Radio Erena: 05 January 2022
Somalia is scarcely a newsmaker except for the grim news of a terrorist attack here or a tribal fight there. Worse still, the fraternal fight in neighboring Ethiopia sent Somalia to the sideline.
As the year drew to a close, Somalia came into the center of the spotlight with the odd dispute between the president and his prime minister with reasonable concerns of an outbreak of a possible civil war that might undermine the stability and achievements scored in the past few years.
On Dec. 27, President Mohamed Abdullahi Formaajo relieved Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble from his duties on charges of corruption and obstruction of elections. The prime minister defiantly opposed the decision and forcefully entered his offices with the assistance of a group of his loyal supporters. Alarmed by the ominous conflict between the two strong men, the UN, the US, and the EU all called for calming down. What has emerged was only the tip of a mountain of irreconcilable disputes between the President and the Prime Minister.
The Brewing Differences
Although charges of elections obstruction were in the center of a series of wrangles between the two men, other key events sharpened the pointed ends of the conflict between the presidency and the premiership. In February, the president claimed that the organization of elections won’t meet the specified dateline of December 24, 2021, therefore he extended his term in office for two more years ending in 2023. The Parliament, in support of the prime minister’s opposition, annulled the president’s decision. The president felt humiliated by the joint action against him and embarked on a protracted battle against his rivals.
The Fierce Power Grab
The Somali proverb, born and nurtured on the sands of the Indian Ocean that goes: “a ship can’t have two captains,” seems to fit the country at the present as the struggle for power and influence escalates between the head of state and the head of government. What worsens the conflict is the fact that, in a severely polarized tribal society, the two adversaries belong to two different clans and enjoy considerable support in the army, police, and intelligence, a matter which might lead to an extended armed conflict.
The contrary appointments and dismissals by the two powerful rivals of top functionaries in the government, the armed forces, security, and the Election Committee widened the dimensions of the dispute.
In June 2021, the Somali National Service Intelligence Agency (NISA) director of Information and Database, Officer Ikram Tahlil Farah disappeared mysteriously. Two months later, the pro-president chief of NISA, Fahad Yassin Dahir, accused Al-Qaida’s affiliated Al-Shabab terrorist armed group of kidnapping and killing Ikram. Al-Shabab, scornfully, denied the charges saying that they could have leveled the intelligence HQ if they so willed instead of killing an innocent young woman. Roble’s response was pivotal as he fired Fahad Yassin and appointed Bashir Jamie as the chief of the spy agency. President Abdullahi Formaajo, in turn, in appointing Colonel Yassin Abdallah Mohamed as NISA chief, claimed that the prime minister has no power to remove or appoint the top military and intelligence officers. This inflamed the already smoldering conflict.
Ikram Tahlil’s disappearance was connected to the dossier of the Somali soldiers taking part in the war in Tigray. Mothers of the long-absent Somali soldiers demonstrated against sending their sons to war in Ethiopia, especially when some of the families received news of deaths and injuries of their sons, who were sent first to Eritrea for training but were transported later to Tigray according to an undisclosed arrangement between the three allies: Formaajo, Afwerki, and Abiy Ahmed. Initially, the president denied sending soldiers abroad. As the demonstrations gained momentum, Minister of Information Mr. Osman Abubakar Dobe, said his country has soldiers receiving training in Eritrea but denied their participation in the war in Ethiopia.
In support of the demonstrations of the soldiers’ mothers, the Somali Lawyers Association in Melbourne, Australia, filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court regarding the disappearance of the intelligence officer and against the forced Somali soldiers’ participation in the war in Ethiopia, in addition to other charges as Mr. Yousif Abdi Farah, the Secretary-General of the Association has confirmed: “the complaint aims at bringing justice to the soldiers who were sent first for training in Eritrea and then they were forced to take part in the war in northern Ethiopia.”
The differences between the president and the prime minister were complicated furthermore with the exchange of accusations of power misuse and disputes over jurisdiction. The continuation of sacking and reappointing of officials reflects the complexity of the crisis.
The Ticking Bomb of Elections
Electing of the new Somali Parliament members was supposed to wrap up by December 24, but only a quarter of the members was successfully elected until that date. The president blamed the prime minister for obstructing the elections, especially when he later sacked Mohamed Hassen Arou, the chairman of the National Elections Committee along with other six members who were the president’s appointees in the Committee.
The President’s response was furious and slashing. Accusing the prime minister of hampering elections and unlawfully grabbing state land, he sacked him from his post on December 27. The next morning, the recalcitrant primer forcefully made his way to his offices with the support of his loyal supporters. He described the move as a coup from an illegitimate president who transgressed his legally stipulated term.
Fearing that the supporters and clansmen of the two strong men in the armed forces, intelligence, and police force take matters into their hands instills concerns of a rapid deterioration in the fragile country.
Powerful Actors and Allies Behind Scene
Like Sudan and Ethiopia, Somalia is not immune to powerful winds of external intervention in its affairs. The two adversaries enjoy massive support from outside.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Formaajo enjoys strong support from powerful regional and international allies. He has located his country in the tripartite alliance of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Unlike the two other partners in the alliance, his country hosts the largest Turkish embassy and the biggest military base worldwide. With more than 250 military experts, Turkey assumes the full responsibility of rehabilitating the Somali army.
The historical visit of Turkish President Erdogan to Somalia in 2011 not only won him the hearts of the Somalis but also placed his country in the first line of influence and trade exchange. Trade exchange between Somalia and Turkey reached more than 260 million USD in 2015. The Turkish aid agencies are active in different cities in the country. Somali students are enjoying priority in the various Turkish educational institutions.
Turkey also runs Mogadishu airport and the city’s port, to the dismay of UAE, the primary runner for investment in the region’s ports.
President Formaajo can freely dip his fingers in the deep purse of the super-rich ally Qatar, which gives him leverage against his rival, who enjoys shy support from the US and undisclosed backing from the UAE.
The stiff political tie, the clan support in addition to unlimited external resources might lead to a bitter civil war. It is high time to help Somalia out of the entanglement of the looming crisis.
By Fathi Osman