May 30, 2020

By Faisal A. Roble

As the debate over elections loom large, Somalis and donor communities alike do not exactly know what to expect.  It is certain that the political mercury will hit a record high as we approach 2021, and civil discourse will deteriorate. President Farmajo’s lack of commitment to free and fair elections and his callousness to openly dash the nation’s hopes is an all-time high. 

President Farmajo with former President Hassan, Feb 2017

Born 60 years ago this week out of the union of the former British Somali Protectorate and Italian Somaliland, the Somali Democratic Republic was once viewed as one of the emergent democratic states in Sub-Sahara Africa. Helped by its unique attributes of a common language, one culture, Islam as its single religion and a unique psychological makeup preserved in a history rooted in Islamic civilization extending to the 11th14th and 16th Century (Arba’a Rukun Mosque as a symbol of early arrival of Islam, Salahuddin and Imam Ahmed Gurye’s sultanates, respectively), Somalia came to the decolonization decade of Africa of 1960 with high hopes.

Poised for greatness in early- to mid-1970, Somalia set bold goals often expressed by its sky-blue flag with the five-edged white bright star in the center, implying the vision of a nation whose ideals limitless as that of the expansive open skies. However, such hopes were hastily dashed by men with egotistic ambitions that did not even hear the outcry of the nation to avert the ruinous 1990 civil war, hence the collapse of once a beautiful nation state. 

A herculean regrouping commenced with the Arta Peace Conference in 2000, leading to an eventual historic reconciliation that midwifed, after several compromises, the current constitution establishing elections as the tool for power transfer and a threshold for measuring legitimacy.  Articles 60 and 91 mandate the inviolability of a 4-year term limits for the parliament and for the president, respectively. Article 96’s requirement for the President to take an oath to “perform my duties honestly and in the best interest of the Nation, People and Religion” establishes an immortal transparency. Breaching this oath of office is a punishable offense 

President Farmajo has no other option but to carry out his duty in a manner consistent with the law of the nation – conduct a free and fair election in 2020/2021. Former Presidents Hassan Sheik Mohamoud and Sheikh Shariff did it. The nation will not settle for less or more. 

That fateful evening of February 8, 2017, when President Farmajo, flanked by two former president, inherited the baton, one can never forget how humbling, yet honorable it was; more gracious it was to see President Farmajo likening himself in a televised speech to the founding fathers of Somalia, Aden Abdulle Osman in particular. He clearly sent a simple but strong message hope to recreate a Somali version of “thousand points of light,” as President George W Bush used to say.  More than three years later, one wonders whether he was authentic in his fondness for the ideals of the founding fathers or he was hoodwinking Somali elites? Time will tell, although history is not on his side thus far.

Sooner did President Farmajo settle in Villa Somalia than his proclivity for autocratic rule revealed to the nation. He attacked, arrested, and in some instances killed activists associated with opposition leaders. Journalists have been harassed. Inter-clan conflicts resurfaced sometimes at the blessing and covert financing of Villa Somalia. All this was done with one purpose in mind – to delay power transfer.

Quipped about his wish to stay in power for an extended period, President Farmajo contrasted Somali’s transfer of power to those of neighboring countries. He implied in a televised speech that power transfer in every four years is “damaging and contributes to instability.” He went farther to praise personal rule in neighboring countries. His speech easily fits Jackson and Rosberg’s “Personal Rule in Black Africa: Prince Autocrat, Prophet, Tyrant.” In it, they write: “Africa’s rulers adopt practices of authoritarianism where personal rule is the norm.

Somalia’s Federal Parliament

As a prelude to power consolidation, he opted to corrupt legislators. By October 2017, as many as 75 parliamentarians were doubling down as member of both the executive and legislative branch. Today, many parliamentarians as well as three Federal Member States are under the spell of Villa Somalia, thus weakening the federal system that divides power vertically and horizontally. Additionally, preparations for the one-person-one vote have fallen on the wayside due to neglect by design and/or sheer incompetence.  

In an abrupt Zoom-style presentation, on May 29, 2020 Prime Minister Hassan Khyre told his cabinet “there would be an election,” so that his administration “can hold on to the gains thus far registered.” Without election, he emphasized, legitimacy will be gained by his government. Some commentators hastily endorsed the PM’s move.  

Despite there are five  types of election models circulated, he did not specify which model his government will be working on. Some unsuspecting commentators uncritically welcomed the Prime Minister’s move. To complicate matters more, without political agreement between stakeholders, the feasibility of putting into action the Prime Minister’s promise is slim.  

As of now, the question is no longer whether one-person-one vote will be held; there is a wide spread fear that Farmajo is designing a Faustian plan that he thinks may enable him to prolong his stay in Villa Somalia. If he does that, chaos and instability could be ahead of Somalia. 

Scenario 1: Farmajo’s team will try to sideline Puntland and Jubbaland and work with those under Villa Somalia’s sphere of influence (Hirshabelle, Galmudug, and Southwest states). For the better part of 3 years, he had ignored legitimate concerns in the case of Puntland, or even made enemy out of Jubbaland. A major political mishap that could result from this scenario is to push some intellectuals and activists in Garowe to seek secession akin to that of Somaliland. There is already a tinge of conversation around this topic in some circles. In the case of Jubbaland, there is fear for a renewed fratricidal conflict along clan lines.  

Scenario 2: Farmajo would extend the parliament’s term beyond this October, and in turn it will reward him with a 2-year time extension. As incestuous as this looks, not only will this kill the already corrosive and moribund parliament, but it will dash Somalia’s hope to have a divided and adversarial system of government consisting of executive and legislative branches. In effect, infusion of the two will be institutionalized and personal rule will be easier to impose. 

Scenario 3: A third but unlikely plan by Villa Somalia is an extension through a concept Faramajo tossed out to a VOA interviewer – “Re-election of the national leadership (president, prime minister, leadership of parliament.” This model will be predicated on a parliamentary declaration of an emergency decree due to covid-19 pandemic. In this regard, he is perhaps taking guide from his newly found mentor, Dr. Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia.

None of these impious scenarios of power manipulation by President Farmajo will satisfy Somalis, especially the political class. Already telltale signs of possible riots and political upheavals are emerging from Mogadishu. If that happens, thus the specter of a power vacuum akin to that of1990 is not out of the question. Here, there is a need for a national dialogue before things fall apart.

Faisal A. Roble
Email: faisalroble19@gmail.com

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