A wave of violent protests erupted in the Somali capital Mogadishu in which a number of soldiers and civilians were killed, in the context of a severe political crisis created by the constitutional vacuum resulting from the end of the term of Parliament with its two chambers and the end of the term of the President of the Republic who clings to power despite the objection of most state rulers, political powers, clan and tribal powers, and civil society organisations.

This paper monitors the recent political developments in Somalia and tries to explore their future prospects.

The movement against President Farmajo

On 19 February 2021, a wave of protests erupted against the continuation of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, known as Farmajo, in power after the end of his term on 8 February 2021. Thus, the group of opposition parties and a number of heads of state governments within the Somali federation declared that they do not recognise the legitimacy of the outgoing president, while calling for the establishment of a transitional council that includes the People's Assembly and the Senate, state presidents, and civil society organisations (CSOs) in order to oversee the electoral process and fill the dangerous constitutional vacuum that the country is experiencing (the legitimacy of the Federal Parliament expired in December 2020, and that of the President of the Republic on 8 February 2021).

While an agreement was signed on 17 September 2020 between the heads of the five regional states and the President to postpone the date of direct elections, which was approved by Parliament a few days later, many practical obstacles have prevented the implementation of the agreement, which stipulated that tribal leaders would choose their own representatives who would appoint a new parliament for the country (consisting of 275 members), while the state parliaments would choose the senators (54 in number), provided that the President of the Republic would be elected by both Houses of Parliament combined. The agreement also provided for the formation of a new federal electoral commission, and separate electoral commissions for each of the member states.

A number of state presidents, led by the rulers of the two autonomous regions of Puntland and Jubaland, declared their rejection of this proposal, while the heads of the pro-government states (Qoor Qoor, Laftagareen and Gudlawe) were reluctant to accept Farmajo's orders to proceed with the election of Parliament in preparation for renewal for him. Opposition to Farmajo is concentrated in a number of influential clans, in particular the Habar Gidir and Mudulood tribes, which maintain a wide popular and electoral base in the capital Mogadishu and the rest of the other states. While the 2016 Constitution, which has been subject to frequent amendments under international auspices, has enshrined the federal system in Somalia, local governments practically act as independent states and do not recognise the authority of the federal government in Mogadishu.

It is clear that the rupture has become complete between the isolated Farmajo government, even in the capital Mogadishu, and the political and clan powers that reject the extension for the President who has been in power since 2016, although he continues to enjoy Turkish and Qatari support, and a relative acceptance from the US, of which he is citizen.

While the opposition Forum for National Parties (FNP), which includes six active political parties, has assumed the task of confronting President Farmajo's renewal, a coalition of 12 presidential candidates has emerged seeking to rebuild the political track on the basis of new consensual rules, together with the restructuring of the National Committee overseeing the elections, and a review of the Political Parties Law that draws up strict restrictions on the participation of political parties in electoral competitions.

Scenarios for the Somali political conflict

While the Republic of Somalia has entered since 2010 a political transition process that has led to the relative normalisation of governance institutions, the country has practically not escaped the impasse of congestion and disintegration that it has known since the fall of the Siad Barre regime in January 1991. Somalia continues to suffer from three fundamental internal problems, namely:

1. The bloody clan conflict that is centered on the line of distinction between the south and the north.

2. The separatist situation in the Republic of Somaliland, which declared its independence in 1991, in addition to the status of the regions of Puntland and Jubaland, and the situation of the Ethiopian-controlled Ogaden region, which is claimed by the Somali government.

3. The wave of radical terrorism triggered by the al-Shabab al-Mujahideen organisation, which was established in 2004, took control of most of the country in 2008, and continues its offensive operations inside Somalia and in neighbouring Kenya.

While a number of internal and international initiatives have emerged in recent years to rebuild the Somali political system and settle internal conflicts, including the negotiations sponsored by Djibouti between President Farmajo and the President of the Republic of Somaliland Musa Abdi (on 18 June 2020), the political crisis persists, and is likely to get more complicated in the light of the problems of the current political transition and President Farmajo's policies based on targeting regional states, his political opponents, and the desire to extend his stay in power.

In this context, two prominent scenarios can be explored:

The first is the success of the opposition powers under the alliance of national parties, the coalition of presidential candidates, and tribal and clan powers in imposing change through the street protest movement, which means President Farmajo's departure from power and the establishment of a transitional council to oversee the election of a new parliament that would be mandated to appoint a head of state. For this scenario to succeed, effective international sponsorship for this transformation is necessary. The African Union (AU) may be the party prepared for this role in view of its long field experience in managing the Somali file through the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which includes 20,000 armed personnel. In addition, the European and US parties present in Somalia, militarily and politically, are qualified to play a supportive role for the desired political solution.

Second, the political crisis is exacerbated by the failure of the political parties to reach a consensual solution that would ensure driving the dynamics of reconciliation and the resumption of the electoral processes. In that case, it is not unlikely that the country would return to the state of civil war, which may lead to an exacerbation of the situation of internal disintegration by the declaration by a number of regions of their independence, with the return of the activity of extremist radical groups that still have an effective presence on the ground.

While the first scenario appears more plausible, the second scenario is very likely in the event of intervention by the regional powers supporting President Farmajo, especially Turkey and Qatar, in a way that might impede the choice of a peaceful solution and national reconciliation.

Conclusion

  • The protests in Mogadishu on 19 February 2021 reflect the state of rift between President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, who seeks to get his term in power extended by the already outgoing People's Assembly, and political and tribal powers and civil society organisations demanding to rebuild the political track on the basis of new consensual rules.
  • There are two possible scenarios for the current political crisis in Somalia: the first is the success of the opposition powers in imposing change through the street protest movement, which means President Farmajo's departure from power and the establishment of a transitional council to oversee the election of a new parliament that would be mandated to appoint a head of state. The second is that the political crisis would worsen as a result of the failure by the political parties to reach a consensual solution that guarantees the resumption of the electoral tracks. In this case, the country is unlikely to return to a state of civil war, which may lead to the exacerbation of internal disintegration through the declaration by a number of regions of their independence, together with the resumption of the activities of the extreme radical groups. While the first scenario seems more plausible, the second scenario is very likely in the event that the regional powers supporting President Farmajo, especially Turkey and Qatar, intervene in a way that may hinder the choice of a peaceful solution and national reconciliation.

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