Somalia is currently at a crossroads, and the likelihood of civil strife cannot be discounted.
Somalia’s president, Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmaajo,” is mainly to blame. His constitutional mandate ended in February 2021, and the current presidential election is delayed indefinitely. The Upper House election has not been completed, and the Lower House election has yet to commence.
In comparison, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (Farmaajo’s predecessor) conducted Upper House, Lower House, and presidential elections with only a five-month delay. No one honestly knows when the current electoral process will be done. It’s been over seven months, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Without a doubt, Somalia is moving backwards.
Back-to-Back Constitutional Crises
Things began to crumble in April 2021 when Farmaajo tried to extend his presidential term by two years.
This was a blatant violation of the constitution; more specifically, it violated the legal doctrine of bicameralism. Because of Farmaajo’s unconstitutionality, large segments of the Somali Armed Forces defected and began marching towards the capital. Luckily, all-out civil strife was averted when Farmaajo recanted his two-year extension.
Another constitutional crisis arose in September 2021 when Somalia’s Prime Minister, Mohamed Hussein Roble, fired the director of the National Intelligence & Security Agency (NISA). This was due to the director’s alleged involvement in killing a NISA spy agent, Ikran Tahlil Farah. Following the PM’s decision, Farmaajo decided to reinstate the fired director. Like his two-year extension, Farmaajo eventually recanted on this unconstitutional decision.
Somalis earned the title of “Africa’s First Democrats” after Somalia’s founding president, Aden Adde, graciously conceded defeat in the 1967 election. Aden Adde hails from the Hawiye clan, and they have a proven track record of electoral democracy in Somalia.
In 2012, former president Sheikh Sharif Ahmed conducted the first election in the Somali capital since the fall of the state. He lost to Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (HSM) and graciously conceded defeat. In 2017, former president HSM conducted elections and graciously conceded defeat. Both, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed and HSM hail from the Hawiye clan.
The Dir clan also has a proven track record of electoral democracy. Under the auspices of Somaliland, northern Dir has held many elections, all one-person-one-vote, since the fall of the Somali state. Somaliland views itself as a nation-state, while the rest of the world views it as a federal member state of Somalia. In 2003, Somaliland’s former president, Dahir Riyale Kahin, conducted Somaliland’s first one-person-one-vote presidential election. This happened twelve years after Somaliland’s establishment (1991).
By comparison, Puntland has existed for twenty-three years and has yet to hold a one-person, one-vote election.
Albeit, they are currently planning to host one for the first time since their establishment in 1998.
Kahin then conducted parliamentary elections in 2005, followed by another presidential election in 2010. He graciously conceded defeat in 2010, and his successor, Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo, conducted the presidential election in 2017. Silanyo’s successor, Musa Bihi (Somaliland’s current president), recently conducted municipal and parliamentary elections on May 31, 2021. Kahin, Silanyo, and Bihi all hail from the Dir clan.
From a historical analysis of Somali democracy, we can deduce that certain clans are more naturally inclined to democracy. This tradition of democracy is being threatened by Somalia’s current president – who hails from the Darood clan. The Ghost of Siad Bare has come to haunt Somalis. It was Bare’s (also Darood) 1969 coup d’état that derailed the Somali democratic experiment. Overnight, Somalia went from being Africa’s first authentic democratic country to a Marxist military dictatorship. Today, Farmaajo is doing everything in his power to derail Somalia’s new democratic experiment and postpone elections.
The current Prime Minister hails from the Hawiye clan, and he is living up to their democratic traditions.
He is under constant assault from those trying to manipulate and derail the Upper House, Lower House, and presidential elections. For example, on September 20, 2021, Puntland attempted to host a meeting to discuss elections without the presence of the Prime Minister – who’s in charge of overseeing the elections. The PM was not invited, and many analysts believe the meeting intended to slow down the PM’s momentum. Additionally, Farmaajo has attempted to suspend the Prime Minister’s powers, to no avail.
Protecting Somalia’s Democratic Experiment
Somalia only existed as a fully functioning state for thirty-years and six-months (July 1960 – January 1991). It has been a non-functioning state for thirty-years and nine-months (January 1991 – present). In other words, Somalia has been a non-functioning state longer than it has been a fully functioning state.
In 1991, Somalia fell due to Darood oppression, followed by Hawiye aggression. If civil strife ensues again, who’s to blame? The one who oppresses, or the one who reacts to the oppression? Political tensions are at an all-time high, and the international community must use every tool at its disposal to protect Somalia’s democratic experiment.
The United States, European Union, United Nations, and African Union need to wholeheartedly support Prime Minister Roble in his attempts to advance the democratic process in Somalia. Somalis painstakingly returned to electoral democracy in 2012, but their democratic experiment can be derailed once again, just like in 1969. Or even worst, all-out civil strife may commence like in 1991.
Aman Obsiye is an attorney based in Minneapolis, MN. He received his Juris Doctor and Master of Public Policy degrees from the University of Minnesota.