Somalia’s Farmaajo faces tough battle to break jinx of one term

President Uhuru Kenyatta with Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo, during the inauguration ceremony in Mogadishu, Somalia on February 22, 2017. [Courtesy]

Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo goes into this year’s election knowing that the country has a history of not having re-elected an incumbent since some semblance of democracy was restored with the election of Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed (2004-2008).

Two of Farmaajo’s predecessors Sharif Sheikh Ahmed (2009-2012), who is credited with restoring order in Mogadishu, and his successor Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (2012-2017) were bundled out after just one four-year terms.

With less than 30 parliamentary seats yet to be decided by two federal states (HirShabelle and Jubbaland) the spotlight is now firmly on the presidential election and a date is yet to be agreed upon by the country’s Parliament. Farmaajo has been in office since February 2017, and it will be seen if he will change this trend that has been maintained for the last 18 years.

On paper, there are at least 40 candidates seeking to unseat incumbent president but in reality the front-runners are two former presidents, two former prime ministers, a leader of a political party and a president from one of the six states.

Former presidents Ahmed and Mohamud plus other prominent figures in Mogadishu joined forces last year when the incumbent unilaterally extended his term by postponing the elections for two more years. However, the working relationship among the opposition leaders seems to have waned as the elections for the 275 MPs and the 54 senators gathered momentum. The two are however seen as the front-runners when the date for the presidential election is announced, hopefully before the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, which starts in April.

Also in the race are Hassan Ali Khayre who served as President Farmaajo’s prime minister and Omar Sharmarke who was premier when Mohamud was president. Others are the Wadajir (workers) party leader Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame and Saeed Abdullahi Deni, the president of Puntland State.

Restoring law and order

However, it is the candidature of Sharif Ahmed that has attracted interest from his colleagues and those opposed to the current president. The leader of the former Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which was a precursor to Al-Shabaab, Mr Ahmed is credited with restoring law and order in Mogadishu when he took power in 2009. It was during his tenure that the terror group was pushed out of Somalia’s capital with the assistance of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), led by the Ugandan and Ethiopian forces.

Upon losing the seat to Hassan Shiekh Mohamud, the cleric left the country to go for further studies in the US and, also to immerse himself in Islamic studies. Now he is back and ruffling feathers with his candidature to once again become president. Incidentally, the election comes at a time the terror group is seen to have gained a foothold in Mogadishu.

On March 23, Al-Shabaab made a daring attack on the Adan Abdulle International Airport in Mogadishu, which also houses most diplomatic missions in Somalia, including the United Nations Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) and Amisom. An estimated eight people were reported killed. Later in the evening in the city of Beledweyn, Hirshabelle state, MP Amina Mohamed Abdi and former MP Ali Abdi Dhuhul, who were both candidates for the lower House were killed in two explosions that claimed 28 other people.

Also standing strong is Mohamud who lost to the incumbent during the second round of 2017 elections. Mohamud, who was little-known prior to his election to the highest office in Somalia, presided over a period that saw Mogadishu flourish. The current infrastructure and investments in the capital city took root when he was president. However, his administration was accused of allowing corruption to also take root, making investment in Somalia not only expensive but also risky.

The two former premiers, Khayre and Sharmarke’s candidacy seems to be based on the notion that since the current incumbent served as prime minister before his elevation to the Presidency, they too can one day land the highest office in Somalia. However, the Wadajir party boss and Puntland president are the dark horses in this race. Nevertheless, it all depends on how they influence the 329 MPs and senators when the date for the presidential election is set.

The Puntland president is banking on MPs from his State to propel him to the Villa Somalia. It should be noted that Deni announced his candidacy to run for the top office after ousting his rivals and ushering in loyal MPs. In a State televised media, the president stated that “my main focus is to remove incumbent President Farmaajo democratically”. 

But before the date for the presidential election is set, there is the small matter of picking the speakers of the Lower House and the Senate. Abdi Hashi Abdullahi is likely to retain his position as the speaker of the Senate, while Southwest State President Abdiaziz Hassan Mohamed is gaining prominence to take up the position in the Lower House (Parliament). Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, who is overseeing the electoral process, held a zoom meeting with the international community over the remaining parliamentary seats and the election of the two speakers.

The United States has expressed its frustration with the delayed elections and blamed the Somali leaders for failing to meet the deadline. All eyes are now on Roble to announce the date for the presidential election after consultation with the relevant authorities. 

Mohamoud is a consultant while Okwembah is a journalist with vast experience covering Somalia politics and elections