Somalia is largely an oral society where word of mouth spreads like fire. This week, the rumour has been whether President Mohamed Farmaajo’s term will be extended or whether the vocal opposition groups will see through their threat of running parallel elections.
Both options have supporters and opponents, but the donor community, which is expected to fund the electoral programmes, has asked for consensus.
In a joint statement on Tuesday, the donors said Somalia’s political leaders must choose national interest over personal ambitions and resolve the impasse.
“We urge Somalia’s top political stakeholders to demonstrate leadership in the interest of the nation and to quickly resolve outstanding issues of implementation through dialogue and compromise, so that a credible electoral process can proceed as soon as possible,” the donors, including the UN, European Union, the US, UK and other major Western powers, said.
Ethiopia and Egypt are the only African countries that endorsed the call, although it was also signed by the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom).
The impasse arose mainly from the listing of polling officials meant to conduct the elections. Opposition groups argued the teams were composed of spy agents and civil servants loyal to Farmaajo, and argued the polls would be unfair.
That impasse has meant that deadlines chosen by Somalis themselves have been missed including the latest plan to hold parliamentary elections this month. Last week, opposition groups rejected the proposal to hold partial elections in States where the electoral teams have not attracted controversy.
Omar Abdikadir Ahmed aka Omar Fiqi, an Independent Presidential candidate, says the proposal for partial elections cannot be accepted because there is no assurance they will be fair.
“Partial elections will not happen and even if they do, they cannot be recognised,” he told The EastAfrican this week. The government had identified Hirshabelle, South West and Galmudug as areas it could hold elections as it prepares a final solution for Puntland and Jubaland, whose leaders have voiced concerns on the nature of the elections.
But Abdikadir argued the conduct of the government in those states has previously raised suspicions.
In South West’s state presidential elections in 2018, an opponent, Sheikh Mukhtar Rubow who abandoned al-Shabaab for mainstream politics, was detained and prevented from running elections. His supporters protesting the arrest were crashed by Ethiopian forces serving in Amisom, according to a report by the UN Panel of Experts on Somalia. Abdiaziz Hassan Mohamed Laftagreen was elected while his opponent languished in detention.
In February last year, Galmudug elected Ahmed Kiarie Qoorqoor as new state President, but it left behind claims of rigging with the moderate Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a militia group forcibly deposed and its leaders forced into exile. The vote though was endorsed by Somalia’s donors. There were also similar claims of rigging in Hirshabelle where Ali Abdullahi Hussein Gudlawe won.
“All those regional elections were crazy. The President has worked hard to remove competence from the system and replace it with loyalists. He has lost control gradually and will now lose legitimacy,” Abdikadir said.
In Jubaland, the federal government initially refused to recognise the re-election of Ahmed Madobe before making a U-turn last year to consider him an ‘interim president.’
The UN and donors argue all political stakeholders must abide by the 17 September Agreement signed in Dhusamareb in Galmudug by the Federal Government, all Federal Member States and both houses of Parliament, and was also welcomed by many Presidential aspirants.
“Notwithstanding the disappointment of the partners and many Somalis that this model falls far short of ‘one-person, one-vote’ elections, the 17 September Agreement remains the sole acceptable basis for the 2021 elections,” the donor said.
“There can be no re-opening of the 17 September Agreement or the creation of an alternative or parallel process. Broadly inclusive understandings on its implementation are needed to ensure the credibility of this process.”
Somalis generally are wary of uncertainty, and the threats of parallel elections or rejection of the outcome haven’t helped.
Osman Abdullahi Gure, the Secretary of a lobby for the Somali Poem and Play writers, locally known as Golaha Abwaaniinta Soomaaliyeed, issued a declaration on Tuesday, pledging to caricature those who choose underhand methods to get power.
“We warn those who want to retain the seats and those who want to grab them by all means to refrain from activities harmful to the nation,” said Gure. “If undesirable acts ever occur, we will be composing poems and plays with long lasting effect.”
In Somalia, the term Isimada refers to traditional clan leaders in the Puntland State. They rarely comment on public issues but when they do, it has an impact.
On Monday, January 11, a group of clan elders led by Boqor Burhan Boqor Muse gathered to reflect on the electoral chaos, and expressed their desire to have the elections done as soon as possible.
“We urge the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS), the Federal Members States (FMS) and the presidential candidates to show care for the Somali people,” remarked Boqor Burhan, asserting that the Horn of Africa country’s population have had enough repercussions from years of conflicts.
The elder said that he had travelled to Mogadishu, meeting Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo.
“He (President Farmaajo) promised me that a trustworthy election will be held,” said Boqor Burhan, adding that he also met President Deni and Jubaland’s President Ahmed Mohamed Islam Madobe, receiving similar assurances.
Will politicians heed their call?
On Saturday, Somalia’s Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, flanked by Laftagareen, Ali Gudlawe and Qoorqoor and Mogadishu’s mayor Omar Filish, said he was ready to welcome all the stakeholders who wanted to discuss the election of parliamentarians, senators and the presidential one.
“I have repeatedly stated that my doors are open for anyone who has concerns, and that I am always willing to consider the divergent views relating to the implementation of the electoral agreement and the processes that were agreed upon,” Roble remarked.
But he said elections would begin with or without input from the vocal group of opposition leaders known as the Union of Presidential Candidates.
“The Federal Government has decided to commence the implementation of the election to avoid further delays that may jeopardise the accomplishment of the electoral agreements that was reached on September 17, 2020.”
Roble’s decision to start implementation of the election created uproar within the opposition camp.
Ex-President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud held a press conference in Mogadishu, warning the government against a partial election. “Such a move could jeopardise the country’s unity and stability,” said Mohamoud.
“Rumours that the presidential candidates are against the holding of timely elections to buy time and push the election till 8 February is not correct. Contrarily, it is the government that has failed to implement the September 2020 election agreement.