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In the face of a deadly drought, Somalia's amorphous election discourse could trigger armed conflicts

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets President of Somalia Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo (L) at Dolmabahce Office in Istanbul, Turkey on December 17, 2021. ( TUR Presidency/Murat Cetinmuhurdar - Anadolu Agency )
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets President of Somalia Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo (L) at Dolmabahce Office in Istanbul, Turkey on 17 December 2021. [TUR Presidency/Murat Cetinmuhurdar - Anadolu Agency]

Somalia is encountering uncertainty due to the long-delayed parliamentary elections. The country was already struggling with protracted droughts, floods, famine and locusts which jeopardised the development. The constitutional mandate of the executive and the legislative branches ended. Article 91 of the Somalia provisional constitution states that "the President of the Federal Republic of Somalia shall hold office for a term of four years, starting from the day he takes the oath of the President of the Federal Republic of Somalia, in accordance with Article 96 of the constitution". According to this, the sitting president was elected and performed the oath of the President of the Federal Republic of Somalia in February 2017.

 The current dichotomy among the top-echelons and the security implications

During the election period, it is advisable that the fragile countries should tighten the security as an antidote for instability. Militarily, Somalia is dependent on friendly countries including Turkey and the US. Al-Shabaab has increased its attacks against the Somali army, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and the Turkish-trained troops during the political instability in the country. Turkey has been training Somali troops for the last four years as part of a 2010 military training cooperation agreement between the two countries. As per the assessment, one of three Somali troops is to be trained by Turkey. So far, more than 2,500 of the Somali National Army have been trained by Turkish military staff, with a target of 5,000.

According to the Turkish Embassy in Mogadishu, two-thirds of the Somali national army were either trained in Turkey or were given training at TurkSom, a military training facility run by Turkey, which is Ankara's largest overseas military facility in the horn of African nation.

READ: Political unrest deepens in Somalia

Some of the Somali government partners have accused the Somali army of their involvement in the ever-morphing politics in the country, especially the dubious parliamentary elections. As a caveat, the UK and other Western countries admonished the national army to step aside from the politics, otherwise, they would cut their funding. Throughout history, Somalia has had a terrible experience of how highly contested and contentious elections may result in uncertainty. For instance, the last time that Somalis went to the ballot was 1967, where the late Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke was elected the President. Sharmarke's government did not last too long, and he was, himself, assassinated by a gunman under mysterious circumstances. In 1969, after days of chaos and instability in the country, the military took power via a coup d'état. During the military era, Somalis did not witness any fair and square elections except election-like events where the authoritarian government had blatantly rigged.

Root causes of the intermittent conflicts

Somalia is a young country, which is recovering from the legacy of the civil war that erupted in 1991. It is the second term that, Somalia's successive governments have failed to orchestrate One-Person One-Vote election since 2012 when Somalia was recognised as a permanent government since the civil strife in 1991. In the 2016 elections, the federal government and the federal member states agreed on an indirect election model. However, this model has been a blessing in disguise, and the process was relatively balanced. Former President, Hassan Sheikh, who was accused of meddling in the election process, has failed to be re-elected. The sitting President, who was elected in February 2017, has insisted that his government will deliver universal suffrage; this ambition has ended up futile.

After several meetings between the leaders of the central government and the Federal member states on the model of the election, on 17 September last year, both parties have agreed on indirect parliamentary elections. Even this political agreement faced a lack of political will and commitment among the political leaders. On 12 April, the House of the People unilaterally invalidated the agreement and gave the executive and the legislative branches two more years of extension. This resulted in public outrage, a split of the national army, and widespread condemnation. On the flip side, several battalions revolted against the government and retreated from their positions. As a result, some confrontations have been witnessed between the government forces and troops loyal to the opposition. On 28 April,  the President dropped the two-year term extension and transferred the responsibility of the election to Prime Minister, Mohamed Hussein Roble. Two days ago, from now on, the President has suspended the powers of the Prime Minister which resulted in a smear campaign against each other. This chronic conflict may trigger a full-blown armed conflict because all sides seem to be lacking the political maturity that this country currently needs.

 Lack of integrated efforts among the opposition and lack of unified showcase

The efforts of the dissenting voices are limited by the division within. They just keep rebuking differently the sitting President's knee-jerk actions, while not offering rational options. This division has diluted the magnitude of their endeavours. Two presidents and a prime minister are among the opposition group under the umbrella of "Council of Presidential Candidates". Their statements reflect a counterpunch when the government commits a political mistake. Unfortunately, they do not showcase unified efforts and a workable plan beyond Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo's government. The worst is, sometimes the opposition utters nihilistic political rhetoric with a clan-like mentality that can usher hostility among the clans.

The dithering role of the international community

The international community tendered all bark and no bite. They just keep shouting on rooftops. Somalia depends heavily on the support of the international community. As such, they have an undeniable influence on Somalia's policymakers. While respecting Somalia's sovereignty, the international community may mediate in the conflicting sides in order to bury the hatchet.

For instance, Turkey has invested heavily in Somalia since 2011, built the infrastructure, augmented the budget for the Somalia Airport and the Seaport, and trained the government troops. In this regard, the Turkish government would be a good mediator for this political deadlock among the top officials. But, if Somalia's partners are hesitant to enter this quagmire, then the conflict may take it longer.

Recommendations

In order to fix the intermittent political infighting, I suggest:

  • A ripe moment and momentum is needed drastically;
  • A cessation of hostilities is demanded desperately;
  • A negotiation for the disingenuous willingness among the top officials;
  • Turkey and other partners should play their role as interlocutors. Especially, Turkey, which has a deep-rooted influence on the Somali government due to its support. With this soft power, Turkey, as an emerging middle power, may take a bold decision to put pressure on the current government to hold the elections.

(Sourced from Anadolu News Agency)

READ: We are committed to concluding elections as soon as possible, says Somali Premier

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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AfricaArticleEurope & RussiaOpinionSomaliaTurkey
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