election,” he said on Thursday.
“The PM is old enough to predict the outcome of his political adventure. The price to get rid of incumbent President does mean taking the law into his own hands.
Outgoing Senator Ayub Ismail Yusuf, thinks Somalia’s problems will be half-solved if they just focused on elections for now.
“The most important process that we must all focus on is the electoral one,” he argued on Thursday.
“Somalia is in a difficult time but there is a way to progress together if the elections are done in a timely fashion. Inclusive, free and fair elections is the route out of the today's political problems.”
The latest dispute could suggest deeper divisions. In August, Roble defied a presidential decree banning any agreements or engagements with outside entities until after elections. The PM instead visited Kenya, with whom Somalia had cut diplomatic ties between December 2020 and July this year. Roble also reached an MoU with the UN Development Programme.