The two rival leaders, in a dialogue facilitated by the UN Envoy, Augustine Mahiga in Ugandan Capital, Kampala, agreed to form a new government to end a political stalemate that resulted from a dispute over the government’s future as its term ends in August. To shun possible elections, both leaders had unilaterally extended their terms; the president extending his term for a year, and the parliament for three years, drawing criticism from the ‘International Community’.
In a bid to defuse the tension, the United Nation’s Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS), based in Nairobi hosted a consultation meeting in April, attended by major Somali parties including, the Parliament Speaker and regional administrations. Both the President and the Prime Minister boycotted the meeting, splitting the government into two rival factions. The participants agreed to hold parliamentary elections before August to elect a new president and a speaker. But the President rejected the outcome further intensifying the dispute.
The UN Security Council, convening in Nairobi in May, voiced anger at Somali leaders’ recurrent political rows, and sent them a very strong message either to end the squabbling or face sanctions. But the two leaders made no progress and another meeting was held in Kampala by Somalia Contact Group, a body that had been formed in 2006 and comprises of nations from the EU, US, UN and Tanzania.
At the beginning, the UN Envoy, Augustine Mahiga insisted on his original plan that elections be held before the TFG deadline expires in August. Alas, he was later compelled to desert his initiative after President Sharif won strong support from Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, whose troops protect the Interim government in Mogadishu. Museveni warned if Sharif’s term was not extended for a year, his troops would leave Somalia as the elections would “jeopardize his troops’ recent military gains against Alshabaab”, the Islamist fighters opposing their presence in Somalia.
Eventually, Mahiga mediated the two Somali leaders who agreed to defer the elections for a year. In return, the speaker demanded a power-sharing government with the President. This demand was immediately refused by the Prime Minister. In a press conference in Mogadishu on Tuesday before heading to Kampala, the PM criticized the conditions made by the Speaker, saying he would not accept the demands because “a coalition is formed by opposition parties not by the same party within a government”.
According to sources in Kampala, the PM was given two options; to form a government and give half of the seats to the speaker’s allies or resign. Refusing to succumb to the pressure, Mohamed decided to step down sparking protests in Mogadishu. Both the President and Prime Minister returned to Mogadishu on Thursday, only to face endless and rapidly intensifying protests. The Prime Minister addressed the rally and urged his supporters not to use violence. Although, a spokesman for the PM denied his intention to resign, the PM said through the local media that the people’s will must be respected.
On Friday, the protests seemed never-ending; violence erupted in Mogadishu where protesters chanted slogans calling for the fall down of the president, the speaker and the parliament. Three civilians were killed after protesters tried to storm into a hotel, where lawmakers were staying. Later, the protesters set the whole building alight after the lawmakers fled. But this was not the major casualty of the day. The Interior Minister died in a suicide attack that took place inside his home, hours after he addressed the protesters. It emerged that the bomber was a member of his family.
From Nairobi to the central regions of Somalia, demonstrators expressed anger not only to the Somali government, but also to the United Nation’s envoy, Augustine Mahiga. “This is our country, Mahiga”, they chanted.
More interestingly, the demonstrations were joined by some parliamentarians and government forces, which indicate the severity of the issue. It could be argued that the Arab Spring protests may have inspired them, but it will surely have an enduring effect. The message is clear; people are tired with the government infightings that only result in meaningless resignations.
Mohamed Abdullahi, a Somali-American, was appointed as a Prime Minister, after his predecessor, Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke resigned under the same circumstance in September last year. His government’s recent defeats to Alshabaab in Mogadishu with the help of the AU Peacekeeping forces have gained him public admiration.
Both the President and the Speaker, joined the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in 2009 after a UN backed power-sharing deal in Djibouti between the TFG and an Islamist group which the two leaders had belonged to. Under the deal, the parliament seats were doubled with the additional seats going to the opposition. But the political disputes within the administration have continued and former UN Envoy to Somalia, Ahmed Ould Abdallah, the brainchild of the Djibouti Agreement, was largely seen as a meddler rather than a mediator. He was later forced to resign after his term ended last year to be replaced by Augustine Mahiga, a veteran Tanzanian diplomat.
The recent political deadlock is the first litmus test for the leadership of the Tanzanian at a time Somalia is at a cross-road. The current developments and the backing he gave to an unpopular deal may dent his image in the country. Public support is crucial in restoring peace and order to the country, not a support to self-serving individuals.
If the International Community reckons that the prime minister’s resignation and the extension of the government’s term would solve the embattled leaders’ dispute and help them work for a common ground, they have many reasons to rethink and reflect deeply on the political landscape of Somalia.
Since its formation in 2004, infighting has become a norm for the Somali government. The reason is simple; the government is based on an ambiguous system that never exists in the world. The speaker rivals with the president and occasionally assumes some of his constitutional powers. The leadership is divided along regional lines, each leader seeking support from the neighboring countries which their approval and support has become the only legitimacy for a Somali government.
Notably, the two feuding leaders, the president and the speaker, are politically incompetent, and always decide not to agree. If the cabinet leaders are numerically divided into two, one for each leader, then competence will be in question. Each of the two leaders will nominate their loyalists to the posts rather competent ministers.
Corruption will continue, people will despair and throw their support behind Alshabab. Back to square one. Today’s demonstrations in Mogadishu, and the public backing for a leader, who even does not originate from the Capital, cannot be underestimated. Next year, at this time we may be facing the same phenomenon, who knows?
Finally, in meddling into Somalia’s internal affairs, exploiting from the presence of his troops in Somalia to gain political influence in the beleaguered nation, President Museveni of Uganda not only plays into the hands of Alshabaab, who brands his troops as occupation forces, but questions the whole peace-keeping mandate in the continent. Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi may resign or not, but the scars will not stop bleeding.
By Faysal Mohamud The writer is a Somali journalist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Faysal Mohamud is Political Analysis and regular contributor to terror free somalia