Puntland in crisis: Power struggle triggers deadly violence

Garowe (Caasimada Online) – In the semi-autonomous region of Somalia’s Puntland, a struggle for power fueled violent clashes outside parliament on Tuesday. 

According to local law enforcement and eye-witness reports, the fighting between local security forces and opposition-affiliated armed militia resulted in at least 26 deaths.

Background and context

To fully understand the conflict, it’s important to delve into the region’s political history. Puntland, an oil-rich northeastern region of Somalia, declared autonomy in 1998.

The relationship between this semi-autonomous state and Somalia’s central government in Mogadishu has been strained for years.

Direct elections were held in Puntland in May, marking the first in over half a century for Somalia, barring the breakaway region of Somaliland. However, these were marred by accusations from opposition politicians.

They alleged that Puntland’s president, Said Abdullahi Deni, manipulated the election procedure and sought to amend the constitution to prolong his mandate, which is set to end in January next year.

Constitutional conflict erupts in violence

The conflict erupted during a parliamentary session debating changes to the regional constitution.

Opposition forces claimed this move was a veiled attempt by President Deni to extend his term in office.

Following the announcement of a one-man-one-vote election system with multiple political parties, the tension quickly escalated into a violent confrontation.

“Gunmen loyal to the opposition attempted to disrupt the parliamentary session, resulting in a fierce clash with security forces,” Abdiweli Hassan, a police officer in Garowe, the state capital, told Reuters.

He continued, “They were repelled. The city is now tranquil, although no one will be permitted to flout the law.”

Witnesses speak out

Eye-witness Mohamednur Ali reported the intensity of the fighting, recalling both sides using heavy machine guns and observing around six fatalities and numerous injuries.

Nimo Adan, who found herself amid the crossfire, reported seeing several casualties. Similarly, Seinab Omar, a mother of three, witnessed at least two civilian deaths and seven individuals with gunshot injuries.

Adding to the civilian narrative, local elder Farah Osman explained the tense situation: “Garowe is overrun with opposition forces. All routes are shut, and all businesses are closed. A very fierce battle is underway.”

Fatalities and future course

At least 26 individuals died in the turmoil, with 16 identified as soldiers. The wounded count stood at 30, per Dr. Abdirsak Ahmed from Garowe Public Hospital, the destination for several victims.

On its Facebook page, the Puntland government announced that the regional parliament had voted to consider amendments to the constitution, with more debates and voting sessions planned.

Looking towards the future, Somalia’s central government and four federal member states, excluding Puntland, announced in May a new one-person-one-vote system for local elections in June next year.

This system would replace the complex clan-based indirect voting system, which has dominated the political landscape of the Horn of Africa nation, steeped in decades of chaos.

Whether these initiatives lead to a more peaceful and democratic future or further tension and conflict, only time will tell.