On December 27, 2021, Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, commonly known as Farmaajo or Farmajo, suspended the Prime Minister and Commander of Marine Forces Mohamed Hussein Roble on charges of corruption and misuse of public land. Roble’s purported offenses include stealing land controlled by the Somali National Army (SNA) and interfering with an investigation involving the Ministry of Defense. Roble’s duties and powers as Prime Minister, Mohamed maintained, will remain suspended until the corruption investigations reach a conclusion.
The suspension touched off a series of political maneuvers that have embroiled the Somali government in conflict. In the wake of Mohamed’s announcement, Roble refused to step down and extended a series of accusations in response. Roble claimed that the president had sent troops to attack his offices in an attempt to prevent him from fulfilling his duties. In a statement, Roble denounced the president’s actions as “a blatant attempt to overthrow the government” of Somalia. Seeking to turn Somali security forces against their president, Roble also ordered for security forces to take direct orders from and report directly to his office rather than the president’s.
The most searing of Roble’s claims, however, centered not around security forces but attempts at election interference. Roble accused Mohamed of delaying, disrupting, and “derailing” the 2021 presidential elections.
Indeed, delays to Somalia’s scheduled 2021 elections have caused great concern among Somalis, observers, policy analysts, and foreign governments alike. Somalia, a country devastated by decades of civil war and teetering on the precipice of losing its “modest democratic gains,” is facing numerous obstacles in the organizing of its first direct elections in over three decades. For much of 2021, Somali headlines were dominated by delays, irregularities, and various allegations of corruption. The parliamentary electoral process began on November 1 and was scheduled to finish by December 24. However, thus far in its legislative elections, 53 of 54 seats in the upper house of Parliament are filled while less than ten percent (26 of 275 seats) of the lower house are filled. Roble has called the delayed elections and Mohamed’s political impasse “an open coup attempt” designed to increase the sitting president’s stranglehold of political power.
Beyond election delays, the presence of traditional Somali clans and elders further complicates Somalia’s politics. Analysts have pointed out that the president and the prime minister belong to different clans, so the escalating conflict can lead to violence not just among their supporters but also among clan members inside the armed forces. In January 2022, residents of the Somali capital city of Mogadishu claimed that armed opposition forces and the Somali military gathered in the streets of the capital, poised for confrontation. The heavy presence of troops caused worry and unease among residents, with many fearing the two leaders’ feud erupting into violence.
Political struggles are hardly the sole crisis facing the Somali populace. As election disputes rage on, the United Nations has estimated that more than 90 percent of the country will be affected by drought and “acute food insecurity” threatens the lives of an estimated four million people. Moreover, the terrorist group Al-Shabab, economic impacts of COVID-19, and internal conflicts between rival forces across Somalia continue to threaten the country’s security and stability.
As for the president, the international community mostly sees him as a roadblock to Somalia’s path to democracy—a figure with a despotic determination to remain in power. In April 2021, Mohamed signed a law extending his term in office by another two years, triggering a political impasse that ended in violence. His opponents, including even his Western allies, condemned his actions, and many Somalis feared it showed the president has decided to turn away from democracy. Eventually, Mohamed asked Parliament to nullify his extended term and appointed Roble to organize the much-delayed elections. Roble promised to take action yet also condemned what he saw as the president’s attempts to “illegally remain in office,” citing the presidential mandate of Mohamed’s that ended in February 2021. But now, facing ever-escalating tensions, some Somali leaders, policy analysts, international governance bodies, and many countries across the globe—including the U.S. and U.K.—have called for dialogue, restraint, de-escalation, and adherence to Somali law. Sympathetic towards Roble, some countries and groups also expressed their support for the prime minister’s efforts to improve election credibility and transparency. For this country still grappling with its democracy’s uncertain future, Somalia seems to be at another impasse — at least for now.
By: Rhine Peng