The outcome of Somalia’s upcoming elections would have a bearing not only for the stability of the Horn and beyond, but would also necessitate a change in the calculus of the regional alignment. If President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as “Farmaajo,” loses the election, the Isayas-Abiy-Farmaajo axis will come to an end.
The other presidential contender, PM Mohamed Hussein Roble, is wary of anyone who has ties with the existing regime in Somalia. For instance, a few weeks ago, Roble declared Ambassador Francisco Madeira, head of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), persona non grata, accusing him of rooting for Farmaajo in the upcoming election.
Yet, on April 26, 2022, Roble, a nemesis of Farmaajo’s, ordered the AU Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) to overtake election security from local security forces which Roble fears are loyal to Farmaajo. Roble, a former ILO official, was appointed to the post in September 2020, mainly to ensure that the election is conducted timely, transparently and also to oversee the transitional process. Nonetheless, his task has been made difficult due to hurdles by Farmaajo.
“Farmaajo is no more favored by USA, especially since he formed an axis with Abiy and Isayas. Europe and Middle East, except Qatar, are also tired of combatting pirates over the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean. Generally, Farmaajo failed in the fight against terrorists,” says an Ethiopian analyst who spoke to The Reporter on the condition of anonymity.
If not for USA and IMF, Farmaajo would not bother about conducting the election, according to the analyst. USA waived visas for Somalia officials who undermine the election. Finally, it was IMF who ‘forced’ the election to happen after a year of delay. The IMF has warned to turn off the taps if a new government is not in place in Mogadishu by May 17, 2022.
Farmaajo’s four-year term ended in February 2021 but he tried to extend his term unlawfully, undermining the constitution. Once again, Somalia’s election crisis is proving that without strong institutions in place, African leaders are adept only at paying lip service to democracy. As the election is postponed, Ethiopia’s negotiations to diversify its port access in Somalia are also delayed, since any agreements are suspended until a new government is formed.
Basically, clan leaders are king-makers in Somalia. Few thousands of clan leaders vote, in a nation of around 16.5 million. This means, Somalia has an indirect electoral system, where clan leaders first elect MPs, and then MPs elect the president and PM. Clan leaders choose legislators both for the lower and upper houses of parliament. After months of wrangling, close to 300 members of parliament are elected by mid-April. The next step, electing house speakers, concluded on April 27, 2022. Sheikh Adan Mohammad Nur has been elected as a speaker of the lower house, a veteran opposition who casted shadow on the re-election of Farmaajo.
But the next crucial step, in which MPs elect the president and the PM that will lead one of the most fragile states for the next five years, is hanging by the threads, as feud between Farmaajo and Roble intensifies.
Both President Farmaajo and PM Roble have formidable powers because both have strong backing from their respective clans. Any action from Farmaajo would elicit a reaction from Roble, and vice versa. In Somalia’s power structure, the president, PM and house speaker command strong support from their respective constituencies.
However, some observers are anxious that the next regime in Somalia might be one remotely controlled by al-Shabab.
“Al-shabab has control over some of the clan leaders. So some of the MPs are probably endorsed by Al-Shabab itself, indirectly,” said the analyst.
In fact, such fear is also shared by Omar Guelleh, Djibouti’s president. “I fear we will end up with a parliament indirectly controlled by Al-Shabab because they’ll have bought the support of some of the MPs,” Guelleh said back in 2020.
The buying of votes is an open secret in Somalia. Farmaajo himself secured victory back in 2017, after “peeling off wads of hundred-dollar bills to buy votes”, according to a New York Times report at the time. Bribing clan leaders to endorse the preferred MP determines who will be president and PM finally.
However, Abebe Muluneh (commander), security sector program director at IGAD and researcher on Somalia, argues Somalia’s election is on the right path despite all the odds. “The election is going fine so far. The tension between the PM and president will cool off once the election is over. The only threat is, if Farmaajo is re-elected, it will be for the first time in Somalia that a president would be re-elected.”
Abebe also argues that election results will not have substantial impact on Horn politics. “If Farmaajo continues to be at the helm, it will be business as usual. His competitors are also good allies to Ethiopia. Whatever the politicians’ perspectives at individual levels, their relationship with Ethiopia will be bilateral at state level, so there will be no major realignment in the Horn. The western outlook on Somalia will also improve,” Abebe opined.