Somalia must hold an honest, people-driven election as the first step in successful state-building

Somalia must hold an honest, people-driven election as the first step in successful state-building

In a country where clannism, intimidation, and money hold a central place in the electioneering process, the International Community seems to have been co-opted in a likely sham process

By Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad 

The prime minister of the Federal Republic of Somalia, Mohamed Hussein Roble, has played an important role in the country’s political stability. Somalia now has a Federal Electoral Commission, and the long-delayed election is expected to take place in the next three to four months. Unlike the previous indirect election in 2016, held in single towns in each state, this year’s election will be held in two major cities in each federal member state, with 101 delegates chosen by traditional elders and civil society members to elect members of the next national parliament.

As everything seems to fall in place, the focus now switches to regional leaders who are the real shapers of local politics. For example, in the 2016 parliamentary elections, powerful elites harassed and intimidated aspirants and voters to ensure that favored candidates won. Some candidates were pushed to withdraw, and powerful clans unilaterally seized seats meant for minority groups.

This year’s elections are even more competitive than previous elections, and the road ahead is bumpy and challenging, particularly regarding delegate selection. Per the prevailing political agreement, among those selecting delegates are traditional elders and people in civil society. There is leeway for regional leaders to influence the selection process by determining which elders and civil societies or practitioners to participate in the selection process, which opens up the process to manipulation. 

Per the prevailing political agreement, among those selecting delegates are traditional elders and people in civil society. There is leeway for regional leaders to influence the selection process by determining which elders and civil societies or practitioners to participate in the selection process, which opens up the process to manipulation.

Regional leaders who oversaw the 2016 parliamentary elections used their close allies to pick the delegates and guarantee that they voted for them. Elections were held in secret, with some candidates absentee in certain cases. Tragically, one candidate’s militia assassinated delegates and installed a different group to elect him. In another instance, some regional leaders annulled an election after their preferred candidates lost while threatening officials of the electoral body to sanction their decision. It is unlikely that we may witness similar events this year. 

All of these scenarios had, in different ways, the blessing of regional leaders. During a recent visit to Mogadishu, I discovered that regional leaders have already compiled a list of preferred candidates they want to support. Meanwhile, many other candidates have withdrawn because they do not want to participate in a predetermined process where seats go for as high as $1 million – money often obtained from donors, a euphemism for foreign parties with a vested interest in Somalia. In 2016, the then-Auditor General of Somalia, Nur Jimale Farah, said that most parliamentary seats are reserved for those who can afford to pay the “political owners” of the positions they seek. Of course, this reality locks out those who cannot afford the fees, mostly the youth and women.

The typical regional leader wields enormous power and possesses tyrannical tendencies, which are frequently overlooked and unchecked. As an example, earlier this year, as the United Nations hosted Puntland President Said Dani, a local journalist Ahmed Botan Arab was jailed after the state government accused the journalist of “spreading misinformation”. Botan’s only crime was that he conducted street interviews with citizens critical of President Deni. With an election approaching, such harassment trends are likely to increase, often with state police doubling up as a militia.

I recently challenged a European Union diplomat in Mogadishu about the EU’s interference in the electoral talks and why the Union opposes the universal suffrage system, including by siding with a faction that holds the country hostage. His response was cryptic: the EU prefers a political climate they can predict and control. In other words, the EU understands that if Somalis are left to direct the process independently, they (the EU) will lose their leverage. 

The EU prefers a political climate they can predict and control. In other words, the EU understands that if Somalis are left to direct the process independently, they (the EU) will lose their leverage. 

EU Diplomat

As I wrote earlier this month in this magazine, the Somali government already had reached an agreement with the five regional states in September 2020 but the process crumbled when a section of certain regional states made demand after difficult demand at the behest of their benefactors in the EU and United Nations. If these regional elites continue to run roughshod over the ongoing electoral process, all we will be left with is another sham election. 

To demonstrate the extent to which the IC will tolerate impunity if it serves their purpose, during unsuccessful negotiations in May, Sheikh Madobe (Jubaland) and Said Deni (Puntland) arrived in Mogadishu under the supervision of EU and UN diplomats. Madobe and Dani are ostensibly responsible for weapon stockpiles in Mogadishu prior to their arrival which were subsequently used in violent protests that left dozens dead and thousands displaced.

To date, the UN and the EU have been curiously silent about the fighting. This is uncharacteristic of an IC body that has traditionally intervened during election violence or civil unrest. The only way the Ic can win back the trust of Somalis is by publicly supporting the legitimate electoral dialogue and being a neutral mediator between the federal government and regional states to ensure a fair, people-focused election. 

The author is an analyst with Southlink Consultants.

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