Somali President Entangled in his Secret Deals with Deni

President Hassan Sheikh Mahamood has been in the Somali regional state of Puntland for three days where he is trying to resolve a bitter dispute between him and the President of Puntland, Said Abdullahi Deni.

Already, as soon as he arrived at the airport in Garowe, the capital of Puntland, Deni greeted him coldly and treated him unbecomingly, isolating him from everyone, including the team that accompanied him.

The president’s visit comes days after Deni blocked a visit by Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre. Mahamood reportedly sent the prime minister after hearing about Deni’s grievances.

Said Deni is angry with Hassan Sheikh Mahamood, not only for breaking the secret power-sharing agreements reached before Mahamood’s election as President of Somalia, but also for the uncivil way in which Mahamood behaved towards him afterwards.

Now he has lured him into his lair a diminished president seeking support from regional states, particularly Puntland, as he prepares to attend the UN heads of state meeting in New York.

After three days of private conversation and tough negotiations between the two leaders on the future of their relations, no press release was issued, and resulted in President Mahamood returning empty-handed to Mogadishu.

Ganging to usurp power

Both Deni and Mahamood were running for president of Somalia before May 15 and made deals to combine their money, backers and schemes to defeat former president Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo.

Farmaajo was immensely popular among the Somali people for his patriotism and substantial development he initiated in a country plagued by mismanagement, corruption and instability.

The turn taken by Somalia under Farmaajo did not please the foreign diplomats who ruled the country by proxy but also the old guard who had taken advantage of the chaos of the country to enrich themselves.

As president of a large regional state, Deni has posed obstacles to all attempts to have for the first time in Somalia since 1969 a direct election that would give the people a choice in electing their leaders for the simple reason that Farmaajo would be re-elected.

Western diplomats in Mogadishu and the current president, Farmaajo’s bitter opponent, backed Deni in his refusal of a free election and forced Farmaajo to negotiate a form of indirect elections that would give regional states the task of selecting a limited number of clan-based electors.

The deadlock created by Deni and his Jubaland counterpart, whose endorsement was needed to have a “transparent election acceptable to all parties”, as proposed by the international community, dragged out the elections for a year and a half.

The latter is represented by the ambassadors of the USA, the United Kingdom, the European Union and above all by the omnipresent Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, whose interference has complicated the dialogue between Somali actors.

Under threat of US sanctions and other undue diplomatic pressure, Farmaajo eventually handed over the management of the elections to Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble. The latter would endorse the many demands of the opposition, whose main actors were precisely Mahamood and Deni.

No honor between thieves

During the presidential election illegally moved to the “green zone” of Mogadishu where the “international community” resides, Hassan Sheikh Mahamood was “elected” under opaque conditions in which Deni played a major role.

Indeed, Deni had not only asked the parliamentarians of his clan whom he had carefully selected before to vote for Mahamood but had also paid millions in bribes so that Farmaajo be eliminated.

The agreement between Deni and Mahamood was that whoever succeeded in being elected president would appoint the other prime minister. However, once president, Mahamood made it clear to Deni that he could not work with him as prime minister.

Then, Deni’s proposal to Mahamood to appoint at least one of his friends from the same clan to this position was also rejected. The very idea that Deni would have a say in the appointment of ministers from Puntland was also bluntly brushed aside.

After taking part in the festivities commemorating the independence of Somalia alongside the new president, Deni, disappointed and empty-handed, returned to his region of Puntland, from which he had emptied the coffers to be elected president of Somalia.

It was in Garowe that Deni learned that Mahamood had appointed Hamza Abdi Barre as Prime Minister. Barre, Mahamood’s long-time friend, also belongs to the same political-religious movement.

Later, President Mahamood and the Prime Minister were careful to select individuals from Puntland who were hostile to Said Deni as ministers. Chief among them was Foreign Minister Abshir Umar Huruse.

In reality, Mahamood distrusts Deni, whose wickedness he knows. Wasn’t he the one who stabbed him in the back last year after the Union of Presidential Candidates succeeded in forcing Farmaajo out of his seat on the National Consultative Council which was responsible for the elections?

Waiting for the president at the turn

Deni knew Mahamood could not afford to upset Puntland, especially now that he has less support in all parts of Somalia. The president, whose leitmotif is “Somalia at peace with itself and at peace with the world”, has the clumsiness of making enemies in his country and at the borders.

In addition, Deni has multiplied actions that undermine the authority of the federal government. He has resumed dealing directly with Ethiopia on the economic and security fronts. It has reduced cooperation with the federal government on service delivery to drought-affected people in particular. Finally, Mogadishu officials are prohibited from landing in Puntland without Deni’s prior permission.

He wants Hassan Sheikh Mahamood to repay him the staggering $129 million he allegedly spent on the federal election campaign. He also wants shares in several juicy trade deals like Khat and licenses provided to foreign vessels that exploit Somalia’s marine resources.

At the political level Deni wants President Mahamood to disassociate himself from the American attempt to reinforce the Puntland Security forces (PSF) and the Diyano brothers who command them. Above all, he insists on having his friends in key positions in the federal government and in Somali embassies.

At the political level Deni wants President Mahamood to disassociate himself from the American attempt to reinforce the Puntland Security forces (PSF) and the Diyano brothers who command them. Above all, he insists on having his friends in key positions in the federal government and in the chancelleries.

This time around, it is Hassan Sheikh Mahamood’s turn to go home with his tail between his legs. The question that many are asking, however, is whether this time he will keep his promises and follow through on the demands of a vengeful and resolute Deni.

Either way, the two accomplices’ illicit negotiations on sharing Somalia wealth expose the depth of corruption and a throwback to a time when the country’s interests were relegated to the background.

Even a meeting scheduled for the next few days in Garowe to mend the rifts between the regions and the federal government would be hard-pressed to shake off the perception that Mahamood’s tenure would only exacerbate Somalia’s uncertain future.