Once again, Somalia finds itself facing an electoral crisis. After months of rather pointless negotiations, President Farmajo decided he’d had enough and just decided to extend his own stay in office. This is a short essay examining this decision and its consequences.
A little background first.
The country’s elected institutions — president, cabinet, and parliament’s both houses — serve four year terms. This expired in December 2020 for parliament and February 2021 for the president and his cabinet. After failing to agree on an election model, parliament’s lower house unilaterally decided to extend its own and the president’s terms for a further two years starting this week.
Causes of the impasse
United Somalia last held free elections in 1969 for parliament, mere months before the coup that ushered in the Somali Democratic Republic and the 20+ year dictatorship. Since the fall of that republic, there have only been indirect elections in the country based on clan representation (not including Somaliland).
These indirect elections, started in 2000, were meant to be a temporary measure until the security situation was stabilised but that has still not happened, 21 years later. Given that free elections cannot be held, a new agreement was meant to be negotiated to guide the next cycle. However, the parties could not reach any agreement and after months of negotiations the president decided to just extend his own term in office. Some have now started calling his administration a dictatorship.
The political opposition
Naturally, there are many actors upset with this move by the president, in a country with a very violent past and present. Already, all the disparate opposition groups have united under an unbrella group with a singular purpose: oust Farmajo.
Many were already threatening violence if the government made any unilateral moves, and have been saying so for a while. The commander of the capital’s police force threatened to disband parliament and refused to recognise the vote. He was promptly fired and stripped of all military rank. Now, he is bunkering and plotting to get rid of Farmajo.
Two of Farmajo’s most ardent opponents in the country also happen to be the presidents of two prominent federal states.
The practical challenges
One of the many things that are difficult to grasp about the logic of this parliamentary resolution is the lack of a roadmap and the failure to acknowledge the current reality of the country and the consequence of this decision.
How will they organise the “free” elections they propose? Where will they take place? How will electoral roles be created? Will the IDPs and refugees be allowed to vote?
No census has been conducted in Somalia since the 1980s. We do not know the size of the population or where they reside. How will constituencies be determined?
Legality and Lack of a constitution
Now let us consider the legality of it all. Somalia’s constitution is riddled with contradictions. A relevant question to ask is: Can the lower House pass this resolution by itself? The answer, according to the Senate, is no! So who is right? The House or the Senate? The constitutional court, which has the mandate to decide on these matters, has still not been constituted, 9 years after the adoption of the latest provisional consitution.
Can the president sign a single house’s resolution into law? Is that technically a law? Already, the previous Supreme Court chief has declared this move unconstitutional. Is that how it is? What role is the Upper House meant to play if it cannot have a say in something as crucial as national elections?
Perhaps this is the biggest problem. There is a provisional constitution in place since 2012 that Farmajo and his predecessor were supposed to finalise. That has not been done yet, which will make legal elections more troublesome.
The ever-present Somaliland dilemma
Another point of disagreement regarding the elections was the selection of the Somaliland delegates. If the government intends to hold one person one vote elections, what will happen to the Somaliland seats?
Mogadishu will not be able to conduct any elections of any kind in any territory held by Hargeisa. The issue will therefore have to be resolved in Mogadishu. If the representatives of the Northern tribes are not consulted, then who will appoint members to those seats? This decision just kicks the can down the road.
Also, what happens when Madobe of Jubaland and Deni of Puntland refuse to let the electoral commission organise elections in their states? Puntland has previously demonstrated how helpless the federal government is in implementing the law with the assistance of regional governments. Unlike in previous disputes, however, Puntland and Jubaland will be well within their rights to refuse any cooperation with the federal government. After all, the constitution is quite clear that the current government is illegal.
The Senate is meant to safeguard the interests of the federal states. What if Senator Hashi, speaker of the Upper House, head of the opposition NSC, and the most prominent member of the northern clans in Mogadishu, becomes the new obstructionist? How will legislation be passed in the coming two years, if the senate leadership and a majority of its membership oppose the existance of the government?
The 6th Clan — the International Community
Lastly, what if the “international community” (excluding a few of Farmajos allies) cut funds or ties? The government receives budgetary and indirect support from many allied countries who have expressed deep disappointment in this development.
How will the UN address this matter? Will Farmajo declare the UN the country’s enemy? It is not a far-fetched idea, his government has already expelled the UN ambassador once before.
Of course, the IC has many tools in the toolbox that they can use in Somalia. Aside from the budgetary support, they could withdraw recognition from the government and make its international relations much more complicated. Somalia is on the cusp of having its foreign debt forgiven, based on the generosity of these states. What if, in addition to tightening the purse strings, they also block Somalia from multilateral institutions, as they did for close to 30 years?
This entire saga is just another cruel joke being played on the Somali people. President Farmajo has had four years to address the issues raised in this essay. He has not made any move towards resolving this crisis before it happened. After all, many of us saw this coming four years ago.
He can’t blame anyone other than his government for that failure. There are no obstacles the regions could have put in his path in terms of organising free and fair elections. This was a matter for his administration and parliament, no one else.
Also, it is a bit weird seeing all these people cheering on a clear cut power grab. We barely had a semblance of a government and rules. If you’re just going to do what you want then why bother calling it a country?
Apparently 30 years of civil war and utter destruction were not enough to teach many of these people the necessity of leadership, vision, prudence and compromise in matters of state and nation-building.
Farmajos supporters can bury their heads in the sand and simply wish for the best. But a country is not run on wishes and desires. You get a chance to serve the country and your people, and if you can’t deliver, pack up and go home.