By Dr. Abdinasir Abdille Mohamed
Somalia was scheduled to hold presidential elections on February 8th. It was the second deadline missed, after the Federal Parliament’s constitutionally mandated term ended on December 27, 2020. On February 5th, the latest round of election discussions between leaders of the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) and Federal Member States (FMS) in Galmudug state capital Dhusamareb ended without an election timetable. The term of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, alias “Farmajo”, ended on February 7th. According to the September 17 Agreement – endorsed by federal and state leaders, and supported by international partners – the Federal Parliament, President, Prime Minister and Cabinet, would remain in office in a “caretaker” role until the national elections are finalized.
On February 7th, our public statement recognized Mr. Farmajo as “caretaker President” until the elections are held. This policy aimed to preserve constitutional rule, continuity of government and to prevent power vacuum. Not all political groups agreed with our view, however. Puntland state government and many among the opposition presidential candidates issued separate media statements, declaring they would “not recognize” Mr. Farmajo as “President” after February 7th. The next day, the international community called on, “Somalia’s political leaders to resume their dialogue urgently”, and warned against “alternative outcomes…a parallel process or partial elections, or any other actions that lack broad agreement”. Unfortunately, political tensions worsened when government forces raided a hotel on February 19th, where two former Somali presidents and one ex-parliament speaker (who are 2021 presidential candidates) were staying, and opened fire on Mogadishu protestors demanding elections. This violent action demonstrated the government’s willingness to use force to remain in power.
Somalia’s Electoral Dispute
Puntland and Jubaland state leaders, and 2021 presidential candidates, have accused national leaders of undermining federalism, attempting to strong-arm the electoral process, and disregarding national consensus to build broad‑based support. The government’s unilateral actions have created an atmosphere of distrust, leading to the current political deadlock. For example, on January 10th, Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble announced in Mogadishu that Somali government would commence holding the national elections. With Puntland and Jubaland states absent from the election consultations, it was clear the federal government was willing to conduct “partial elections” in Somalia.
Despite a history of conflict, Somalia has made significant progress over the past decade. National institutions were strengthened, territory secured from violent extremist groups, and National Security Forces rebuilt. These gains have ensured that national authorities became capable of extending governmental authority to liberated areas, facilitating humanitarian aid, and improving service delivery. Successive governments have also achieved progress in debt-relief processes and economic recovery, and worked to restore the country’s tarnished international reputation. Many were expressly concerned when the U.S. military abruptly withdrew 700 personnel providing training and support to Somali forces, potentially creating security vulnerabilities in the fight against terrorism on the ground.
Similarly, for the past 20 years, national elections were held on a constitutionally agreed framework and timeline, ensuring that every incumbent government complied with these terms: elections were held on a timely basis, followed by a peaceful transition of power. This framework has created a stable political environment and paved the way for five peaceful elections between 2000 and 2017, where new parliaments came to power and new presidents were elected. This process forms a crucial element to the completion of Somalia’s peacebuilding and statebuilding process. The country’s democratic foundations continue to face consequential challenges, however, including an incomplete Provisional Federal Constitution, a contradictory federalization process, volatile relations between Mogadishu and the federal states, and unsettled electoral disputes.
Challenges and Threats During the Election
The challenges are largely caused by an overall lack of vision that can determine the way forward for Somalia, as institutions and leaders with rival visions and styles continue to vie for power. Amidst this crippling political cycle, personal ambitions and unchecked power at the federal and state levels of government continue to prevail over respect for the supremacy of the rule of law, constitutional governance, and democratic norms. The Somali people’s aspirations for peace, development, and democracy are marginalized, while their voices of caution and dissent are silenced. This reinforces the destructive cycles of political disputes and violent insurgencies rooted in the vague constitution and unaddressed social animosities, combined with the crippling legacy of conflict and injustice, economic underperformance, weak governmental capacities, and lack of basic infrastructure.
Tackling these enormous challenges and threats will require the next Government of Somalia to engender a new vision that leads the country toward a new future of peace by strengthening social and political cohesion, improving security and access to justice, and focusing on education, jobs, infrastructure, institutional capacity, and economic revival. The incoming Government must build and maintain public confidence and command the respect and trust of all major stakeholders, including the Federal Member States, political associations, traditional elders, civil society, and international partners.
Somalia’s geographic location in a turbulent global region puts the fragile state in the proximity of a number of regional conflicts, from Ethiopia’s outbreak of armed insurrection in Tigray region, military tensions at the Ethiopian–Sudanese border, and the conflict in Yemen. The political dispute among Arab Gulf States has adversely affected Somali political landscape since 2017, while the diplomatic row between Somalia and Kenya threatens to unravel broader regional stability. Restoring Somalia’s constructive role in promoting regional stability and global governance will be vital in the coming years.
Climate change-induced natural disasters, including recurrent droughts and locusts, have destroyed precious farmlands and worsened food insecurity, while the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to overwhelm the nation’s basic health infrastructure. While the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has assisted the federal government in restoring law and order in Mogadishu and other major urban centers, insurgent groups have maintained partial control over rural and coastal areas, where they routinely commit attacks along supply routes and major cities through terrorism, guerrilla tactics, and other forms of asymmetric warfare.
Somalia’s incoming federal government must commit to defending democratic governance, strengthening security and justice, contributing to regional stability, and taking on global responsibility. The next Government must act in collaboration with international partners. Somalia can offer development and investment opportunities by strengthening national legislation to protect foreign investment, expand its labor force, build the ‘blue economy’, and advocate for policies that focus on poverty reduction, jobs, education, healthcare, and climate action. Empowering scientific research and technological innovation will prepare the country for challenges of the 21st century.
Somalia must adopt a holistic approach to governance and commit to building bridges with regional and global stakeholders, fostering partnerships founded on mutual respect and benefit, and play a constructive role as peace-builder and responsible global citizen. That is the only way the country can get back on its feet as a respected member of the global community and enact policy reforms – domestic, regional, and global – which can propel its sustainable development goals.
Somalia must hold credible national elections in the coming weeks, while ensuring broad-based support from the Federal Member States, presidential candidates, political associations, and civil society. Above all, Somalia must preserve peace and strengthen social cohesion. Democracy is fragile, and in a turbulent region such as the Horn of Africa, Somalia remains at the forefront of promoting the shared global values of peace, democratic governance, and justice.
Dr. Abdinasir Abdille Mohamed (@AbdinasirAM) is a medical professional, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and founder and leader of Gurmad (“Rescue”) Party. He was a presidential candidate in Somalia’s 2017 national election, and is currently a 2021 Somali presidential candidate.