By Faisal A. Roble
Only six months before his term’s expiration, President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo nominated Mohmed Hussein Roble as his Prime Minister In September 2020. The new PM replaced the fallen and flamboyant former PM Hassan Khayre. Like his predecessor, Roble was a newcomer to politics. However, Farmjo [mis]calculated that PM Roble will obediently serve him to pursue a second term. Alas, things got sour for both Farmajo and Roble quickly.
Farmajo had several challenges he sought to diffuse by nominating Roble. In addition to President Deni and Madobe who have been a thorn in his feet, Farmajo was losing sleep over the opposition mounted by the largely Mogadishu-based Union of the Presidential Candidates (UPC).
President Farmajo never took challenges by Deni and Madobe seriously for one main reason – their respective constituents largely viewed Farmajo with positive eyes. For example, the youth in Puntland, the religious clerks in major cities of the same region, and large sections of Sool, Sanag, and Cayn favored Farmajo more than Deni. Furthermore, Farmajo never considered Madobe a serious challenge to his re-election for reasons beyond this commentary. Suffice to say that Villa Somalia always fought hard against Madobe cast.
On the contrary, Farmajo viewed Mogadishu-based opposition groups, mainly the Union of Presidential Candidates (UPC), with utmost fear. Mogadishu is the center of gravity with a concentration of political and business power that can easily sway election results. It can also undermine his autocratic rule. It was in that vein that he expected Roble, to fend off him against opposition groups.
Farmajo’s expectation to use his prime minster, in addition to the governor of Mogadishu and several mafia-type officers in that local administration, did not materialize for several reasons. First, Roble, as a constitutional Prime Minister, refused to put all his eggs in Farmajo’s basket. At the outset, Roble made known that he was accepting the nomination to help the country transition during this trying election period. Farmajo accordingly empowered him to execute all matters related to elections.
Despite challenges which have been regularized in the fight between these two high offices for the last decade, the tiff between Farmajo and Roble first surfaced in May 2021. In a response to a complaint submitted to his office by the Union of Presidential Candidates (UPC), Roble resolved a long-held grievance against the imbalance of the composition of the Election Commission; the PM quickly and positively rectified the issue. In May 2021, he issued a decree through his spokesperson, and appointed a ministerial level taskforce consistent with Article 1 of the National Consultative Agreement (NCA).
Two other contentious issues were on the table. First, the model by which Somaliland elections would be implemented, and the selection of candidates to the Upper House. So far, the PM succeeded in defusing long-held tensions among Somaliland leaders. In turn, he vowed that they will be left to their own devices.
The other challenge was the way regional presidents populated the senate seats. When most of them abused their unconstitutional but politically expedient authority given to them – nominating candidates from their regions, Roble issued weak advisory.
Almost entirely all the regional presidents violated one of the cardinal principles of Somalia’s so-called “inclusive” politics, a concept that has been a cash cow for the political elite and a darling but hollow concept of the West. In the end, Roble did look the other way.
An exception to this rule is the President of Hishabelle. He succeeded in following a sensible political map by not packing the seats with relatives or individuals who bought the seats with cash. On the contrary, he opened the doors for as many candidates as five to run for each of the eight seats. This was a case where the youngest state in the Federal Member States proved to be the mature in the house. As it stands Senator Muse Suudi Yalaxow is more legitimate than the entire senate body selected from Puntland. Process matters in democratic politics.
Aside from the familiar tussle politics, an open conflict broke out between Farmajo and Roble with the disappearance and the subsequent affirmation of the death of a young spy officer. Ikaran Tahlil Farah, suspected to have been killed by her own employer, NISA, became the Elian Gonzales of Somalia. As Elian Gonzales became a national embarrassment to America in 2000, Ikran’s case laid bare all that had been wrong in Farmajo’s secretive and maverick style of rule.
The nation was soon gripped with uncertainty as to who killed Ikran? The government’s false declaration that Al-shabab killed her was soon denied by Al-shabab. The focus thereafter zoomed on Fahad and NISA. Fahad Yasin’s subsequent defiance of the Prime Minister’s orders did not help either.
Rejecting Prime Minister Roble’s routine but modest request of information about Ikaran was not smart, let alone professional on Fahad’s side. As the country’s spay master, he should have provided any information the PM requested. His rejection and disrespect of his own employer, and that is what the PM is to Fahad, showed the deep state that exists in Villa Somalia. Deep is often subversive to legitimate authority, the PM’s authority in this case.
On September 6, 2021, PM Roble fired the nation’s spymaster. But a furtive Farmajo vacated the PM’S action, a move that would soon in turn undermine Farmajo’s own ability to govern. Things deteriorated quickly and to date Mogadishu is not only anarchic but has two competing centers of power. In some instances, Roble seems to have taken over most of the government’s organs. As this piece goes to press, a Turkish plane carrying Fahad and 48 other Somalis have been redirected to Istanbul by the Somali aviation, seemingly taking orders from Roble’s camp.
Could all these have been averted? The simple answer is Yes, but not the way so many people debated about the matter so far. It does not pay off to debate on the merits or demerits of the tortured Somali constitution which by now assume the portrait of what a Somali proverb could label it: “la jiifiyaana banaan,” or the constitution is as good as each one’s own interpretation.
Both sides have quoted or misquoted adnouseum sections of the constitution. Unfortunately, in the absence of an independent constitutional court that could have delivered an authoritative guidance of who has what authority, academics’ and political pundits’ own interpretations of the law will only flame the fan of conflict.
Two parallel articles, 90 and 100, speak to the duties of the President and the Prime Minister, respectively. Article 90 (b) says that the President “serves as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces; and (c) he “appoints and dismiss the Commanders of the Forces at the Federal Government Level on the recommendation by the Council of Ministers.”
With equal zeal, Article 100 (a) holds that the Prime Minister is “the Head of the Federal Government.” A pertinent question is whether the head of NISA is part of the “Commanders of the Forces?” Or, as some argued, is the spymaster a mere manager of an agency? Does the President have the authority to override the decisions of the PM on any number of matters? Without delving into the legalese of who has what power, we all have to pain over the facts that (a) the country failed thus far to have a functioning constitutional court, and (b) there are no guidelines to direct and give us an unambiguous interpretations of the overlap, if not similar authorities, delegated to both offices as shown in articles 90 and 100. Some even opined that past practices can serve as law in the absence of clarity in the constitution. And that is often true when law is absent and a long established practice serves as a policy.
But a minor collaborative and cordial action would have saved the nation from the current constitutional crisis. President Farmajo’s acceptance of the initial request and the subsequent firing of Fahad Yasin by the Prime Minister must have been honored. Despite Fahad Yasin being the President’s ally, the prestige of the PM must have been prioritized over the political patronage between Farmajo and Fahad. There is no justification whatsoever to protect an employee of the executive branch from the Prime Minister.
It is the Prime Minister’s prerogative to fire even those appointed by the President as far as they fall within the broader definition of “federal” employees. Since the PM runs the government, he technically employs all that come under this categorization. Of course, he cannot fire an elected lawmaker. But he can hire and fire any other employee falling under the executive branch.
One should not condone the tit for tat that the two high offices are engaged in. That is dangerous. When two elephants fight, goes an African proverb, the grass disappears. Somalis have already suffered in this fight. If no solution is designed soon, they may suffer more.
But just look at how simple it would have been had the President in privately criticized, even chastised, the PM but in public agreed with him on the firing of an employee. Farmajo seems to be beholden more to Fahad than to a fragile constitution supposed to help revive a failed republic.
Issues that the President must have weighed also include the following:
1.He humiliated his former Prime Minister whom he got rid of within 7 minutes. Remember that Hassan Khayr’s community has not taken this lightly.
2.President Farmajo does appear to have not respected the professional scheme of hierarchy or chain-of-command in that he humiliated a higher authority in front of his juniors. If Roble had ignored this move by the President, he would have been a paper Prime Minister with no prestige.
In the end, due to a web of intricate political, social, and geographic factors, Farmajo may end up losing the battle. The very fact that he is a lame duck president whose time has elapsed with no constitutional extension renders his political position weak and paints him an opportunistic political figure. Prime Minister Roble himself may lose some national appeal for he too will come out of this badly bruised. The zero sum game has only losers.
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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