ANALYSIS René Brosius 22 January 2021
On 9 January 2021, Somalia’s Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble surprised everyone by announcing that the planned elections would only be held in certain parts of the country. According to Article 1 (1) of Somalia’s provisional constitution, the country is “a federal, sovereign, and democratic republic founded on inclusive representation of the people, a multiparty system and social justice “. However, shortly before the end of President Mohhamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s (“Farmajo”) term on 8 February 2021, the constitutional text and political reality could hardly be further apart. Somalia’s democratisation process has come to a full stop for the moment. This is not only due to the complicated social structure and history of the country, but increasingly also to autocratic tendencies of the government.
Legislature and Securing Power of the Executive
According to Art. 60 para. 1 of the Constitution, the electoral period of the Federal Parliament ends four years after the announcement of the election results. According to this, the current electoral period expired in December 2020. At this point, there was hardly anything left of the hope for democratic elections. It was not until February 2020, and only due to massive political and international pressure, that an electoral law was passed at all. By early summer 2020, it was already becoming apparent that an election in the constitutionally prescribed time, including voter registration and the division of constituencies, was no longer achievable. From the government’s point of view, this was an important milestone in securing power, as it opened the way to the more influenceable traditional electoral process. After long negotiations, the political actors agreed on 17 September 2020 in Dusamareb, the capital of Galmudug state, to organise the election again using the traditional system via clan representatives. An independent electoral commission was to oversee the selection of the tribal representatives. The mistrust was too great, the political climate was already too poisoned at this point to leave any detail of the election process to the government alone. It soon became apparent that the concerns about further manipulation were justified. To this day, there is no agreement on the implementation of the agreements. The most serious situations, however, are in the Gedo region, right on the border with Kenya, and now also in the Hiran region in Hir Shabelle state. The federal government has relocated well-trained troops there, thus introducing a forced military administration. Again, the government is accused of doing this solely with a view to fixing the MPs in these regions. Together with the Benadir region (urban area of Mogadishu, where about 20 percent of the total population lives), which is still unclear in its status, the forcibly administered Gedo region, the electoral commission for Somaliland as well as through the representatives of Hir Shabelle, South-West State as well as Galmudug, who are compliant through prior influence, the government controls, respectively manipulates, almost 70 percent of the possible members of the federal parliament. Unsurprisingly, the announced partial elections were to be held precisely in these regions. The government thus pulled the bag shut and unilaterally terminated the negotiations with all other parties.
In doing so, it deliberately took the risk that the fledgling statehood in Somalia would collapse because of this election. The hope for a democratic election has turned into an attempt to impose an authoritarian and corrupt selection process for future MPs. This is not only damaging the reputation of the incumbent president, but is already damaging the legitimacy of any possible successor. Democratisation, the constitution and thus the hope for a developing statehood in Somalia are the big losers of this development.
Opposition and Counterdemonstration
The Council of Presidential Candidates, various clan groupings and the governments of Puntland and Jubbaland have already announced that they will not accept such an electoral process. The country is polarised and deeply divided. If no agreement is reached by the end of the president’s term, the anti-government groups will appoint their own caretaker president. Somalia is heading at top speed towards a showdown. A conflict that ultimately threatens to turn into a logic of violence due to the inability to reach a political compromise. In a press statement on 12 January 2021, the international community defended the Dusamareb outcome in unusually strong terms. “There can be no re-opening of the 17 September Agreement or the creation of an alternative or parallel process”. So far, however, this announcement does not seem to have reached the government. It continues to announce via social media that “elections” are being prepared. She repeatedly emphasises that 30 per cent of the next parliament will be women. This kind of certainty of results speaks for itself. There is little time left before 8 February to reach an agreement. It will take a lot of effort to get Somalia out of the confrontational impasse. Should this not succeed, Somalia is heading for troubled times. For all political trickery achieves only two things. Confidence in democratic procedures is destroyed and social rifts deepen.
René Brosius is a doctoral candidate at the Chair of African Legal Studies at the University of Bayreuth. He is primarily dealing with issues of law and economics in Somalia.