Somalia: The shift from crooked democracy to authoritarianism


Somalia’s presidential election last year seen as milestone of corruption by some and others as a fresh start for a war ravaged country is looking more and more like a false dawn – a huge opportunity lost.

The Nation’s new government has taken U-turn on the long walk to democracy since coming to power in February 2017. In the face of non-stop power consolidation, Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo focused heavily on political opposition groups to consolidate power by cracking down on dissidents, political opponents and critical journalists while neglecting the much expected offensive against Al-Shabaab and at the same time relying solely on America’s drone strikes which is barely a sustainable solution, considering the group’s control of vast territories and the effect of civilian casualties, combined with the overstretched AMISOM troops and endemic deficiencies within the Somali national army.

The political crisis deepened as the country experienced a series of violent attacks, including raids, politically motivated detentions and other forms of intimidations by government officials directed against political opponents. These appalling acts by the government were simply acts of suppression. Even though, these events caught the attention of Somalis throughout the social media, the local media response was tepid, given a combination of bribes and their fear of retaliation by an administration that does not extend far beyond the capital, Mogadishu — an administration that remains dependent on western support and AMISOM troops for its survival.

Early this year, the Special Representative of UN Secretary-General to Somalia, Michael Keating warned that heavy-handed politics were a risk to the stability, pointing to the violent arrest of opposition figure Abdirahman Abdishakur that led to his injury and the death of five of his bodyguards in mid-December. Days later, the home of Senator Abdi Qaybdid, a former chief of police, the minister and regional head was raided by Somali security forces. “These incidents have highlighted basic problems that need to be addressed, such as inadequate rules and safeguards governing the conduct of politics, including impeachment procedures; blurred roles and lines of accountability of the many security actors; and the perpetuation of corrupt practices and of untraceable money in the political marketplace.” He went on to say that “all Somali actors need to respect the rule of law and resist the use of violence against their political opponents.”

Consolidation of power

In an apparent violation of the country’s constitution, President Farmajo dismissed Hassan Ibrahim, who served as the Chief Justice for two years on Sunday replacing him with a relatively unknown and inexperienced 36-year-old, Bashe Yusuf. This is the latest of what was a series of power grabs which consolidated all three branches of the government in the hands of one authority; a decision that was made in the name of judicial reforms has received a strong rebuke from Somalia’s legal and intellectual community.

Prof. Samatar blasts Farmaajo’s chief justice appointment

In a Somali-language interview on Monday, Prof. Abdi Ismail Samatar, a widely respected Somali intellectual who also was the head of the election commission to oversee the integrity of last year’s Somalia presidential elections – said that it was unfathomable that an individual who never sat as a judge to be appointed as the nation’s Chief Justice.

“This (Chief Justice Appointment) is something that I have never heard about in my life. This man who was named as the Chief Justice never sat as a judge. How can he render legal judgement with no experience?” said Prof. Samatar. He has not worked as a professional barrister or lawyer, his professional career is primarily NGO work, notably at Mercy Corps as a Program Officer. He added that, for a man who never sat as a judge to be elevated as the top justice in Somalia is a major problem for our country and if the President insists on his appointment than his credibility as a leader should be called into question. Furthermore, Prof, Samatar charged that the deputy prime minister of Somalia and Bashe Yusuf Ahmed are maternal cousins, which leads to more nefarious speculations surrounding the controversial appointment.”

Prof. Samatar said that to be a functioning democracy, the three arms of government must be separated. “The executive branch should be separated from the legislative branch which should be separated from the judiciary, adding that Somalia has barely healed from the scars of the last political conflict that pitted the legislative branch and the executive branch and came within whiskers of open conflict.” That protracted political tussle eventually led to the ouster of former Speaker Jawari. Samatar lays blame with the executive arm of government for that political crisis.

AMISOM intervenes in Somalia’s political stand-off

This April, in a crisis widely thought to be fueled by the Gulf crisis, Somalia’s lower house speaker Mohamed Osman Jawari was forced to resign after more than a month of political stand-off with the president and the prime minister on one side, which led to the intervention of the African Union Mission on April 4 after the stand-off escalated in the lower house building. The speaker has accused the president and his prime minister for escalating the political crisis in Somalia by asking him to resign instead of resolving the crisis without taking sides.

Jawari who was re-elected in 2017 for the second term in office has blamed the legislative branch for being behind a motion of no confidence against him and for ordering the security forces occupying the Parliament building. Early, ninety-six lawmakers said that they plan to impeach the president amid intensified political infighting that pitted MP’s against each other, the lawmakers accused the president of a violation of the constitution, treason and destruction of the federal member states.

Jockeying for influence

No doubt, the Gulf Feud played a major role in Somalia’s political crisis. The rift in the Gulf has pitted Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are major trading partners with Somalia, against Qatar, whose financial support was widely seen as a critical factor in Farmaajo’s victory in last year’s presidential election. Ahead of Mr. Jawari’s forced resignation, the government impounded a suitcase it said contained $9.6 million in cash, from a plane that had arrived from the United Arab Emirates. The Emirati ambassador said the money was intended to pay its soldiers, who are training Somali national forces, but the government said it was still investigating the matter.

The spillover effect of the Gulf crisis has created a major challenge for the country, with its central government aligning with Qatar and the federal member states drifting towards the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The crisis has begun to challenge the country’s territorial integrity and the embryonic state-building process combined with a near-total breakdown of relations between the opposing parties. Nevertheless, the central government insisted its position of neutrality “De Facto alignment with Qatar” and the opponents note that the Saudi Arabia, UAE contingent offers Somalia much more in terms of a market for livestock exports, trade, infrastructure development and remittance than that of Qatar.

If we do not learn from the mistakes of history, we are doomed to repeat them

Somalia faces a daunting array of challenges that require national unity and consensus, including: The Al-Shabaab and ISIS attacks, dilemma of state building and drought and famine crises. In light of these challenges, Farmaajo relentlessly pursued to consolidate power by desperately replicating dictator, Siad Barre’s playbook which is indeed a ticking time bomb that could easily undo all progress made on short notice by setting the country on a course towards civil war, especially in light of the country’s latest civil war whose wounds haven’t been healed yet.

Those seeking authoritarianism in Somalia should learn from Somalia’s 1991 civil war that ousted a brutal dictator and its aftermath — the decades of brutal inter-clan and warlord violence combined with terrorism and extremist violence and frequent droughts and economic crises that fragmented this nation into several mini states.

“History has time and again shown that unlimited power in the hands of one person or group in most cases means that others are suppressed or their powers curtailed. The separation of powers in a democracy is to prevent abuse of power and to safeguard freedom for all. Checks and balances (rights of mutual control and influence) make sure that the three powers interact in an equitable and balanced way. The separation of powers is an essential element of the Rule of Law.”

“Rulers, Statesmen, Nations, are wont to be emphatically commended to the teaching which experience offers in history. But what experience and history teach is this – that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it. Each period is involved in such peculiar circumstances, exhibits a condition of things so strictly idiosyncratic, that its conduct must be regulated by considerations connected with itself, and itself alone.” G. W. F. Hegel.

Author: Abdirashid Salah,

The Author can be reached by his email: