Calm was returning to Mogadishu after President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo backpedalled on his bid to defer elections by two years. He ruffled the roost on April 12, when he endorsed a resolution by the Lower House of Parliament to extend his and MPs’ tenure by two years.
Violent protests erupted in Mogadishu last weekend to denounce the move. They were organised by his archrival, former president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who lost to Farmaajo in 2017. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s loss came in the second round voting in a race that featured more than 20 candidates. While the protesters might have punched above their weight, they are far from being representative of war-weary mainstream Somali society. In the polarised atmosphere, however, President Farmaajo’s feint is more of a tactical manoeuvre than an admission of defeat.
His capitulation buys Somalia temporary calm but does not take away the elephant in the room. It also comes at the expense of the average Somali who has now been disenfranchised by the reversion to clan-based elections. Sheikh Mohamud and his allies in Puntland and Jubbaland are opposed to universal adult suffrage in favour of a system where the clans elect the head of state and delegates to parliament. Their gamble is that they have some leverage in such an election against a popular Farmaajo. The opposition to Farmaajo’s extension of his tenure should not be seen through the prism of constitutionalism but rather vested interests. Since September 2020, the deadlock in Mogadishu has been about the electoral system. While the new constitution provides for one man one vote, a number of actors prefer the clan-based system in the hope that they will manipulate the election.
President Farmaajo has decided to call his detractors’ bluff. They must now face him in an election on their terms. If the House endorses his call for elections, the question now is what will happen if he wins it?
Sheikh Mohamud lost the 2017 elections as voters protested corruption, maladministration and extravagant use of official powers. With that background, it is probable that Farmaajo will win another term, but his victory will be rejected outright his competitors. These developments create more uncertainty about Somalia’s future and international stakeholders need to prepare for the long haul. The latest clashes have already pulled the brakes on Amisom’s pullout plan, which was scheduled for later this year.
There is a silver lining to this showdown. The result of the next election, due in maybe another five months, should clearly show Somalia’s preference. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is from Galmudug state, where Mogadishu is located. His allies holding out in Puntland and Jubbaland are actually in the minority.
The contest at hand is between the old and the new. Somalia either goes back to clan politics — which bred the instability that turned the country into a haven and frontline for international terrorism — or adopts a system that demands accountability from disposable leaders.
All international actors should unite around a common objective of ensuring the elections are transparent to the extent that they possibly produce a result that represents the aspirations of the people. Otherwise Farmaajo’s concession this week will all be in vain.