“Conflict between president and PM is a conflict between the Somali people and imperialist forces”

Parliamentary elections in Somalia are set to be concluded by February 25 amid tensions between the president and the prime minister. Mohamed Hassan, historian and former diplomat, explains the political situation, the role of foreign powers, especially the UAE, and the truth behind Shabaab

January 10, 2022 by Pavan Kulkarni
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, aka Farmaajo (left) and prime minister Mohamed Hussein Roble.

The repeatedly delayed election for Somalia’s lower house of parliament, the House of People, will be concluded by February 25. The agreement on the date was reached on Sunday, January 9, after a week of meetings of the National Consultative Council (NCC), chaired by Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble and attended by the leaders of Somalia’s regional States.

This election will not be held on the basis of one-person-one-vote, for which a landmark law was signed by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, aka Farmaajo, in February 2020. The prospect of holding an election on the basis of universal suffrage for the first time since 1969 has been derailed. Once again, delegates chosen by clan leaders will vote to elect members to the parliament, who will in turn elect the president.

“It is not really an election. It is a nomination by an aristocratic class. Those with money can buy the vote of the delegates in the name of their clans without even consulting the majority of the clan members. It is the easy way of ruling Somalia and looting its resources,” Mohamed Hassan, historian and former diplomat, told Peoples Dispatch in an interview hours before the election date was agreed upon.

This controversial election will be held amid an escalating conflict between President Farmaajo and PM Roble, which resulted in a tense stand-off in Mogadishu between the soldiers loyal to them.

Radio Dalsan reported that the “NCC also agreed to deploy AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia] to the most fortified presidential palace so as to quell tension in the area where rival forces supporting both President Farmaajo and PM Roble continue to occupy rival positions in the rooftops of Villa Somalia.”

“The imperialist forces,” who “felt threatened” by the law for one-person-one-vote President Farmaajo signed, see him “as an obstacle because he is a popular leader.. So they are using the prime minister as a Trojan horse against Farmaajo,” said Hassan, who is also an advisor to the president of Ethiopia’s Somali regional State, on the border with Somalia.

Earlier, on January 7, Roble also sought to normalize diplomatic relations with UAE, which was severed by President Farmaajo in 2018 on allegations that it was trying to destabilize Somalia. “That is his purpose – to bring the UAE back into Somalia,” Hassan said, claiming that it is the UAE which has been sponsoring the bombings in Mogadishu and labeling the militant group Al Shabaab as responsible.

The threat of Al Shabaab is often stated in the international media as the reason why Somalia is not ripe for an election on the basis of one-person-one-vote. However, Hassan argues, its mass base, which was formed as a result of Ethiopia’s invasion in 2006 “at the insistence of the US,” has eroded.

Al Shabaab has now “become a ghost invoked by external forces to prevent the Somali people from exercising their democratic rights. All these so-called experts from the International Crisis Group are magnifying Al Shabaab as the greatest threat to the region. But it is not true anymore,” he said.

Read an abridged version of the phone interview below:

Peoples Dispatch: The election in Somalia has been repeatedly delayed. Amid this delay, there is an escalating row between President Farmaajo and Prime Minister Roble. It appears that the US and its allies have taken the PM’s side and are blaming the president for the delay. But it was Farmaajo who had campaigned for one-person-one-vote and signed it into a law in February 2020. 

However, the prospect of holding an election on the basis of universal suffrage for the first time since 1969, has been derailed. The election Farmaajo’s opponents and the international community are pressuring him to go along with is once again in accordance with the previous practice where delegates of clans elect the representatives to the lower house, who in turn elect the president. What representative value does such an election hold? 

Mohamed Hassan: It is not really an election. It is a nomination by an aristocratic class. Those with money can buy the vote of the delegates in the name of their clans, without even consulting the majority of the clan members. It is the easy way of ruling Somalia and looting its resources. The one-person-one-vote is a landmark law against this.

The warlords who control the clans are losing their hegemony in their own clans because Somali society, particularly over the last 20 years, has changed dramatically. Urbanization has increased the exposure and consciousness of the population. It is very difficult to control them on the basis of this false consciousness of the clan. So the president proposed that the election must be on the basis of one-person-one-vote. The majority of the population supported this proposal.

Elements who in the past have always used the clan as a base to hold power felt threatened. And, of course, the imperialist forces felt threatened. They want to maintain the status quo. They don’t want a popular patriotic sentiment to grow in Somalia. The western countries want to preserve the feudal clan-based system because clans are the only basis on which you can divide the Somali people. You cannot divide them on religion or culture or language, because they are a mono-nation. There is no country in Africa like Somalia where all the population speak the same language from north to south and east to west.

The current conflict between the president and the PM is essentially a conflict between the Somali people and the imperialist forces. The imperialist forces see President Farmaajo as an obstacle because he is a popular leader. You must also note that Farmaajo had signed the tripartite agreement for peace and cooperation with Ethiopia and Eritrea to establish what is called the New Horn of Africa. This was not appreciated by the US and Europe.

So they are using the prime minister as a Trojan horse against Farmaajo. Roble has no vision of nation-building. He is a very corrupt individual. The forces opposed to Farmaajo, including the UAE which the president had chased out of Somalia two-and-a-half years ago, are with him. But they have not been able to stop the emergence of Somali national consciousness.

Gradually, the embryo of a nation-state is taking shape. A national army, which had been absent since the 90s, has been established once again under Farmaajo with support from Turkey. This transcends the clan divisions and lays the pillars for Somali unification. The experiences and exposure of the diaspora are also playing an important role in the cultivation of a national consciousness. There is now a huge gap between the masses, especially the younger generation, and the politicians who want to preserve the status quo. People have refused to live like before, and the ruling class cannot continue to rule like before. I think in the end, the contradicting forces may come to some terms in the middle – that remains to be seen. But the social conditions have changed and they cannot be reversed like before.

PD: One-person-one-vote was a central promise in President Farmaajo’s campaign during the 2017 election. In Feb 2020, he did pass a federal law making way for universal adult suffrage. Can you briefly comment on why it took three years for Farmaajo to pass this law?

MH: Three years was not a very long time given the obstacles President Farmaajo had to surmount to advance democratization – to advance the concept that all citizens have the right to vote and have a say in the future of the country. The UAE and other regional allies of imperialist powers are spending a lot of money to provoke a civil war and create contradictions among the Somali people. They don’t want a new start for Somalia. In fact, they even encourage and subsidize bombings in Mogadishu and blame it on Al Shabaab. Al Shabaab became a tool of the UAE to destabilize the country. Kenya, on the other hand, is supporting warlords in the southern part of the country. But the possibility of triggering a civil war in Somalia is over because the warlords have been decisively defeated a long time ago. The fundamentals for a civil war are not there anymore. The population is much more politicized.

PD: In the international media narrative, Al Shabaab has become synonymous with Somalia. In Feb 2020, when the law for universal adult suffrage was passed, analysts were quoted in international media as saying that amid the war with Al Shabaab, Somalia cannot afford an election on one-person-one-vote basis. Now, the analysts appear to be saying that by not going along with the clan-based election, President Farmaajo is jeopardizing the war against Al Shabaab. How significant a threat is Al Shabaab?

MH: Al Shabaab has become a ghost invoked by external forces to prevent the Somali people from exercising their democratic rights. All these so-called experts from the International Crisis Group are magnifying Al Shabaab as the greatest threat to the region. It is not true anymore.

Al Shabaab, which translates as ‘The Youth,’ used to be a relatively small organization in alliance with the Islamist Council which in 2006 managed to kick out the warlords and take control over most parts of Somalia. Then, when at the insistence of the US, Ethiopia’s then ruler from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Meles Zenawi, invaded Somalia, Al Shabaab splintered from this council. Youth at the time flocked to this group mainly to resist the invasion. It then joined Al-Qaeda and became a threat. However, over time, with the rise of a national civil consciousness across the country, its base has completely eroded. Even if it controls pockets in the country, it can be recaptured by the Somali National Armed Forces anytime it decides to. Al Shabaab’s capabilities have seriously diminished today.

Al Shabaab today is only a pretext to keep Somalia as it is and to prevent the emergence of a democratic state on the basis of one-person-one-vote.

PD: Even after the law for one-person-one-vote was passed in February 2020, opposition to it continued. Eventually, in September 2020 –  two months before the end of parliament’s term in November, and five months before the end of president’s term in February 2021 – Farmaajo reached an agreement with the heads of the regional States to abandon election on the basis of universal suffrage and return to clan-based elections. Why did he concede?

MH: This is because the regional State leaders refused to participate in the elections. They were told by their imperialist masters to not let it happen. At the time the one-person-one-vote was signed into law, opponents who had eventually come to agree to it had not understood all its implications. Then, after the law was passed, their imperialist masters said, “No, no, this is dangerous for you and for us. You have to push back to return to the old system.”

It is not even their own decision to refuse cooperation. It is the decision of the external forces. You have to understand that the fight in Somalia is essentially between Farmaajo and the external forces. We have to leave out these others. They are only subsidiaries funded and fed by external forces who have been continuously trying to incite civil war and bring Somalia into warlordism again. But they didn’t succeed. Not because of the president’s strength but because the conscious people rejected this line. I am confident that even though these forces have managed to delay the [realization] of one-person-one-vote, they cannot stop it.

PD: On the same day that this September agreement to delay the vote on universal adult suffrage basis and to have an election on the clan-based system was reached, Farmaajo appointed Roble as the new PM. At the time, what was Roble’s political standing? What, in your opinion, was Farmaajo’s reasoning behind his appointment?

MH: It was probably one of the mistakes Farmaajo made. He thought the man is not politically conscious, but he will be a Prime Minister that can be worked with. But Farmaajo misunderstood. Roble, a small businessman living in Kenya, was interested only in money. The moment he was appointed as the PM, the UAE and Kenya bought him. They put him in their pocket by showing him millions of dollars. The man is not interested in politics, but only in the money involved in it.

As soon as Roble became the PM, he visited the UAE and the imperialist forces became happy that they found the man to weaken Farmaajo. But Farmaajo has been able to hold out because he has the support of the masses.

PD: When Roble was appointed as the PM in September 2020, the main responsibility he was tasked with was to facilitate the elections before the terms expired. But this failed and the term of the parliament as well as the president’s government expired before the election could be held. In April 2021, when the lower house voted to extend the president’s term for up to two years until an election could be held, a huge controversy ensued. Somalia’s regional State heads objected. The US, UK and the EU threatened to cut off aid and even impose sanctions. Tension between the president and the PM has been escalating ever since, and eventually resulted in December in a standoff in Mogadishu between the soldiers loyal to the president and those loyal to the PM. How did things escalate so far?

MH: A lot of money was pumped into the country for this escalation, mainly to derail the prospects of a democratic election. The western powers don’t want the Somali people to exert their independent will because of their experience with Somalia in the past. You should remember that in the 1960s, when Somalia became independent, it was the first African country to recognize the People’s Republic of China. Somali ships and flags were confiscated while supplying weapons from the Soviet Union to Vietnam to resist American invasion. Inside the African continent also, Somalia’s role was very progressive. It had supported all the anti-colonial movements including that of Samora Machel in Mozambique. US imperialism keeps records of this behavior of the Somali state when it was independent. Once Somalia re-establishes its independence, I am sure it will join China’s Belt Road Initiative, like Eritrea and other African countries. The western powers want to thwart this.

Particularly because of its geo-strategic position along the Indian Ocean, they want to control its coastline. So all this pressure the US, UK and EU are exerting on Farmaajo, purportedly to bring about an election, is merely a pretext to intervene in order to exert control over Somalia and prevent the emergence of an independent democratic nation state. Roble is merely a pawn in their hands.

PD: Throughout this week, the Roble has been chairing the National Consultative Council (NCC) meeting with the regional State heads to forge a way forward towards the election. Opposition leaders and even foreign diplomats are also in attendance, but not the president. Why is this so?

MH: There is nothing national about this council. It is in fact a council subsidized by the UAE and the western countries to demobilize the national consciousness of the Somali people. Its purpose is to legitimize Roble, who is merely their stooge with no support from the masses. The president, of course, is not a part of this. He is the enemy they want to overthrow.

PD: Amid these meetings, Roble maneuvered to re-established diplomatic relations with the UAE.

MH: That is his purpose – to bring the UAE back into Somalia. The UAE destroyed Yemen. They supported Islamists and jihadists in Syria and in Libya. It has participated in the destruction of Somalia. Since Farmaajo chased them out of Somalia in 2018, they are angry and they want to come back. Roble’s move is a hijack by the UAE’s agents in Somalia. But they will not succeed. The people of Somalia are hostile to the UAE. This move will only increase the hostility and will of the people to resist external forces.

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