Sunday, May 16, 2021
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Farmajo: Clever or a cunning autocrat?

By Faisal A Roble

A Prelude to Usurpation of Power

“Timely elections are a critical pillar of healthy democracy. Engineering a term extension is a breach of democratic norms & risks destabilizing Somalia…Attempts to undermine dialogue on a path to credible polls MUST stop.”  US Senate Foreign Relations

Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo

On the eve of the blessed month of Ramadan, the president of Somalia has risked the security and welfare of his country by scheming for a term extension. The lower house of the Somali parliament has passed a resolution to extend its own term which had expired in December 2020. This has the hidden hand of the president who also wants to follow up with his own term extension in the coming days.

Since February 8, 2021, when the term of President Farmajao expired, he embarked on a risky road by not holding elections. As a result, Somalia took a scary turn to forces of democracy.

Confrontational politics had replaced the hitherto predictable peaceful power transfer. Both Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud and Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, who hails from Banadir region, transferred power peacefully. Alas, Mr. Farmajo, whose constituents are mainly from the middle Somalia is resolute to differ from both of its predecessors. He has refused to agree to a democratic power transfer.

Add to this an economy particularly that of Mogadishu which took a tumble as political uncertainty grips the nation. Unemployment, urban and rural starvation, and strained cash in the government’s coffers all make powder cake conditions for civil unrest.

Unable to contain their frustrations and acting upon mistrust of the president, potential presidential candidates organized a consequential peaceful march on February 19, 2021. All that they did was peacefully demand free and fair elections. With a former Prime Minister and several opposition leaders at the helm, the marchers, only demanding timely and peaceful elections, were violently attacked by the notorious secret services alias “NISA” forces.

Following his refusal to hold elections, be it one-man-one-vote or indirect elections, President Farmajo now reverted to the worst alternative – a unilateral term extension and that of his cronies. By so doing, he has undermined year-long negotiations to narrow the political gulf between all the parties. It is now apparent that he was negotiating all along in bad faith.

What is wrong and where does the political bottleneck rest, one may ask? President Farmajo’s intentionality to come back without elections is the problem.

What do Puntland/Jubaland leaders and potential candidates want?

The unilateral extension Farmajo settled with tells us that, unlike Farmajo the leaders of Puntland and Jubbaland was all along negotiating in good faith. The world did not believe them until now. For the record, neither President Said Deni nor Ahmed Islam is running for the presidential seat. Yes, they don’t mind seeing Farmajo lose the seat through a free and fair election. And that is a fair game. Both of them have shown to Somalis and the world alike that they have all along negotiated in good faith. Mr. Farmajo did not.

To exert pressure on Mr. Farmajo, they have aligned themselves with Mogadishu-based prospective presidential candidates, the speaker of the upper house who has fallen out of favor with Farmajo, and mushrooming opposition groups inside the Banadir region. 

Also, prospective presidential candidates want a free and fair process to compete against Farmajo as well as against one another. Such a demand is the essence of an emerging democracy and a pathway out of the past painful history of dictatorship.

What does Farmajo want?

Mr. Farmajo’s goal has always been personal than national. He is determined to stay longer than four years. To get there, he managed to orchestrate several tactics to manipulate the outcome of elections that have yet to take place. These include (1) not being truthful about the one-person-one-vote model, (2) firing his former Prime Minister in the wee hours of the election season, (3) toppling and then putting his men in the leadership of Galmudug, Hirshabeele, and Southwest, the later with a high cost of about 30 people being killed, and (4) having the parliament hand him down a term extension for an additional 2-year term.

Achieving his objective for term extension has commenced in earnest on the eve of the blessed month of Ramadan. His sinister move coincided with the beginning of Ramadan.

Causing harm and harsh to the UMAH at the onset of Ramadan is callous and cruel to a nation recovering from a devastating civil war. Such is a cunning autocratic political animal

Corruption did the job for President Farmajo who spent hard-earned millions of dollars to buy loyalty from 149 members of the parliament for his term extension. In addition, Farmajo is pinning his hopes on the autocratic wind blowing in the Horn of Africa. He believes that the faustian pact he created with the political musclemen of Ethiopia’s Abiy and the omnipresent dictator of Eritrea would help him silence any opposition in the future.

In particular, not only can President Isaias be ruthless, but he not accountable to no one since he has neither a Vice President/Prime Minister nor a parliament to report to. Indeed Mr. Isaias is the “state.” Mr. Farmajo counts on Isaias’ protection since the two are on the verge of signing a military pact.

International Dimensions

Until now, Farmajo had the backing of the US Ambassador in Mogadishu. It is predicated upon Mr. Farmajo’s past close relationship with the Republican Chapter of Buffalo, where he spent over 25 years.  As a matter of fact, his connections reached deeper into the inner circle of former President Trump. As recalled, his Washington lobbyist was none other than Michael Caputo who was indicted on multiple charges and later on fired by the previous White House.

There are also unconfirmed suspicions that Mr. Farmajo in the past seemed to have assurances from Great Britain’s Ambassadors in Mogadishu. Although no substantive documents show such a claim, there are indications in the past where both institutions, particularly Great Britain’s Ambassador, sidelined all other stakeholders in favor of Farmajo. Either way, the President of Somalia thinks he had acted boldly with no fear of any form of sanction locally or globally.

The IC was more or less on Farmajo’s side for too long, giving him the benefit of the doubt. However, with his choice for a unilateral term extension, that could change at any time. The Farmajo-IC discordant relationship is characterized by a back-and-forth exchange of communiques. Finally, the AU, EU, IGAD, and UN release stern COMMUNIQUE  only one day before the parliament voted for a two-year term extension.  

It was a measured yet harsh response to Mr. Farmajo’s invocation of the “non-interference” position he took a few days prior to his unilateral move for term extension.

Nearly 40 years ago, on March 5, 1982, Dr. Hussein Abdullahi Bulhan wrote an op-ed piece for the New York times warning the West to be circumspect about its financing of a government that was at war with its people then, and he wrote this: “Any aid given to Mr. Said Barre will strike most Somalis as open complicity with the most ruthless, cunning despot in their country’s history. Further aid, especially arms or monetary loans will only keep the lid on fulfillment of democratic aspirations of a nation divided, suppressed, and on the brink of civil war.”

The world ignored the siren then and may do the same now. What we don’t know is what the aftermath would be.

A contemporary warning comes from Stephen Schwartz, former US former Ambassador to Somalia, who tweeted the following on April 11, 2021: “fahad Yasin and his patrons in Qatar have turned NISA into Farmajo’s principal means of undermining Somalia’s constitution, democratic norms, tradition of consensus, and to defy pressure and appeals from most Somalia’s international partners.” He goes on to add: “The result is a worsening of the human rights situation, an absence of effective governance, less pressure on AlShabab, and increasingly disreputable and isolated regime.”

The Ambassador’s assessment is consistent with April 12, 2021 State Department report on Somalia. Under a damning title of “US State Department Indicts Somalia’s Fascist President & His Quasi-Intelligence Service (NISA) of War Crimes, Corruption, and Clinging to Power,” the intelligence briefs by the State Department writes that “What we are seeing in Somalia nowadays is FGS exploiting the civilian intelligence (Re: NISA), and that agency playing a key role in securing and elongating Mr Farmajo’s authoritarian and autocratic rule.” It concluded by charging Mr. Farmajo and his NISA chief on crimes against humanity.

Afwerki  (left), Abiy right and Farmaajo in the middle

As customary for an autocratic ruler, President Farmajo is flirting with China and Russia as did his benefactor, Prime Minister Abiy of Ethiopia. It is widely reported that he has a standing invite from Russia and China for a visit to these respective countries. Outside normal diplomatic relationships, Somalis are not keen to re-invite Russia 44 years after they kicked it out of their country.

Despite his appetite to salivate over a term extension, Mogadishu’s economy took a tumble in the last year. Construction projects that were moving at a reputable pace have either come to a halt or slowed down. Political uncertainty and the surge of Covid-19 are too much to bear. The international community has lost faith in Farmajo due to his newly-found intransigency Whether or not the IC will continue to give him cash which amounts to approximately 60% of the total national budget remains to be seen.

Somalia is at a crossroads where a minor mishap may wreak havoc on its fragile community. The careless politics played by its leadership is a throwback to bygone days. And that is scary for all Somalis.

Faisal A. Roble
Email: [email protected]
Faisal Roble, a writer, political analyst and a former Editor-in-Chief of WardheerNews, is mainly interested in the Horn of Africa region. He is currently the Principal Planner for the City of Los Angeles in charge of Master Planning, Economic Development and Project Implementation Division

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