Is PM Roble Appeasing The Beast?

President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo’s speech at the extraordinary session of the Parliament on May 1 was generally well received by the population, but with a great deal of sadness as it appears that some leaders are appeasing the opposition that turned the country upside down lately.

President Farmajo called on Parliament to annul the law on the direct election of parliamentarians and the president passed on April 12 and which he signed on the 13, and return to the agreements on the indirect election of September 17, 2020. At the same time, he transferred the conduct of the elections and the direction of national security to his prime minister.

The president had no choice but to go with the flow as his most trusted backers, regional leaders Ahmed Karie Qoorqoor, from Galmudug, and Ali Hussein Gudlawe, from Hirshabelle, and his own Prime Minister Mohamed Roble, slipped away from him setting off a chain reaction.

They imputed their about-face on violence unleashed by the opposition’s militias emboldened by the pressure from Western countries.

The President’s declaration can be called an honorable defeat in the face of the onslaught of a foreign supported and well-funded opposition who is waging a war whose only aim is to make him feel guilty of the violence they unleashed and push him to resign and renounce his candidacy.

A glimpse of the Opposition

Opposition to the Farmajo administration has become increasingly intransigent and even radicalized in recent months.

It started with Puntland and Jubaland leaders with whom the president had thought to have had an agreement on the elections on September 17 but who stalled the elections until February 7th, date his term ended. They put forward additional concerns not raised during the negotiation on the September 17 agreement ratified by the Parliament.

The leaders of Puntland and Jubaland were joined by the Union of Presidential Candidates (UPC), based in the national capital, which brings together former presidents, prime minister, ministers and current members of the parliament.

Together, they formed the National Salvation Forum (NSF), choosing as a leader the Upper House speaker, himself dissatisfied with his region of origin, Somaliland, representation in the September 17 agreements.

Most members of the UPC have either been voted out or removed from their former positions in the current government for embezzlement, or just unhappy with the growing influence of the federal government in a country divided for too long.

These individuals, who all hope to occupy the post of president in these long-awaited elections have not always been on good terms with each other, but have found a common goal, which is to remove the current president from power and prevent him at all costs from running again in the next election.

Their affiliation to the Hawiye clan, predominant in the capital region’s political and economic life, has also facilitated their coalition, helped them build a support base and made possible their unhindered movement in and around the city. However, most of the Hawiye also hold key positions in the federal administration (i.e. prime minister, army chief of staff, head of the Capital police) and are at the forefront of Somalia’s reconstruction.

The odds of the opposition

UPC members know that they have no chance of winning the presidency against President Farmajo who still remains the favorite of Somalis, all clans combined, because he is credited for the steady reconstruction of the country and the security forces, the stability of his government of technocrats, his incorruptible character, the return of state sovereignty in many areas, his respect for state standards and his unwavering patriotism.

In contrast, former presidents Sharif Ahmed and Hassan Mahamoud, prominent members of the UPC, were the most unpopular presidents and each lost their posts after their first terms. The land grabbing and the diversion of international aid have undermined the confidence of a population left to the carnage of the terrorist group of Al-Shabab. Too busy getting rich, they handed Somalia over to international organizations and foreign predatory companies.

With these resumes, they have no chance of being elected in an electoral system where the people have a say. For this reason, when the UPC was formed in November 2020, they were downplayed as being a coalition of mismatched contenders who have no chance of ever posing a serious dent to President Farmajo popularity.

But recent events have shown us that they could also be an existential threat to the nation.

The absurdity of the opposition claims

The UPC members have several assets at their disposal. Their representation in the Capital clans make-up, assistance from foreign and local stakeholders, unlimited dirty money which the government is doing its best to limit the entry into the country.

One of the most effective tactics used by the UPC is the constant reminder of a civil war that left thousands of dead, wounded and orphans, and displaced millions of Somalis, destroying all the country’s institutions and infrastructure, and made Somalia a failed state incapable of managing itself.

Reopening the old wounds, of which clan hatred is central, is another means they shamelessly use by calling on their clan to take up arms and national security forces to rebel against the one they call “dictator” who “clings to power by force” or “the foreigner” who is not grateful for their hospitality.

These inflammatory and absurd epithets and statement are uttered against the only Somali president who was born, raised and educated in Mogadishu and was elected by an absolute majority of MPs in 2017.

Is an opposition win possible?

They were thought to be bluffing when they pledged an all-out war against the government after the law on universal suffrage was passed by parliament on April 12.

They reorganized their personal militias, bought weapons and even managed to lure policemen and soldiers hailing from their own clan, including the police chief of Benadir, to join their ranks and did not hesitate to fire on civilians and security forces, demonstrating that they can be seriously deadly.

The UPC and the unruly forces that support them are very much in the minority in the capital, and non-existent in the rest of the country, except perhaps the leaders of Puntland, Jubaland and Somaliland, however their recent activities have strongly shaken the country forcing the government to back down and accept many of their demands.

The UPC, Puntland and Jubaland do not hide the financial, political, diplomatic and media support they obtain from countries openly hostile to the sovereigntist policy of the current government, in particular the United Arab Emirates and Kenya, which has no diplomatic relations with Somalia since last year.

They also have ironically the strong support from the international representatives, entrenched in the green zone of Mogadishu and who call themselves “the friends of Somalia”. Recent tweets from Norway and United Kingdom ambassadors in Somalia, and their public diplomacy campaigns outside Somalia show that they are putting a lot of effort into preparing for a transition without Farmajo.

The opposition as well as foreign players quickly welcomed the latest development. The retreat of the government is a delight for them and they’re already preparing the next step of taking over the whole electoral process little by little. Thus, giving a winning chance to anyone other than the incumbent.

Opposition: Heads must roll

Despite a lack of legal legitimacy, the power of the UCP was demonstrated by its campaign to denigrate and delegitimize institutions such as the parliament and the presidency and by successfully forcing the president to transfer his powers to Prime Minister Roble who is much more responsive to their demands.

Armed with this victory, the UPC members does not intend to stop there. They already proclaimed loud and clear that they will not accept any election unless the Parliament is dissolved, the President resigns and heads roll. This opposition wants government officials close to the president to be removed from their posts.

On their hit list, there are ministers such as Osman Dubbe whose public addresses terrorize the opposition, Gamal Hassan, Saeed Deni’s public enemy no. 1, Khadijo Diriye, Farmajo’s Peace & Life Party flag bearer, Hassan Hundubey, the inflexible minister of the National Security.

There are also after all the heads of the security system like the National Intelligence DG, Fahad Yasin, the chief of the Somali National Army, General Odowa Rageh, and the National Police Commissioner, General Abdi Hassan Hijar.

Risk of cowing to more opposition demands

Additionally, Puntland and Jubaland leaders want elections to be managed by the “international community”, i.e. foreign entities whose position on sidelining current incumbent is wide and clear.

Will the Prime Minister continue to appease the beast that is the opposition and lay victims to them in his sincere search for compromise and the organization of peaceful and acceptable elections for the UPC, Puntland and Jubaland?

Following the latest events, it is very unlikely that he will resist all of their demands. Indeed, Mr. Roble has increased meetings with the opposition, offered dinners, invited all the discontented to a dialogue and even begged the UPC to withdraw their armed militias and spare the population.

In short, we have seen a lot of honorable actions on the part of the Prime Minister but no firmness in the face of the atrocities of the opponents and their increasingly absurd demands.

If this political crisis continues, other disgruntled parties including clans or parliamentarians who are also armed may be tempted to take matter in their own hands and risk inflaming an already explosive situation. An eventuality that Al-Shabab terror network is counting on.

The position of citizens

Turning around under the threat of violence is a stinging setback that is devastating not only for a population tired of this election crisis, but also for the legitimate political parties which had applauded the promises of the now defunct April 12 law.

The one-person-one-vote announcement excited many enthusiasts because it paved the way for the first time to direct election and national representativeness. This decision, well received by the population, however had the opposite effect on the UPC and their foreign supporters who carried out all-out attacks.

Ordinary citizens, whose only concern is the end of this political crisis over the elections and the establishment of a rule of law system, are now forced to accept the unacceptable, that is to return to an indirect electoral law that is prone to corruption and rigging, and of which they have no say about who is going to lead this nation.

The majority of the population rejects the current state of affairs including the interference of foreign countries, the violence and bullying of the opposition, the lack of initiative of the parliament and even the hesitancy of the Prime Minister to disarm the militias and bring to justice those responsible for the recent violence.

AbdiQani Badar

AbdiQani Badar is a historian, political commentator and avid writer. He has written extensively on Somali issues and historical events.