Somalia’s Descent into Abyss: Examining Farmaajo’s Role

The ongoing violent confrontation in Somalia’s capital city, Mogadishu, is a result of 4-year systematic failures and miscalculations of the incumbent President Mohamed Abdullahi ‘Farmaajo’. The failure to hold democratic elections and the decision by the Lower House of Parliament to extend both the presidential and parliamentary terms by two more years are proximate factors of the current crisis. While there are many actors to any complex conflict such as the one in Somalia, the dominant and pervasive role of the incumbent president in contributing to the current chaos by design or by accident, cannot be ignored. In transitioning countries, the presidency is an institution that mediates differences between actors and guides the transition. Tough circumstances notwithstanding, Farmaajo has clearly fallen short in both.

A Promising Mandate

Farmaajo came to power through the 2016 elections with four clear-cut tasks outlining his four-year mandate: preparing the country for elections based on universal suffrage to reduce clannism in politics and usher in democratic consolidation; completion of the country’s constitution to among other things streamline and strengthen federalism; facilitate the stable transition in the security sector to allow the exit of AMISOM; and plan for economic recovery. Farmaajo’s government had every chance of succeeding on these tasks building on successes of the previous two administrations in the fight against Islamist insurgency; a democratic tradition of regular elections and peaceful transfer of power; an influx of foreign capital and development assistance; and security sector reform programs to promote Somalia’s efforts towards stabilization.

Poisoned Chalice

However, it is apparent that Farmaajo came to power haunted by the “one-term presidency” of the previous three administrations and immediately began to engineer his survival beyond his first term. He first appointed his campaign manager, Fahad Yassin, the Chief of Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA), who he incrementally made his political ‘hitman’. Incidentally in 2016, Donald Trump was elected president in the United States, who beyond prioritizing Africa less in his foreign policy, aggressively pushed for the withdrawal of American troops from theatres across the world including Somalia.  In 2017, the Gulf Crisis hit the Red Sea region with UAE and Saudi Arabia halting their military training and military financial support to Somalia due to the rivalry with the Qatar-Turkey alliance which had demonstrably more influence in Mogadishu. Consequently, critics argue, Farmaajo saw an opportunity to weaponize NISA and politicize the security sector, which was increasingly facing capacity-building challenges as UAE, Saudi Arabia, and USA took the back-seats.

Attempt at Power Consolidation

Unable to provide security and deliver on his promises, the president turned toward internal power consolidation. Factions against his perceived authoritarianism were quickly isolated in parliament in what ended in a ‘parliamentary coup’ with the resignation of House Speaker Mohamed Osman Jawari in April 2018 following a series of no-confidence motions against him from the pro-government faction in parliament. Recentralization policy of the president gained momentum as he sought to weaken the federal system, thereby severely straining relations between the federal government and two federal member states of Puntland and Jubaland which are opposed to this move. Thus, the perception of increased political interference undermined institutional independence of parliament as well as other institutions and completion of the constitution which in part provoked aggressive opposition against Farmaajo’s presidency.  Further, externalization of Somalia’s internal problems became a convenient strategy for his internal political mobilization.

Insurgency Opportunity

The apparent political and security dysfunction legitimized and energized Islamist insurgency. Al Shabab mounted fresh and stronger insurgency and increased terrorist attacks in Somalia further weakening the country’s prospects for stability. The group through its intelligence wing Amniyat, increasingly infiltrated the government and focused on high-value targets within the government, thus making it untenable for elections to happen and AMISOM to exit as scheduled.

Bungled Elections

The 2020 one-man one-vote elections which would have been Somalia’s first since 1969, did not solely fail on the account of prevailing insecurity across the country, but also on the account of lack of preparedness and capacity to hold elections. Farmaajo’s administration characteristically failed to prepare the country for elections and support the electoral bodies’ capacity to deliver the country’s elections, the hallmark to democratic consolidation in Somalia. In fact, a ‘cabinet coup’ marked by the impeachment of then Prime Minister Hassan Khaire in July 2020 by a pro-Farmaajo parliament, punctuated the electoral crisis as the president and his prime minister fell out over the direction of the elections. A new compromise model of elections reached on September 17, 2020 which provided for indirect elections through clan delegates and parliamentary election of the president, was earnestly stifled, when Farmaajo allegedly appointed NISA agents, pliant civil servants and political supporters to the election management teams. This perceived electoral interference marked the beginning of the political conflagration in Somalia under Farmaajo as political opposition (Union of Presidential Candidates) and federal member states of Jubaland and Puntland threatened to boycott polls, leading to delays in implementation of the new election model and a failed electoral calendar.

The Ghosts of the 90s are Back

When the pro-Farmaajo parliament finally extended the president’s term under the pretext of giving time and chance for one man one vote elections, the ghosts of the 90s were awakened. The security sector began fragmenting, retreating to clan allegiance and warlord mentality, while political opposition has hardened its position and resorted to the political mobilization of clan constituencies and militias in opposing the extension of Farmaajo’s presidency. The current confrontation in Mogadishu between pro-government security forces and pro-opposition security forces is pushing Somalia to the brink of collapse since the last straw which is the security is fast collapsing thereby undermining necessary confidence in political dialogue. While political restraint and consensus-building among the key political stakeholders in Somalia is important in forestalling instability, Farmaajo as the nation’s leader has spectacularly failed to inspire consensus and restraint, setting a stage for the resurrection of the ghosts of the 1990s. In absence of internal political dialogue and robust international action,  Somalia faces a bleak and uncertain future.

Dr. Hassan Khannenje is the Director of the HORN Institute.

Photo: Anti-government protesters cheered breakaway factions of the military (Photo Credit: EPA/BBC)

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