Written by 12:36 am Opinions/Analysis

The Maritime Elections of Somalia

Somalia’s current electioneering process has turned into a regional and international geopolitical competition. The prize being control of the country’s vast natural resources.
In 2020/21, Somalia was posed to hold the first universal suffrage elections in 50 years, that would’ve been one of the countries most significant step towards recovery and icing on the cake of one of the world’s most tedious, expensive and bloodbath democratisation journey.The current regime rod into villa Somalia with massive euphoric support from Somalis around the world, the announcement of Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo as the winner of the presidential election sparked spontaneous street celebrations across major capitals of the world. It was one of those moments where everyone remembers where they were or what they were doing when they heard the news of President Farmajo’s elections. As the president of Somalia. The regime immediately christened itself as Peace and Prosperity —Nabad iyo Nolol; translating those spontaneous bursts of celebrations across the globe as a popular mandate for change.

Riding high on the euphoric support
They immediately embarked on far-reaching and ambitious reforms. One of them being the fulfilment of the aspiration of the Somali people in fully owning back their sovereignty through a universal suffrage election. Without wasting time, the Federal government of Somalia embarked on making the realization of this dream. The historic Bidoa Electoral conference was convened, here the Federal government and the regional administrations kick-started the stalled Electoral road map of 2015. A Federalisation Negotiation Technical Committee (FNTC), made up of the Federal government and the regional administrations was formed in line with the agreement reached in Brussels, Belgium which was the next poll to be a universal suffrage election. This was seen as a huge leap forward for the country’s nascent democratization process. Jubilant Villa Somalia administration saw a political opportunity in running for re-election riding high on a legacy of being the administration that brought universal suffrage elections back to the country. They immediately embarked on the process. The FNTC would later settle on a Closed list, single constituency, proportional representation model for the election with forwarding their findings to the cabinet. The steam of the excitement engine ended at the doorstep of the cabinet, as the bill gathered dust at the shelves with the opposition and civil society blaming the government for stalling the process. It was at this stage where Somalia electoral cycle took a regional and international geopolitical dimension.

Kenya auctioned oil blocks at the disputed maritime border between Somalia and Kenya to a French company, a deal that was brokered by Djibouti’s Ismail Omar Gelles. UK at the behest of Somaoil and the EU at the behest of Norway and France were all at loggerheads with president Farmajo’s stance at maritime boundary dispute with Kenya. They wanted him to play ball and withdraw the case from the international court of Justice and agree on the broad consensus of co-ownership of the resources at the disputed maritime territory. On the other hand, at the exact same time, the infant Nabad iyo Nolo administration was grumbling with the Qatar crisis that affected its relation with Saudia Arabia and UAE. Two sister nations demanding filial piety from the weak Villa Somalia administration. The anti-Qatar alliance took offence with Farmajo’s neutral stance in the Qatar crisis. The success of their blockade was pegged on Somalia joining them. Saudia Arabia offered Farmajo USD 80 million to entice him to join their wing. They took his insistence to stay neutral and refusal to take the money as an insult and insubordination, this meant that Qatar could use Somalia’s airspace, a move that gave Qatar a lifeline rendering the entire blockade useless.

Regionally president Ismail Omar Gelle of Djibouti was irked by President Farmajo’s instrumental role in lobbying for sanctions against Eritrea to be lifted. President Gelle took much offence to Somalia joining the Horn of Africa Economic bloc. Farmajo’s “hard-headedness” and not being ready to play a game was seen as an obstacle and made him lots of enemies regionally and internationally.

The entire electoral process took a turn from just another election cycle to an election of unseating Farmajo, by all means, necessary. Farmajo became an obstacle to the desired outcome on the maritime boundary dispute, thus making enemies out of the many competing interests. The country was steered from looking for credible elections to looking for the best elections to get rid of President Abdullahi Farmajo.France and Norway using the umbrella of the EU and their point-men Ismail Omar Gelle and Uhuru became the key point man for this latest onslaught. It’s not yet known if the former prime minister Hassan Ali Kheyre was coopted or was a key player considering his vast network and history with Somoil and the EU. The team embarked on the mission to unseat the incumbent president of Somalia. If it succeeded it would’ve been the smoothest regime change in the history of the region. The mission was to get control of the electioneering process and return it back to the easily influenceable indirect process as they considered a direct vote an automatic second term for Farmajo. A well-coordinated chain of events was set in motion using, IGAD, AU and EU key institutions. Hassan Ali Kheyre was their preferred presidential candidate that has kept the elections bill at the cabinet for a whole year in line with their plan to scuttle the direct elections.

UAE and Saudi Arabia were preparing to oust Farmajo too, they understood that for their blockade against Qatar to be successful they must get rid of Farmajo or force his hand in joining in the blockade. Somalia’s neutral stance was unacceptable to these long term allies of Somalia. The gulf faction was led by the regional point-man and two-time former prime minister of Somalia Omar Abdirashid who was a key actor in the maritime dispute between Somalia and Kenya. OMAR as a shrewd political heavyweight saw an opportunity to merge the two anti-Farmajo camps which are the Gulf country funded faction and the EU funded, Djibouti and Kenya factions. Omar would coordinate the federal states and the key political actors in the capital such as the coalition led by the two former Presidents, the Madasha coalition. This merger successfully managed to flip the PM Kheyre from the government. They earmarked him as the successor and the joint candidate for the anti-Farmajo brigade. Hassan Ali Kheyr’s role was to not actively engage these plans but only passively facilitate so that President Farmajo is blindsided and he doesn’t get an opportunity to fight back.

After a year at the cabinet, the elections bill that was agreed upon between the regional governments and the federal government was brought to parliament for debate and passage in 2019. Villa Somalia expected the bill to pass without any hick-ups since it was something they believed was brought after an extensive, painstaking consensus-building from all the stakeholders in the country’s democratisation journey. They were wrong and were caught off-guard when the parliamentary committee at the behest of the anti-Farmajo coalition changed the agreed model from the single constituency Proportional Representation (PR) and closed list to a First Past the Post (FPP) multiple constituency elections model. The Single constituency proportional representation model closed list was perfect as regional administrations couldn’t hijack the election process. The new model adopted by parliament came up with a new logistical nightmare for a government that only controls the capital directly and would need buy-ins from the regional administrations. These changes by design brought back the regional administrations at the driver’s seat on matters of federal elections.This was an embarrassing defeat at the floor of the house for the Villa Somalia wing of the administration, Villa Somalia was caught flat-footed by a well-organized, resourced and orchestrated coalition. To add salt to the injury, they outmaneuvered the president at a parliament he believed was favourable to him. The genius move was they used the committee level to make these changes. Buoyed by their victory, the coalition immediately embarked on demanding a timely election. They knew perfectly well that it was impossible under the new changes in electoral law they made, nonetheless, they stayed on the message, everything was falling into the plan. The next phase of their game plan was to increase pressure on the president, a synchronized smear campaign against him ran on major international papers and local media, as they say, give the dog a bad name and then hang it.President Farmajo couldn’t veto the bill and return it to parliament, as he’ll fit into the narrative of the disinformation campaign and this might lead to a full-blown out civil war. Yes, the well-coordinated hate speeches on both mainstream media and social media, the masterpieces, at times fake news articles disseminated on unsuspecting major newspapers that get thrilled by any negative news from the continent would certainly have resulted in a civil war. Formations of a parallel government, the scare of returning the country to civil war was the scare. Politicians led would not hide this hate-mongering. Basically, he had to choose between his career or the country.They gave him “a deal that he couldn’t refuse” as finally, they had him exactly where they wanted. It must have pained him to lose his treasured legacy of being the first president in 50 years to have returned universal suffrage elections in Somalia and watch his chances of a second term fleet away.On the other hand, he read the mood, understood that the elections bill in front of him was a robe for him to hang and commit political suicide. For a starter, the new bill made it logistically impossible to implement without a technical term extension, secondly, if he does sign it and it becomes a law the regional administration will be back on the driver’s seat on matters elections as the federal government will be at the mercy of their goodwill.Many expected him to veto the bill and take his chances, many of his supporters pressured him to steer the ship back and safeguard universal suffrage, whatever the form. A classic case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. To the shock of his friends and foes, he signed the bill in full public glare even caught his Prime minister off-guard whom he called him to the stage at an unrelated ceremony in villa Somalia to read the document being signed for the cameras. A tensed looking Hassan Ali Kheyre read it to the Somali public live on tv. The entire set-up was something from a movie, it was a message to tell the coalition against him that he knew his Prime minister Hassan Ali Kheyre was their candidate and the facilitator of their plans.Basically, the prime minister played his cards right, he managed to blindside Farmajo from this big move. Even if Farmajo prematurely found out of their plan it was too late as the bill passed as it was in parliament and there was nothing he could do.Farmajo went ahead to sign the elections laws, political pundits were baffled and many even wrote his political obituary but in retrospect that was one of the most genius political moves ever done by Farmajo. He knew very well that he was facing a formidable group of people that were being facilitated by foreign countries that couldn’t see their interest in his new brand of politics of Somalia first. At this time the noise was getting louder, the anti- term extension narrative was in full gear, Farmajo the dictator who wants to come back by the barrel of the gun a very well-coordinated narrative was being disseminated into both international and local media, the clan undertones, the hate speeches were all getting disproportionately louder as the anti-Farmajo groupings buoyed for his political blood
Prime minister kheyre rolled the dice and convened Regional administrations and the federal govt conference on elections without the blessing of the president or consulting with him. It was time for the plan execution and with a weak, politically cornered president the timing was ripe. conference. The EU quickly swept into action and successfully rallied Somalia’s international “Partners” to support the PM’s elections initiatives, they did so on behalf of the coalition. On the other hand, spending millions of Euros to co-ordinate the pressure on Villa Somalia as they promptly commissioned Sahan research in Nairobi, which was in charge of the disinformation coordination to come up with an indirect elections model. Head of Somalia Electoral body Halima Yarey in an interview with Universal TV said that the EU funded a parallel process of indirect elections, accusing them of actively sabotaging the universal suffrage elections.Flanked by all the regional administrations and enjoying the full backing of the international partners’ PM Kheyre announced that his administration is reverting back to indirect elections and pouring cold water to the one person one vote elections steam that was getting traction amongst the Somali people. The president and parliament were shocked by the news, with each facing uncertainty about their political future. They formed an unlikely alliance of survival. The legislatures in the past four years were engaged in a bitter political power play with the regional heads thus the Dhusamareb route didn’t seat well with them.The elections law became Farmajo’s political amulet, he effectively rallied the public and the parliament behind the universal suffrage. This insulated him albeit briefly from the powerful onslaught led by his Prime minister and the 5 regional heads.In Mogadishu, parliamentarians were mulling over tabling a vote of no confidence against the PM that went rogue and went behind their back to cut deals with regional heads. Farmajo capitalized on that anger and threw his weight behind the vote.The prime minister was ousted in a record 7 minutes vote of no confidence, what shocked everyone was how easily the most powerful and the longest-serving premier in the history of the country was ousted so easily and that he had no defence from his cabinet.Now after ousting the PM and appointing his deputy as the caretaker govt, President Farmajo started a new round of talks as now him being at the driver’s seat of his political.On September 17th 2020, the regional heads and the federal government signed an election model agreement in Mogadishu then appointed a PM who will lead the country to elections.
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