Said Deni: Between Autocratic Tendency And Foreign Backing

A week ago, Said Abdullahi Deni, the president of the Somali region of Puntland, has declared his candidacy to the country’s top seat.

In his announcement speech, Deni said his main objective was to defeat the incumbent, President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo. He also called on all forces opposing the president to support him.

Deni’s autocratic style of management

Mr. Deni, a staunch critic of President Farmajo’s policies, is thought to be ahead of other presidential aspirants in terms of support and funding.

In Puntland state, Mr. Deni is seen by many as a Banana Republic dictator. In fact, his critics point to his handling of dissents in the state since he was elected president in 2019.

Puntland parliament was practically put under the executive wing after its speaker, Abdihakim Mohamed Dhoba-dared, was removed from office due to his insistence on legislative independence.

Mr. Deni also jailed journalists who questioned the regional state management.

Last December, President Deni attacked the Puntland Security Forces (PSF) and their commander in Bosaso port city. Tens of people were killed and others injured while thousands fled the city.

However, Mr. Deni is arguably credited with developmental projects in Garowe, Puntland capital city, where several main roads were repaired with local funding.

While he undertook financial reforms and raised the salaries of civil servants and the key sector, high inflation, the devaluation of the Somali shilling, corruption and mismanagement clouded his legacy.

Farmajo, on the other hand, is credited with financial and security reforms. Somalia’s picture in the international stage is believed to have improved under his presidency since 2017.

However, critics blame him for sidelining those who have shaped Somali politics so far and undermining the federal system as enshrined in the draft constitution. And this is where the two leaders from the same clan differ.

Deni as a conduit for foreign interests in Somalia

Mr. Deni is a close ally of Kenya and United Arab Emirates. The two countries have been at loggerhead with President Farmajo and are working with the opposition to his administration.

Currently, both countries have low level diplomatic relations with Somalia.

In 2018, Farmajo’s administration shut down the Emirates training mission in Somalia and seized $10 million in cash from an Emirati private jet at Mogadishu airport.

All of these actions were in response to UAE interference in the local power struggle between the president and the previous speaker of parliament.

In addition, Somalia, under Farmajo, refused to settle their maritime border dispute out of court despite tremendous pressure from Kenya and allied countries.

His stubbornness resulted in the case being decided largely in favor of Somalia as he drew the ire of powerful countries friendly to Kenya. But the Kenyan government rejected the ruling in ‘totality’.

Those are some reasons the UAE and Kenya are believed to be backing Said Deni in the coming presidential elections to unseat Farmajo.

Kenya is willing to reopen maritime case with Deni’s administration while the UAE is eager to invest in more ports in the country and reduce Qatar’s influence in Somalia.

Therefore, Deni is seen to be representing Kenyan and UAE interests in Somalia.

Farmajo, a strong ally of Qatar, is thought to be enjoying funding from Qatar while having big numbers in the ongoing parliamentary elections, mainly from Southwest, Galmudug and Hirshabelle states.

Mr. Deni, on the other hand, controls majority of MPs from Puntland and Jubaland states. He is also being funded by UAE and Kenya by extension.

The election looks therefore very tight at this time around. The clan-based indirect election is corruption-prone and so unpredictable that someone unpopular like Deni could be the next president.

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