Somalia Hangs on Dangerous Path to Peace Amid Election Quagmire

Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo (L) meets the Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. (Photo Credit: Somalia Presidency)

Somalia is dancing on a dangerous path towards further instability after weeks of a political deadlock caused by the failure to agree on an election roadmap.

In an attempt to salvage the situation, the sitting President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmaajo, engaged in shuttle diplomacy, taking the unprecedented step of seeking the involvement of the African Union in trying to find a political solution.

President Farmaajo traveled to Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on April 19, where he sought audience with President Felix Tshisekedi, the current Chairman of the African Union.

The Somali Federal Government is seeking the AU’s help to end the political crisis that has  heightened since the expiry of President Farmaajo’s mandate in February.

President  Farmaajo took another step by accepting a unilateral decision by a section of parliamentarians to extend his term in office by an extra two years.

The lower Chamber of Parliament also voted to extend its tenure by two more years, by-passing the Senate, whose input in the bill to extend the terms was required.

The move to seek the AU’s intervention followed the collapse of talks with influential members of the political opposition which were continuing between the government and Federal Member States.

The Somalia Federal Government and five Presidents of the Federal Member States, who control huge sections of the national territory and regional security has dragged on over the formula for conducting an election for the Members of Parliament and the Federal President.

The two rival sides have been unable to reach an agreement over the composition of electoral committees, the selection process of Somaliland Members of Parliament and the modalities of providing election day security to the pre-selected election venues.

In September 2020, Somali leaders signed an electoral model in the town of Dhusamareeb in Central Somalia, allowing the polling  for the Members of Parliament to take place in two locations in each of the five Federal Member States and the capital, Mogadishu.

The electoral agreement gives powers to 101 clan delegates to vote a predetermined number of the Members of Parliament for each of  the five regions followed  by a vote for the President.

The September electoral deal collapsed in early April because President Farmaajo and his allies have been attempting to renegotiate the deal, fearing the influence weilded by the members of the political opposition and the Federal Member States.

A unilateral term extension by Parliament has been condemned Internationally as an undemocratic step by all influential international donors and foreign governments backing efforts to restore political stability to Somalia.

President Farmaajo is attempting to earn an extra-two years in Government until April 2023 while the mainstream opposition groups, Presidential candidates, influential members of the Hawiye Clan who are dominant in Mogadishu, Jubaland and Puntland federal member states are opposed to the idea.

The National Salvation Forum, a coalition of opposition leaders and regional heads of the Federal Member States, said in a letter sent to the UN Security Council on 19 April, they were opposed to the term extension.

“We would like to share our appreciation to the members of the UN Security Council who have expressed their disappointment at the former President’s decision to postpone elections and extend his own rule by two years. The National Salvation Forum strongly urges the council, in its entirety, to categorically reject this illegal and unconstitutional move, which threatens to unravel Somalia’s hard-won progress towards peace and stability and plunge the nation back into political fragmentation and armed conflict,” the political grouping stated in its letter.

The political opposition said they would restore constitutional order and the rule of law through peaceful means and explore “all means at our disposal.”

President Farmaajo’s appeal for talks and the intervention of the AU followed a recent trend in which clan militias around Mogadishu were seen to re-group and re-arm to militarily oppose the term-extension.

The threat to forcefully remove President Farmajo from the seat of power would throw back years of attempts to build central authority in Somalia.

 “I welcome the African Union to take a leading role to facilitate an election process,” said Farmaajo at the end of his visit to DRC.

Some European countries have welcomed the call for an African Union role in facilitating dialogue in Somalia.

The AU Mediation Support Handbook, 2014, classifies Somalia’s political crisis as falling under pre-conflict where rumors, war of words, and arms trade reign.

The manual describes the key structural dimensions of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) and guides conducting a standard AU-mandated mediation process.

The African Union (AU) Commission’s goal of ‘silencing the guns’, embedded within its Agenda 2063, is focused on creating structures that can assist in preventing conflict and sustaining peace in African states.

To achieve that, the Union has used mediation and has relied on prominent personalities and former Heads of States.

The mediation efforts by the African Union might bring a semblance of peace in Somalia, according to the Allard Duursma’s statistical analysis.

Dr Duursma, who works at the Zurich-based Centre for Security Studies, believes that predictive analysis of the effectiveness of peace missions is likely to result into some forms of durable peace.

The Statistical analysis shows from 1960 to 2012, African Union’s third-party mediators were more likely to conclude peace agreements than non-African third parties and the peace settlement was more likely to be long-lasting.

Somalia has a 4.5 clan-based power-sharing formula that gives equal representation in parliament to four major clans and a few seats reserved for so-called minor clans.

In 2000, Somali political leaders signed for the clan power-sharing system, and Abdiqasim Salad Hassan became the first President of the clan-based system.

The clan power-sharing formula brought the country together to form a government since the collapse of the Somali central government in 1991.

The twenty-one-year-old power-sharing agreement faces a political dilemma as President Farmaajo, who hails from Darood clan faces political pressure from some of Darood and Hawiye political elite to put the country on the path of elections.

The threat of violence persists as Somalia continues to recover from decades of civil war.

The Somali government relations with Kenya and Djibouti have not been good in the past few years. There is fear of these countries’ influence on some political groups and regions may influence decisions for or against peace.

Peace and security experts say mediation is more successful and can reduce the recurrence of violence when combined with peacekeeping operations.

The government led by Farmaajo puts its hope now on the African mediation process to unlock the protracted political and electoral crisis that has been witnessed in the past 12 months.

Some 22,000 African Union troops from five African countries have been supporting and protecting successive Somali governments against militant group Al Shabaab and other armed groups opposing the rule of the internationally recognized government.

There is evidence of growth in Somali politics and the political culture over the years as the country leaders engage in talks rather than armed conflict to resolve their political differences.