Somalia’s regional neighbours have subtly endorsed Prime Minister Hussein Roble to steer elections following a public spat with President Mohamed Farmaajo.
And neighbours Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan joined calls to the country to complete its electoral programme as a long-term solution to incessant wrangling that re-emerged on Christmas Day.
In a joint statement, the partners warned the wrangling could likely raise unnecessary tensions and derail the country’s rebuilding from years of conflict.
“International partners have repeatedly expressed growing concern over procedural irregularities and delays in the Somali electoral process,” they said in a statement that was also endorsed by the African Union, Qatar, the United Kingdom, the US, Norway, Japan, Italy, Sudan, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden.
“It is imperative that the 17 September 2020 and 27 May 2021 agreements, which are the basis for the elections, be implemented immediately without further distraction or disruption.
“A meeting of the National Consultative Council as soon as possible, along with other consultations among key stakeholders, is urgently needed to accelerate and improve the process and bring the elections to a rapid and credible conclusion that will enjoy the confidence of the Somali people.”
By endorsing the Council’s meeting, the donors and partners were subtly backing PM Roble to continue running elections. He heads the organ that also includes the state presidents of Hirshabelle, Jubbaland, Puntland, South West and Galmudug and the governor of the Benadir metropolitan region that covers the capital Mogadishu.
That move could be significant because President Farmaajo on Saturday had sensationally called for a “right course of elections” and accused Roble of incompetence in running the much-delayed elections.
Grabbing of army land
On Monday, Farmaajo furthered the tiff by suspending Roble over the alleged grabbing of army land near the popular Liddo beach in Mogadishu. Roble rubbished the decision as disgraceful and rejected the suspension.
“The outrageous statement from immediate former President Mohamed Abdullahi (Farmaajo) regarding the work of the PM and his failed attempt to militarily take over the OPM [office of the prime minister], is a violation of the constitution and other laws, the consequences of which will be solely shouldered by Farmaajo,” Roble’s spokesman Mohammed Moalimuu said in a statement that also reflected on Farmaajo’s overstay in power.
Somalia should have completed elections for the Lower House on December 26, according to the rescheduled polls that have been delayed for more than a year.
Had that been met, it would have laid the ground for presidential polls. Under Somalia’s indirect election model, a bicameral federal parliament that includes the Senate and the Lower House sits jointly to elect the next president. That deadline was missed.
Donors, though, say Roble should continue to be in charge of the polls, under a deal reached earlier this year to ensure candidates do not influence the electoral schedules.
“The US is prepared to act against those who obstruct Somalia’s path to peace,” said the US State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs on Monday.
“The attempted suspension of Mohamed Hussein Roble is alarming and we support his efforts for rapid and credible elections. All parties must desist from escalatory actions and statements.”
Legally, only Parliament can fire the prime minister, although it is the president who nominates his name for endorsement. There have been legal arguments on whether a President who has overstayed his term can suspend the PM whose appointment is approved by parliament.
“Many analysts prefer to blame constitutional ambiguity for the frequent intra-institutional disputes in Somalia. But I like to argue that leaders lack common sense and the prerequisite statesmanship to lead a country like Somalia,” Adam Aw Hirsi, a former government official in Somalia and now a political analyst, told the Nation on Tuesday.
“There is nothing constitutional or unconstitutional about aiming to disrupt ongoing elections and taking the country to the brink of civil war, not only once or twice but thrice,” he argued, reflecting on recent wrangles between Farmaajo and his PM, as well as with federal state presidents, over elections.
Back in April, severely divided security agencies nearly imploded as Farmaajo bickered with opposition presidential groups. Some military bosses sided with their clan heads, incidentally opposition figures after Farmaajo attempted to extend his term by two years.
A bulletin from the East Africa Centre for Research and Strategic Studies, a Somali think tank on Horn of Africa affairs, said the wrangles will have an impact on the pace of elections, as well as whether they are accepted.
“Regional states supported by the PM will finalise Members of Parliament as soon as possible,” said Abdalla Ibrahim, the centre’s director. Some 54 senators and 80 MPs of the Lower House have been elected and Ibrahim said if any of the states can post another 58 MPs, the country could legitimately elect Speakers of the Houses.
“The presidential election requires at least 184 votes, from combined Houses. That means another 104 MPs need to be elected. That, though, could have a disadvantage as each federal state president could nominate candidates that only toe his line. In short, there is a war scenario if the tension escalates and the international community remains inactive,” he told the Nation.
Speaking of war, Roble accused President Farmaajo of staging a coup on Monday.
“The president has waged a war on the office of the prime minister and the office of the council of ministers to oppose their functions,” said Roble in a video message.
“This decision to adjourn the powers of the prime minister is on the basis of an enquiry by the Somalia National Army in connection with an allegation regarding land grabbed by PM Roble, which belonged to the force.”
Claiming his entitlement to lead the nation’s affairs, Roble stated that the executive branch is fully empowered to lead and direct all the state institutions.
Loyal to Farmaajo
“I order all the commanders of the armed forces and their officers to get directions from the office of the prime minister,” Roble said.
Somalia’s armed forces, including the Somali National Army, the Police Force, the Custodian Corps and the National Intelligence and Security Agency, are vastly loyal to Farmaajo and have always considered him as their commander in chief.
Abidrashid Ali Howlwadaag, a political observer in Mogadishu, told the Nation that it is very difficult for Roble to gain the full loyalty of the armed forces even though he has significant legitimacy.
“The armed forces had been restructured under the leadership of President Farmaajo over the past five years. Therefore, they cannot be disloyal to him,” Howlwadaag remarked.
“Members of the armed forces are the first to receive state salaries and benefits while they used to miss their compensation for months in pre-Farmaajo administrations.”
Opposition figures who were critical of Roble, occasionally accusing him of siding with Farmaajo, have since rallied around him, offering support.
Abdurahman Abdishakur, the leader of the Wadajir Party who happens to be an outspoken member of the Coalition of the (opposition) Presidential Candidates, a grouping led by former president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, said Farmaajo disrespects the constitution and has no regard for the rule of law.
“We as civilians, politicians, elders, intellectuals, youth and armed forces must confront Farmaajo in unity,” wrote Abdishakur on his Twitter page on Monday.
“Our meeting place is the office of the prime minister.”