Which way for Farmaajo? Somalia at crossroads as opposition withdraws recognition

Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo

Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Somalia’s President Mohamed Farmaajo could be facing the most challenging time of his presidential career, exactly four years since he was elected the ninth head of the Horn of Africa country.

Having failed to organise elections, and with no deal in sight on when polls can be conducted, Farmaajo will, after February 8, be legally in office only based on a legal motion endorsed by the Federal Parliament in September last year. The motion said all incumbents leave office once new ones are elected and sworn in. It didn’t give timelines though.

But it appears the problem is now political. On Sunday night, key stakeholders started warning they will withdraw recognition of Farmaajo as the Head of State, if he chooses to stay on beyond February 8.

Abdullahi Hersi, the Puntland State Information Minister, told the media on Sunday that his region will no longer see Farmaajo as the Federal President of Somalia. And the Council of Presidential Candidates, a caucus of opposition politicians seeking to unseat Farmaajo, said it will not recognise his government.    

They recommended the formation of a “transitional council’ to oversee the implementation of that September 17, 2020 Agreement on indirect elections. In a statement on Sunday night, the group, which included former Presidents Sheikh Sharif Ahmed and Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, as well as ex-Prime Minister Hassan Khaire, said the transitional team should be led by the two Speakers of Parliament: Abdi Hashi of the Senate and Mursal Mohamed of the House of the People; and include regional leaders, civil society groups and representatives from political parties.

Hassan Sheikh Mohamud

Somalia's newly elected President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. 

Photo credit: File

“President Farmaajo's term of office has ended. Anyone who wants him to continue staying in power will be partly responsible for the country's instability and collapse,” said Abdishakur Abdirahman, leader of Wadajir Party.

"We call on outgoing President to abide by the constitution to avoid losing the rights of a former president."

The delayed election is actually not the issue, as all of the four previous elections had been delayed for one reason or the other.

"For the fourth time since January 2011, Somalia failed to hold elections on schedule," said Adam Aw Hirsi, a former Jubbaland State Minister, now a political analyst on Somalia and the Horn of Africa.

“This is unfortunate but not new. And, like we always have, we shall find a way.”

No end in sight

That way wasn’t clear by Monday morning and it seemed the vultures were swirling around Farmaajo, waiting to pounce. Abdusalam Salwe, a former Permanent Secretary in the Somalia Office of the Prime Minister, said that the Prime Minister and his government should legally be in charge until a new election is held, arguing that Farmaajo’s powers end on February 8.

“As of today, [there’s] no legal mandate for Mohamed Farmaajo and the members of both Houses,” he said referring to the bicameral federal Parliament which included the Senate and the House of the People.

“Federal member state presidents and stakeholders should call a consultation meeting for the next chapter,” Salwe added.

Aw Hirsi admits Farmaajo’s presidency has had challenges, but he says the former diplomat has tried to rebuild the national army, tame corruption and elevate the country’s voice on the international arena, and lifted the economy by creating key institutions.

But he was poor on judicial reforms, human rights and failed to pass a constitution as well as organise elections on time.

To be fair, politicians in Somalia knew from as early as October that elections could be delayed. This was after the initial timelines for nomination of polling officials and their training were missed.

Abdi Aynte, a former Planning Minister and co-founder of the Heritage Institute in Mogadishu, said the scenario in Somalia is now “uncharted territory.”

“The legal term of an elected president has never expired without a political agreement,” he argued on Monday. “Neither an inclusive election nor a deal among actors is in sight. Tension is palpable. It's a huge setback to peacebuilding and state building agenda.”

Farmaajo, however, sees an external hand in the chaos. In a speech to the Lower House of Parliament on Saturday, he said Somalia has been an arena of foreigners interfering in its affairs.

“As a matter of fact, external meddling and foreign interference continue to affect implementation of the elections and our affairs as a nation in general,” he said.

Kenya’s “meddling”

In the past, Somalia has accused Kenya of meddling in its affairs and ended up cutting diplomatic ties with Nairobi. But some observers argue that Somalia has been faced with many outside powers with an interest to guard and that Farmaajo made selective accusations.

“Farmaajo has used the ‘sovereignty’ argument to escape accountability and to act extrajudicially,” Adam Abdulle, a Somalia political analyst, said.

“The UN in Somalia and others went along with this flimsy argument even as the outcome was clear to everyone.”

Farmaajo’s rallying of Parliament failed after Speaker Mohamed indicated there won’t be talk about extension. Farmaajo’s talks between his side and federal state leaders in Dhusamareb, some 400km north of Mogadishu, had also failed to produce a deal on the way forward, representing a bad week for the country.

Speaker of the Senate Abdi Hashi had earlier written to the African Union and other international partners on Thursday, asking for intervention in the stalemate.

“An impartial intervention by Somalia’s African and international partners is urgently needed to move the process forward,” he wrote. Hashi, a politician from the breakaway region of Somaliland, had represented some of the issues that caused the failure of reaching a political deal in Dhusamareb.

Gathering in the capital of Galmdug state, President Farmaajo and leaders from the five federal states had pored over the election date, election model, participants, venues and polling officials. Hashi had objected to the list of commissioners meant to conduct elections for representatives from Somaliland.

But it wasn’t the only issue at hand. The three-day talks between Farmaajo and leaders of Hirshabelle, Galmudug, Jubbaland, Puntland and South West states failed to address key concerns, among them the composition of the federal electoral polling teams as well as the mode of voting for MPs, especially in the restive Gedo region in Jubbaland.

Participants included President Farmaajo, Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble and the presidents of the five Federal Member States, namely Said Deni of Puntland, Ali Gudlawe of Hirshabelle, Abdiaziz Laftagareen of South West, Ahmed Kariye Qoorqoor of Galmudug plus the mayor of Mogadishu Omar Filish.

Information Minister Abdukar Dubbe told journalists in Dhusamareb, the capital of Galmudug state and the venue of the gathering, that the leaders will meet again to iron out the differences. Dubbe, though, accused some federal state leaders of refusing to give and take.

Farmaajo and Jubbaland leader Ahmed Islan Madobe disagreed on how to elect 16 representatives from Jubbaland. Madobe demanded total control over Gedo, one of the planned venues where elections for MPs was to take place, under the September 17 agreement. After they fell out, Madobe walked out of the meeting. Later, Madobe accused Farmaajo of blocking the search for a solution.

The National Consultative Forum was also supposed to discuss concerns that some of the members of the Federal Electoral Implementation Teams (FEIT) were either biased, were cronies of the president, or were spies out to rig the election.

The meeting was also meant to address composition of electoral teams for Somaliland representatives, deployment of troops to Gedo which is opposed by Jubbaland, and whether Benadir region (Mogadishu) should have 13 representatives in the Senate.

Some observers think Somalia has fallen victim to entrenched clan politics.

“De-clanising of national politics is a key driver of the handshake and overriding interest should be public,. not about some winning and others losing,” Hamza Abdikadir Sadik, a Somali lawyer and a parliamentary aspirant in Benadir region, said on Saturday.

“Politics must be about the next generation,'' he said.